The Best (and Worst) Home Remedies for Acne

It seems as though everyone knows of a few acne home remedies that have been passed down from family members or that they've read about online. These remedies are super popular.

But do any acne home remedies actually work? Some can, in the right cases. Others are just plain ineffective. A few can be downright irritating to your skin.

Before you use any at-home remedy to treat your pimples, research it well to ensure that it's safe to apply to your skin. Here are the best (and worst) acne home remedies.

Natural or Alternative Acne Treatments

aloe, sugar paste, and other items on burlap, overhead view
Chris Gramly/iStock

For those interested in natural ways to care for skin and body alike, alternative acne treatments may pique interest.

If you decide to go this route, take the time to educate yourself. You should know that most alternative acne treatments have not been extensively studied. In fact, the vast majority of herbs, extracts, tinctures, and the like suggested for acne treatment only have folklore and anecdotal evidence behind them.

Be skeptical of any natural skin care product, herbal salve, tea, etc., that claims to be a "miracle" treatment. Acne can't be cured, and these likely will have zero effect on blemishes.

That said, a few alternative treatments may have some promise in treating acne, specifically tea tree essential oil, zinc, and green tea extract. These ingredients need more research to determine their effectiveness, but at least they have some scientific backing.

DIY or Kitchen Remedies

Garlic bulbs and cloves on wooden table
Ana Pelaez/Getty Images

Mixing up your own homemade skin care products can be a fun hobby, but could the secret to clear skin really be right in your own kitchen? Probably not. If simple kitchen ingredients worked well, the acne medications of today never would have been developed.

That’s not to say these handmade skin care preparations have no benefits. They can make your skin feel softer, and they're an inexpensive yet decadent way to pamper yourself.

Just use common sense when making kitchen facial masks. Many popular acne home remedies call for lemon, garlic cloves, or cinnamon. These are simply not skin safe. When applied to the skin, they can cause contact dermatitis. Lemons and limes in particular when applied to skin can cause a burn triggered by sun exposure called phytophotodermatitis.

If you do decide to DIY your own skincare, use only trusted recipes and use your common sense. If anything burns or stings, rinse it off right away.

Over-the-Counter Acne Products

Young african teenaged girl washing her face, Cape Town, South Africa
BFG Images / Getty Images

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments aren’t typically what come to mind when people think of home remedies, but they tend to be more effective. They are easy to find at a drugstore, supermarket, or big-box store, and they're generally inexpensive.

OTC products make it easy to treat your acne at home. The most effective acne-fighting ingredient available over the counter is benzoyl peroxide. You can find benzoyl peroxide in facial cleansers, body washes, medicated pads, and treatment lotions. It doesn't matter what brand name product you get, just look at the active ingredient.

To give your OTC acne treatment routine a bigger boost, pair your benzoyl peroxide product with one containing salicylic acid. This can help clear acne more effectively.

As far as acne home remedies go, OTC treatments will give you the most bang for your buck. But they don't work instantaneously. You'll need to use them for three months continuously before you'll see a big improvement. Also, over-the-counter products will not clear severe acne—you'll need a prescription acne medication for that.

Toothpaste

Toothbrush and toothpaste on blurred background
ipuwadol / Getty Images

While some people swear it works for individual pimples, toothpaste isn't going to clear a case of acne.

Many kinds of toothpaste once contained triclosan, which was meant to kill bacteria, a source of bad breath. Triclosan was also an ingredient in some acne treatment products. However, in 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling that triclosan and some other commonly used antiseptic products were "not generally recognized as safe and effective."

But toothpaste also contains other ingredients that can irritate the skin when left on for long periods of time. Who wants to irritate an already inflamed zit?

Skip the toothpaste and use an acne spot treatment instead.

Urine

General practice doctor placing a multiple test stick (Multistix) into a urine sample
IAN HOOTON/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Urine has to be the most intriguing of all acne home remedies. Everyone has heard some version of it: Take a baby’s wet diaper and apply it to the face, or use your own urine first thing in the morning.

Anecdotally, some people swear this works. But there is no evidence that urine of any sort clears acne, so you need not try this remedy for yourself (thank goodness).

Dietary Changes

Plate of vegetables and quinoa
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Diet alone doesn't cause acne, so simply cutting out chocolate or fried foods won't make pimples disappear. You could eat the healthiest diet ever and still get pimples. Conversely, some people subsist on a steady diet of junk foods and never break out.

Some studies have shown a link between some foods (chiefly low-fat dairy products and carbs) and acne severity for some people. If certain foods seem to make your acne worse, you can avoid them. Most people don't notice a correlation between what they eat and their acne.

Diet likely plays only a minor role in acne development. A healthy diet is good for you in many ways, but don't necessarily count on it to clear your skin.

A Word From Verywell

Unless you get just an occasional minor pimple, most acne home remedies aren’t going to have an appreciable effect on your skin. They can have a supporting role, but the basis of your clear-skin routine should be proven acne treatment medications. This can be over-the-counter acne products if you have mild acne.

For moderate acne or severe acne, you’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment, frustration, and (in some cases) money by seeing a doctor instead of trying to cure it yourself. A dermatologist can prescribe medications that will work for you. Remember, if you are seeing a dermatologist, ask her if it's appropriate to use any home remedies before trying them out on your skin.

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Article Sources
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