- Home remedies for acne include aspirin, green tea, rose water, and aloe vera.
- Natural products like honey and tea tree oil have antimicrobial effects and make effective spot treatments.
- Habits that can lead to better skin include moisturizing daily and limiting processed foods.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Acne is a common skin condition that can occur when your pores become clogged with oil and dead skin, or are infected by bacteria. As many as 85% of young adults between 12 and 24 in the US have acne.
There are medical treatments like prescription creams or pills for acne, but if you want to take care of acne at home, here are 11 home remedies you can try.
1. Make a spot treatment with tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is used widely for skincare.
It can be effective for acne because, "tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties, lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin," says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. By killing acne-causing bacteria, tea tree oil can help reduce skin inflammation and clear up pimples.
A 2015 review of 7 studies found that using a gel with 5% tea tree oil extract reduced the number of acne blemishes for people with mild to moderate acne. In nearly all the studies, participants applied tea tree gel to their faces twice per day for 4 to 8 weeks.
The review also found that tea tree oil worked about as well as standard over-the-counter acne treatments including a 5% benzoyl peroxide solution and a 2% erythromycin gel.
How to use: While tea tree oil may help with acne, it can cause skin irritation. "Be cautious when using it and do not apply it in its pure form," Zeichner says. "Instead, dilute the tea tree oil in a carrier oil before applying to the pimple."
2. Crush up some aspirin
Aspirin is generally used as a pain reliever but you can crush it up into a paste to help treat acne. In fact, aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, is chemically related to salicylic acid, a common treatment for acne.
Like salicylic acid, aspirin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce the swelling and redness caused by inflammation. "However, aspirin does not have the same oil removing and exfoliating effects as salicylic acid," Zeicher says.
Although salicylic acid may be ideal, experts say that aspirin is helpful if you don't have any stronger treatments on hand.
How to use: To use aspirin for acne, crush up 2-3 aspirin pills and mix the powder with water until it forms a paste. Apply this paste to any blemishes, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, and then rinse your skin with water.
3. Take zinc supplements
Taking zinc supplements may also help treat acne. This is because zinc has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce redness. Zinc can also decrease how much oil your skin produces, which may be especially helpful for people with naturally oily skin.
Zinc also brings down inflammation and can help calm your skin. "While the mechanism is unclear, it is thought that it exerts general anti-inflammatory effects on the skin," Zeichner says.
Zinc also an important nutrient for brain and immune health.
How to use: You can find zinc supplements over the counter, but make sure to keep your intake in a healthy range. The National Institutes of Health recommend that you should get between 8-11 mg of zinc per day and you should not take in more than 40 mg per day.
4. Treat blemishes with Manuka honey
Honey has long been used as a remedy for skin ailments because of its wound-healing properties. Though not all honeys are equally effective.
Manuka honey, a particular type of honey produced from plants in Australia and New Zealand, has been especially recognized for its medical benefits. Though more research is needed, experts say that Manuka honey may help heal acne outbreaks.
One reason Manuka honey may help is that it has strong antibacterial properties. All types of honey are antibacterial, but not all are created equal — more potent types of honey, like Manuka, can be as much as 100 times more effective in fighting bacteria than other honey types.
Manuka honey is also anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help with wound healing. It may also help reduce pain, which could especially help with those painful, under the skin blemishes.
How to use: To use Manuka honey, take a small amount and either directly dab it onto blemishes or mix with water to create a thinner solution you can spread over skin. Just keep in mind that Manuka honey can be expensive, so this may not be the cheapest option.
5. Make a green tea toner
It's well known that drinking green tea has many health benefits, but research suggests that putting green tea on your skin may also be beneficial. This is because green tea contains chemicals called polyphenols that can kill bacteria and reduce inflammation.
A 2017 review found that putting lotion with 2% to 5% green tea extract on skin reduced the amount of oil the skin produces and cut down the number and severity of blemishes.
How to use: You can find skin products with green tea extract over the counter, but in a pinch, you can also try using regular green tea directly on your skin. To do this, make a pot of green tea and, once it has cooled, use a cloth or cotton swab to apply the green tea to any areas of acne.
6. Add aloe vera to your skincare routine
A small 2014 study showed that aloe vera combined with the retinoid tretinoin improved cases of mild-to-moderate acne better than tretinoin alone. Researchers say that the healing and anti-inflammatory effects of aloe seemed to help make the tretinoin more effective.
Another small 2018 study found that a combination of propolis (a natural resinous material made by bees), tea tree oil, and aloe vera was more effective at treating acne and healing acne scars than erythromycin cream, a topical antibiotic.
Aloe vera can also help moisturize and boost collagen in skin.
How to use: To use aloe topically, cut the gel out of an aloe vera leaf and apply it to skin. You can also use bottled aloe vera gel — just be sure it doesn't contain any other ingredients, like lidocaine, that might irritate skin. Don't apply it to open wounds.
7. Spritz skin with rose water
Rose water is an age-old beauty ingredient with a range of benefits, including improving skin and the appearance of acne.
Additionally, a 2015 study found that rose petal extract has some antibacterial properties. Another 2015 study showed it to be effective against a bacterium that can lead to inflammation and acne, Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes).
How to use: You can use rose water as toner by applying it with a cotton ball or spritzing it on your face with a spray bottle.
8. Harness the benefits of basil
A 2018 paper touted sweet basil as an effective anti-inflammatory, antioxidant ingredient in skin creams to treat acne.
Sweet basil essential oil has antibacterial effects against the acne-causing C. acnes, according to a 2019 study. Other types of basil, including holy basil and thai basil, were also found to have antimicrobial properties.
How to use: To get the skin benefits at home, you can make a tea from fresh crushed basil leaves to use as a toner. You can also simply crush basil leaves into a paste and apply it to your face, like a mask. If you're using basil essential oil, be sure to dilute it in a carrier oil before applying it to your skin.
9. Don't stop moisturizing
According to a 2014 review, moisturizers, particularly those that contain ceramides, complement other acne treatments, improve the appearance of acne, and can contribute to a healthier skin barrier — which may help protect against future breakouts.
And, because moisturizing your skin can improve the uncomfortable side effects of some acne treatments, you are more likely to continue using them until you see results.
How to use: Look for moisturizers labeled "non-comedogenic," which means that they won't clog your pores, and apply daily.
10. Sip some spearmint tea
Spearmint tea may help improve hormonal acne.
There are anecdotal claims that drinking spearmint tea can clear hormonal breakouts. Though research is sparse about its effect on acne specifically, spearmint tea has been found to reduce certain hormones associated with acne. Research has found that excess androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone, increases sebum production in the skin.
Hormonal acne commonly presents around the mouth and jawline, and may appear during the menstrual cycle.
A 2019 study found that levels of the androgens testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) may affect acne severity, and suggested that hormonal treatments focusing on androgens and their receptors in the skin may be effective in treating this type of acne.
In a 2010 randomized controlled trial focusing on women with polycystic ovary syndrome, consuming spearmint tea had anti-androgen effects and reduced testosterone levels in the study's participants. However, spearmint tea has not been found to decrease DHEA-S levels.
How to use: To see if spearmint tea has an effect on your hormonal acne, drink two cups a day for at least a month. If you are on any medications, especially those that affect your hormones (such as the birth control pill), talk to your doctor before starting this regimen.
11. Avoid foods that trigger breakouts
What you eat (or don't eat) can have an impact on your skin's appearance.
The worst foods for skin include cow's milk (especially if you have a dairy allergy), sugary drinks, white bread, and whey protein. Processed foods like white bread have a high glycemic index, which means they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar after you eat them.
When your blood sugar spikes, the influx of hormones can cause excess oil production, which clogs pores and leads to breakouts.
In fact, studies have shown that people who ate a low-glycemic diet had less acne than those who didn't.
Avoiding highly processed foods and empty carbs may not only make you feel better, but it might also improve your complexion.
When to see a doctor
Home remedies may appeal to people who don't want to use prescription products, but they're not as effective as traditional acne medications, Zeichner says.
If you have more severe acne, you should consult with a doctor before doing any treatments on your own, as acne can damage skin and leave scars. "It is important to treat acne early and effectively to prevent what could turn out to be permanent marks on the face," Zeichner says.
"If home remedies are not helping after 2-4 weeks, it is important to visit a dermatologist for professional help," Zeichner says.
Acne is the most common skin affliction in the US.
Though there are plenty of products made specifically to treat it, there are also some effective home remedies that can improve its appearance and help clear it.
Tea tree oil and crushed-up aspirin work as spot treatments for pimples. Using green tea or rose water as a toner can also help clear breakouts and prevent acne. Aloe vera is another effective remedy for acne, especially when combined with other treatments like retinoids.
If you're suffering from hormonal breakouts, spearmint tea may help balance the hormones responsible and help clear skin, though the research is sparse.
Ensuring that you're getting enough zinc and eating a diet low in processed foods can also help fight the inflammation that causes acne and improve skin from the inside out.
If you have severe acne or aren't finding success with home remedies, you can visit a dermatologist to learn about their recommended OTC or prescription treatments.