Natural Remedies for Acne

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Natural remedies for acne that really work
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The other day, I was trying to find a picture of me when I was in high school to show my kids. I couldn’t find one because I was so photo shy at that time… mainly because of my acne (and regular teenage girl insecurities). At that time, I tried every natural remedy for acne I could find, and none of them worked.

Tea tree oil, slathering various types of food on my face, even natural cleansers. Nothing worked. Certainly, part of it was hormonal, but there was also something deeper going on and nothing seemed to be working.

Conventional Methods

Dermatologists suggested things like Acutane, antibiotics, birth control pills and strong facial cleansers. The only one I ever tried was the prescription strength cleaners with Benzoyl peroxide and Salicylic acid. I found that it dried my skin out but didn’t make the breakouts stop, so I just had dry skin AND acne instead.

As a teenage girl, this was devastating, and I eventually decided that nothing would work and resigned myself to a future of scars and thick makeup.

The hormonal changes of pregnancy helped my acne somewhat, making me realize that there was an internal and hormonal connection that was contributing to my skin problems.

As I often do, I started researching and decided that since I hadn’t gotten answers or help from conventional methods, alternative remedies were worth a try. I also researched in detail the gut/skin connection and how hormones affected skin.

Slowly and finally, I started to see improvement. I kept a log of what helped and what didn’t along the way, and I can now say I’m acne free (and scar free).

Skin Health from the Inside Out

One thing I learned in the process of fixing my skin, was that there isn’t an overnight solution and (at least for me) the problem was as much internal as external.

When we isolate the skin and try to treat it externally as an independent organ, we miss a tremendous number of internal factors.

I was shocked to learn that those with digestive problems like Crohn’s Disease and IBS were also more likely to have skin problems, and certain medications that helped with skin conditions were also helpful to digestive troubles.(source) One study also found that those with bacterial overgrowth in the gut were more likely to suffer from severe skin conditions like acne. (source)

At the same time, I discovered accidentally that certain foods and supplements gave me the ability to tan without burning for the first time in my life (and essentially even changed my skin tone).

I found that those with leaky gut were more likely to suffer from cystic acne and skin troubles, and as we did the GAPS protocol to heal my son’s gut problems and allergies, my skin improved too.

Though the specifics will certainly vary by individual, addressing gut problems and improving gut health are important steps to dealing with acne. The process is slow, but lasting. The specific things I found helpful in improving my gut health and inadvertently, my skin health are:

  • Taking a good quality probiotic. I’ve taken several over the years, but the one that seemed most helpful for acne was Clear Probiotics as it has a strain that helps skin health. I’ve also been taking Black mineral powder lately and while my acne is already gone, it has seemed to improve my skin.
  • Fat Soluble Vitamins: Once I added Fermented Cod Liver Oil to my daily regimen (years ago), my skin started to improve and it has continually gotten better over time. I also noticed I got fewer stretch marks when I was taking FCLO during pregnancy and using natural products on my stomach.
  • Gelatin/Collagen: I’m a big fan of gelatin and collagen powder for many reasons, but I credit these with speeding the healing of my skin from years of acne. I also often hear “You look way too young to have five kids” and I credit gelatin/collagen with these comments as well. Two great natural brands are Perfect Supplements and Jigsaw Health.
  • L-Glutamine & HCL: I also started taking L-Glutamine for leaky gut and gut health, and it seemed to have a big impact on my skin as well. I still take l-Glutamine daily on an empty stomach to help with gut and skin health. I also still take Betaine HCL to improve my digestion and skin health.

I personally found that balancing hormones was a big factor for me. Hormone balance is a moving target, especially for women, but these are the steps that helped me. Several close friends had their acne drastically improve just by removing sugary drinks and pasteurized dairy (which also make sense in light of the gut connection) so that is a great place to start if you still consume those.

Topical Remedies for Acne

As I worked to fix my internal problems that were contributing to my acne, I found that external remedies actually started to work and seemed to speed the process.

I’m convinced that these still would not have worked if I hadn’t been addressing the internal aspects too, but in combination with addressing gut health, these helped:

Science is just starting to understand the role of microbes in skin health and I suspect that we will see a rise in skin-biome related companies and products in the next few years.

The basic idea is just as we have a microbiome in the gut, we also have a microbiome in our mouths, on our skin and in other parts of the body (source). Some emerging research suggests that probiotics and other substances that support the skin microbiome can reduce skin inflammation (source), repair the skin barrier and reduce acne (source).

There is even research on probiotic and prebiotic cosmetics and face creams (my recipes for this coming soon) that would help repair the skin on a micro level (source) and scientists are studying the possibility of topical probiotic creams and treatments (source).

Ironically, my homemade makeup powder uses arrowroot, which studies are showing can work as a prebiotic to improve the life of probiotics, which might be one reason some readers noticed that it helped their acne.

TIP: For a short term way to deliver probiotics to the skin, I like mixing a tablespoon of organic yogurt with a capsule of probiotics and rubbing on the skin. I leave on for 10 minutes and wash off.

Bringing it all Together

For me, finally getting rid of my acne required a combination of the above approaches and I can’t stress enough that this is not an overnight process! For me, it took focusing on my gut and hormones before the external remedies helped and I think this is a key factor that is often ignored with acne.

The skin biome connection is just emerging, but I’m also confident that we will continue to learn more about how bacteria balance affects skin health.

Have you ever struggled with acne? What remedies or conventional treatments seemed to help you?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


98 responses to “Natural Remedies for Acne”

  1. Katherine Avatar

    This is great stuff! I suffered from acne suddenly starting at the age of 25. I literally woke up one morning and it was covering my entire face. I spent a TON of time, money and energy to clear my skin, but I finally did. The honey mask above is amazing, even more so than oil cleansing for me. Now I wash my face daily with honey vs. using a cleanser that strips the skin of its protective oils and microbiome. When I made that change, so much shifted!

    Another amazing tip is to gently rub 1 ice cube across my clean face at night. I see the difference almost overnight when I do this. Thanks for posting this helpful information. When I first started researching on my own it felt like putting together these impossible puzzle pieces.

  2. Madeleine Avatar

    My acne flares up when I eat legumes or raw nuts. I guess my body can’t digest them well. I’m so glad I found the culprit because not only do I get cystic acne from these, but I also get large, painful KP bumps, bloating and mild stomach pain. I know eliminating those foods from one’s diet might not help everyone, but it certainly helped my skin and digestion a lot.

  3. Kathleen Brown Avatar
    Kathleen Brown

    Water, water, and more water!! Wondering if garlic would help, (Internally) since it has antibacterial properties. Also for kids that just won’t wash their face at night, at least a strifes “type” pad or bottle with a shoe polish type applicator is a good way to get them to apply a toner with healthy medicinals.

  4. Angela Avatar

    Thank you for this article and for pointing to a more natural way to deal with acne than turning to Acutane and the like. I work in the eye field and acne medications like Acutane have long term side effects that are not made known when you are prescribed them. The acne meds work to dry up the oil glands in the face. Our eyelids are lined with oil glands. Oil glands that are supposed to be there to provide oil to our tears so that we do not have dry eyes. Acne meds dry up oil glads. We have a way to image glands and we can see they are missing in so many former acne med users and they are now horribly uncomfortable and cannot figure out why. If your child is in need (want) of acne meds, please avoid the medication route as it will have a lifelong impact on what is usually a few year problem.
    Thank you Katie!

  5. julie Avatar

    Help! I don’t know why but I suddenly broke out in a rash all over my stomach, back and chest and it’s lasted for days. It’s painful and I’ve tried everything! I have had way too much stress and I did a castor oil pack for my liver the other day hoping to get everything moving, it got worse instead.

    Any remedies come to mind?

    Thanks in advance!

  6. xi Avatar

    Since you are a teenager – zits are occasionally normal. Here’s what worked my for my 3 kids who all had acne problems at some point i their lives. We swear by two products in our household:

    – ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wear sunscreen. a little goes a long way, this keeps your skin moist and protected. (oil free if possible**) this also prevents a lot of upcoming skin concerns.

    -Citrus Clear has a Grapefruit Spot Treatment that you can use throughout the day when your skin is oily. My teens used this about 2-3x per day and it worked great on any pimples that came out. They were gone in 1-2 days.

  7. Veronica Avatar

    I am surprise that nobody talked about zinc for acne. I am acne sufferer, I have had acne my whole like and I am 45 and I still have acne. I have tried every single thing. For me, all the natural things didn’t work. I cannot use any oils (oral or topical) because I break out easily, lately I tried fish oil, krill oil, coconut oil and also evening primrose and it was just horrible, I was covered with cystic acne. I also cannot use or take apple cider vinegar, it is too drying for my face and it seems to give me headache. Lately, I have been using diaper rash cream at night and it has helped me a lot. (I have been seeing this in a lot of beauty blogs) Burt bees, Boudreaux and Weleda make good ones. I use the 40% zinc oxide concentration. It is really messy and it dries up your skin but my skin as never looked that good. I know that it has to do with the zinc in the cream. Usually I do a spot treatment before going to bed and I leave the cream all night. It will stain your pillowcase and you look a bit like a ghost.

    My acne regiment is pretty exhaustive.
    I take an all natural multivitamin, probiotics, vitamin D and Vitamin E.
    When I wake up in the morning, I take a big glass of warm water and I had fresh ginger, lemon juice and raw honey.
    As for the face, I use which hazel toner and I love Laroche Posay effaclar or toleriane lines. I am also using sunscreen with a high zinc oxide content. The all natural makeup route was also not a good one for me, I bought lots of makeup at Whole foods and I had allergic reactions to lots of them. I am now back to using my Clinique and Lance brand because it is what works for me. Hope it help.

    1. Jade Avatar

      Hello, I have had acne since I was 12. I’ve tried EVERYTHING I’ve seen on the internet in terms of natural remedies, and I’m very into researching. I had cut sugar, vegetable oils and mostly gluten from my diet. Although I’m sure these things stopped my skin from getting as bad as it otherwise would have, as time went on my skin was slowly but surely getting worse. A few months ago, I googled “probiotic for acne” and this website came up called Clear Skin Forever. Long story short, I ended up buying their e-book. ($50, but a money back guarantee, and SO worth it!). The main thing they suggested was cutting out dairy and basically all grains, along with not having many (if any) beans or legumes for a while. They don’t want you to spend heaps of money on supplements, so they have a small list that they suggest. I was fascinated reading their e-book, and immediately started trying to implement the changes. As soon as I cut out dairy, SO much redness went away! Within a week! On the user forum on that website, people share their stories/ask questions/give advice, and there are so many stories of people who have had acne their whole lives healing it. There is much else to be gained from reading that book also. I really appreciate Wellness Mama, Dr. Mercola, and many other sites for their advice – but this book really seemed to make sense from everything else I’d read and make it very clear what to do.
      I thought I had to share this with you as I’m so happy about what this has done for my skin. At 14 years old (when it seems most girls have it the worst), it’s gotten so much better – and I’ve only been doing it for a few months!
      The main premise of their book is that acne needs to be fixed internally. You can put any number of things on your face, but the pimples come from the INSIDE. Fix your internal health and you won’t need to slather all kinds of expensive things on your face, that are only sort of working anyway!

  8. Gina Avatar

    Are there any EOs that would be good to use with oil cleansing to help get rid of blackheads? I don’t really have any acne issues anymore since I began doing that (except during that time of the month) but I still haven’t been able to get rid of the BHs and having them ready grosses me out. It’s especially hard for me to get rid of them completely because I wear glasses at all times while awake or I’d be almost blind.

  9. Deb Avatar

    My son had really bad acne. I bought him some tamanu oil. He applies it twice a day after cleansing with a gentle cleanser. The results are amazing. The redness and inflammation are gone, as well as the breakouts. There were visible results overnight! It also is amazing on stretch marks, and my age spots are starting to disappear as well. We call this our miracle oil!

  10. Hanne Robinson Avatar
    Hanne Robinson

    Hi. Thanks for a great and very helpful blog. I’m a big fan.
    I’ve just checked the Vital Proteins collagen products and they contain the amino acid “proline” (as most protein powders do), and as far as I have researched proline is part of the gluten protein and very hard to digest.

    Gluten protein consists primarily of two proteins. Glutenin and Gliadin. Glutenin is a protein with lots of surface, which makes it easy for the enzymes to break it down. Gliadin on the other hand, is a close packed protein having small surface relative to its mass, making it difficult for enzymes to penetrate. Furthermore Gliadin is made up of a large amount of amino acids that are particularly difficult to digest. These poorly digestible amino acids are proline and glutamine… My kind regards

  11. Jaya Avatar

    I struggle with Hashimotos as well and found that years of birth control masked my thyroid symptoms and terrible acne until trying to conceive. My skin then developed into acne rosecia with my first pregnancy. It was still pretty awful while nursing and now with baby #2 on the way I am still struggling to heal my skin from these itchy, dry, red, acne patches on my face. Any advice for roscea sufferers? I have tried various Natropaths and all lead me back to the regular dermatologist that want to have me on antibiotics/strong creams. LOVE you and your site!

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