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. karin Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama, I love everything about your web page and your cookbook. I have a question, Do you have anything for dandruff (safe enough for kids to use). We tried every brand you can think of, even natural shampoo like yes for carrots, Alba and Kirkland shampoo. The only brand that doesn’t give her this problem is Garnier. But I want to use a natural shampoo for the whole and get rid off all the “normal” shampoo’s. If you do please let me know.

    1. Karen Kovalik Avatar
      Karen Kovalik

      SebaMed body cleanser (the plain stuff only) used as shampoo is the only thing we’ve ever used that successfully helped dandruff. It’s biodegradable and works wonders.

  2. Shauna Avatar

    Hello. Thank you SO much for covering this topic and those alike! I love your blog and appreciate ways to help our bodies naturally, esp since many of the other methods haven’t worked for me! I was wondering, is the FCLO you linked the one you take? Is having High Vitamin Butter Oil in the FCLO we take important? Thank you!

  3. Jessica Avatar

    Thanks Katie!

    I’m curious if you or anyone knows how to help with melasma or “the mask of pregnancy”. I got it with my first pregnancy and then it just got worse with my second. I was never a regular wearing make up kind of girl but now I do because it is just so bad. 🙁 it seems stupid, but when I don’t wear make up people and friends and family make ignorant comments thinking I have self-tanner badly plied or something. And then I go, “no that’s just my face.” I’ve thought of going to a dermatologist but probably wouldn’t take their advice anyway bc I don’t trust conventional medicine. Anyone who can help?

  4. Nomi Avatar

    Over the years, I discovered chocolate was a trigger–but then only through experimenting with different types, I realized it was the SOY LECITHIN in chocolate and other products. Dark chocolate (85%) without soy lecithin does not cause any problems for me. Hope this might help someone else.

    P.S. Be careful about consuming large quantities of gelatin if you feel yourself getting depressed…the gelatin blocks feel-good tryptophan from going to your brain. This happened to me when I started doing large doses (although my skin looked great, I was starting to feel strangely depressed!). Wasn’t until I read a book on mood disorders and various supplements that I was able to put the pieces together.

    1. Crystal Avatar

      Thank you! Nobody believes me, but I SWEAR soy Lecithin causes acne for me. Regular soy products do, and I think flax does too, even in small amount! I ha a probiotic gummy that I was taking, it had soy lecithin as an ingredient and within a few days and then a week my skin exploded!

  5. Ella Frank Avatar
    Ella Frank

    Ironically, my complexion has been actin up since beginning the AIP! I suspect that my hormones are out of whack and that testosterone has risen; at least that is what it seems like to me. I have enough other benefits that I am willing to see this through, however. BYW, my complexion is normally OK and I am not a kid– I am in my mid-60’s!

  6. Emily Avatar

    My whole life I’ve never really struggled with acne, until this past year. My acne suddenly has gotten horribly bad. I’ve tried multiple different face washes, masks, and even makeup specifically for acne control. However nothing seems to be working.
    It’s very interesting to me that your post also talks about gut problems. I’ve struggled with IBS since I was in high school (so about 8 years). I’m really hoping your remedies will help with that as well.

    My question is do you use all of the products every day?

  7. Valerie Avatar

    I struggled with cystic acne from junior high through collage. I went through two rounds of treatment via a dermatologist, including being prescribed an antibiotic. It seemed to help but only when I was taking the medication. When I got engaged I decided to get facials from someone who specialized in problem skin. To my surprise she told me to stop washing my face and instead, put moisturizer on twice daily. That honestly helped a lot. Improving my diet also helped but I still had dry skin. When I started taking FCLO a year ago I noticed the dryness went away within a matter of 2-3 days. I use tea tree EO for the random breakout. Now if I can get rid of all the scarring, that would be awesome.

    1. Grace Avatar

      Taking digestive enzymes between meals has been shown to break down scar tissue. With meals it is used up on digestion.

  8. Ariel Avatar

    Do you take all of those supplements daily?

    My skin has always been troublesome and starting in August of last year I developed cystic acne that just will not go away no matter what.

    Recently I have been drinking diluted ACV, and using as a toner. It seemed to work a bit for a week or so but now It’s about back to normal/no more improvements.

    I’m avoiding dairy, and trying my best not to eat gluten.

    I’m normally vegetarian, but rn I’m essentially eating a vegan diet.

    Feeling very desperate because my entire back, parts of my chest and my jawline are covered in painful cystic spots.

    Willing to try anything holistic or natural!


  9. Meghan Avatar

    Thank you so much for covering this topic. I am 29 and have struggled with acne since my hormones kicked in at age 13. I take immaculate care of my face. I never touch it when I have make up on, wash it every single night without fail, and am constantly trying to find a solution to my problematic skin. I came across oil cleansing and decided to give it a try. I did a lot of research and thought I had come up with a combination that would work, coconut oil, tea tree oil, lavender oil, and a little bit of raw honey. I used it for about four months. I have never had a break out as bad I had after several months of using coconut oil on my face. It took months for my skin to heal. It was horrible. I stopped applying coconut oil topically and ingesting it.

    I did a little more research, and found out that some people are allergic to coconut oil. I found a blog where a lady reported having a similar experience to mine. She found that even taking internally caused her to have some breakouts, however, not as extreme as using it topically. I confirmed that, after my purge, when I began taking it internally again. My previously clear skin was beginning to break out slightly. I also reconfirmed it when trying out your remineralizing toothpaste with coconut oil. Anywhere the toothpaste dripped on my face, I would break out in that location within a few weeks. So thank you for posting a toothpaste recipe without coconut oil.

    I felt like I was back at square one, with just accepting that I will always suffer from some sort of acne issues, especially around my period. However, after reading this article, you’ve provided me with some internal treatment options that I haven’t tried. I’m very excited to try them out.

    I know this comment is already extremely long, but since this is my first time commenting after almost a year of following your website, I wanted to thank you. Thank you for balancing five kids, a husband, running a blog (and all the research that goes into it), and all the other surprises that life likes to share with us, so people like me can find a path to healthier living. I read your blog post about the New Year and the struggles you face with balancing all of the above. I felt very empathetic towards you. So, if you’re feeling down or questioning whether this is all worth it, I can tell you that your blog has had a BIG impact in my life. Huge. I can’t thank you enough.

    PS. Get some ads on this blog and start making money from all your hard work. I know you would never promote something you don’t support/use yourself, unlike other “health” bloggers I’ve seen.

  10. Rachael Avatar

    I have struggled on and off with acne (cystic as I have gotten older) and have begun trying more natural remedies. It will be interesting to see how things improve. I have a question though, about my daughter. She is only 11 and already having small bumps and even small blackheads. Do you have any recommendations for things that might help her? I am unwilling to let her use the strong acne products in stores and would prefer she use something natural. She also has a very fair complexion that is easily irritated. Any suggestions would be welcome.I really want to help her with this so that her confidence and spirit aren’t damaged. Thank you so much!

    1. Nicole Avatar

      I haven’t had the chance to try this myself, but I’ve heard that tamanu oil is really good against acne. Also, maybe you should get her a stick of concealer. I started getting acne when I was around the same age and knowing that I could cover any small blemishes I got really helped (and, to be honest, still helps) with my confidence.

    1. Amanda Baker Avatar
      Amanda Baker

      Jacqueline, cleaning up your diet will most certainly clear up your eczema-take a look at a possible candida cleanse-Christa Orecchio from Whole Journey offers and online cleanse.

  11. Danielle Avatar

    Yes to all of these, especially oil cleansing and apple cider vinegar. Evening primrose oil has also made a big difference in not only my cystic acne but also my menstrual migraines, which leads me to believe it works by balancing hormones as well.

  12. Dan Avatar

    I really struggled through middle and highschool with acne and i hated it and i used to use prescription medications, acne washes, and patroleum based moisterizers before i did my research. I’ve noticed that my skin has improved after starting to workout and progress into more rigorious training. My diet has become so much more complex and healthier. I am paying attention to almost every detail in what i consume. Even water. From tap water to distilled water. From conventional meat to grass-fed meat. Table salt to Unrefined natural salts. All of it plays a role in your body and how you function. Even playing roles in managing stress levels which can improve your skin. I also find that clay mask do really help. i mix essential oils with them. I make all of my own health care products now from moisterizes, soaps, toothpaste, and so much more.

    1. Lori Avatar

      The best thing I did for my adult acne prone skin was stop using cleansers. I wash my face with warm water and a muslin cloth. I use natural oils to remove makeup.
      I use a clay mask occasionally and a vinegar “wash” weekly. More, if I’m having a breakout. I also use vinegar to dry up any pimples. (I use Uncle Harry’s products)
      As I age my skin is more dry and I’ve found oils (jojoba, almond) as well as staying hydrated keep it balanced. My hormones definitely affect my skin, as well as the harsh winters where I live, so I do supplement with an essential oil blend for hormones, but for the most part these steps have nearly stopped the cystic acne cycle I was in. I now suffer mostly from acne totally related to an approaching menstrual cycle.

  13. veronica Avatar

    My acne drives me CRAZY! It’s not very bad though. I am super excited to try this out! Thank you so much!

  14. Stacey Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your research and knowledge on alternative healing methods, Katie, I keep coming back to your blog and always find something interesting and helpful!



  15. Elise k Avatar

    I have had amazing success with witch hazel. I have skin that is oily in some areas and dry in others. Things I tried in the past would tend to treat one but worsen the other. Then my mom suggested witch hazel, not just as a facial cleanser but also for ears and scalp. It acts as a gentle toner without stripping skin of moisture. Thanks for the great info about cleansing from the inside-out! As great as witch hazel works I’d rather treat skin problems at the source!

  16. Jamie Avatar

    Thanks so much for this article! I suffer from cystic acne and have given up on my dermatologist. At one point they prescribed me 3 different pills, 2 topical creams, and harsh cleansers to use EACH day. I have been gravitating towards a natural food diet, and have noticed some cysts go down after alkalizing my body every morning with warm lemon water. I will be sure to try some of your suggestions for even better results and healing! Thank you!

    1. Crystal Avatar

      If you’re still struggling with it, look into homeopathic remedies for acne. Joette Calabrese shares information on her blog. Good stuff! Best of luck to you

  17. Pierce Watkins Avatar
    Pierce Watkins

    My Husband needs to try this for his back bad acne even in winter season. What do you think of Carlson labs, not fermented, Cod Liver Oil, Iv been hesitant about taking the pill because it is so high in Vitamin A 2000IU and recommended to take more then one daily. The liquid is less 850IU recommended to only take 1 tsp. it is higher in DHA n EPA. But would he still have to take his Vitamin D if he used the liquid it’s only 400IU, he doesn’t get out in the sun during winter.

  18. Stacey Avatar

    I suffered for years with acne and tried it all. When I was diagnosed with celiac and took gluten out of my diet, I saw improvement but it came back. I knew something wasn’t right because it was not only the acne but other skin problems as well. My skin itched all the time. I began really looking at my diet and researching the cause. I found I was allergic to soy, along with gluten and have sensitivities to diary. So I decided to really clean up my diet, taking away all grains, soy, sugar, dairy and as my gut healed so did my skin. I no longer itch or have horrible red patches. My acne is almost gone. I say almost because I still have an occasional breakout but we have discovered that I am very sensitive to chocolate as well and sometime I just really want a piece of chocolate. But it is like clock work, have the chocolate and wake up the next day with a bump. So I know I should really avoid it as well. I also take a probiotic everyday and use Great Lakes collagen. Both have drastically improved my skin this past year. But deciding to clean up my food choices made the biggest difference!

  19. janette Avatar

    Thank you for this! I’ve struggled with acne off and on over the years, with really severe (cystic) acne in high school, with my first pregnancy, again a few years ago and then again a several months ago. I even did a course of Accutane about 9 years ago (horrible, horrible I know!). I’ve always known prescribed medications were only a band-aid fix, even if I didn’t know then that I could take steps to help MYSELF.

    Over the last year, as a family, we’ve really stepped up the food ‘game’: all organic, grass-fed and pastured meats, staying away from gluten and refined sugars and really removed over-the-counter medications. One thing I have really noticed that also makes a difference is reducing stress and getting adequate sleep. But I think everyone is different, with different ‘triggers’ (I recently identified wine as a trigger for me) and it takes work to find them out..sometimes a lot of work.

    Thank YOU for the work you do to help us along the way.

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