When you have an acne breakout, it can stop you in your tracks. It’s happened to all of us; acne is by far the most common skin condition that affects around 85% of people at some point in their lives. The good news is that, because it’s so common, there are hundreds of treatment options – from the spot treatment for the casual bump to more intense prescription regimens for chronic breakouts.
While effective, many of these more traditional treatments can have irritating side effects, like irritation (as well as dryness and sensitivity). There’s also the issue of getting them in the first place. If you reach for your trusty pimple cream and the tube is empty, you just can’t get to the store to pick up a new zit zapping product, or that clarifying mask you ordered online hasn’t shown up yet, you don’t have to resign yourself to a pimply existence. There are still some things you can do—that’s where home remedies come in.
Home remedies for pimples and acne treatment rely on many of the same ingredients that more traditional products do, they just come in other forms, like from food or plants. The most important thing to keep in mind when putting something on your face that you would usually put in your mouth, though, is that while these things may have been used anecdotally for many years (sometimes even centuries), many dermatologists are still on the fence about them. “There needs to be some evidence behind it that it’s proven effective,” says dermatologist Nikhil Dhingra, MD of Spring Street Dermatology. And even the remedies that have been studied, the process may be slower than other more targeted treatments. “They’re not going to be a miracle compared to [other] medications, but if you need something here and there” they can be fine, he says.
Is Toothpaste Good For Acne?
Just like traditional acne treatments, not all home remedies are created equal. Case in point: toothpaste. You may have heard that putting toothpaste on a zit dries it out fast, but that’s an old wives tale. “Toothpaste used to contain an ingredient called triclosan, which had anti-microbial properties,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai. “This ingredient, however, has been removed from most toothpaste because it is a relatively common cause of irritation.” Toothpaste also contains foaming agents and sometimes whitening ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, which can further irritate skin. Effective home remedies should work to calm inflammation in the pimples instead of causing more of it.
What About Oil?
When you start googling DIY skincare, you usually see lots of talk about oils like avocado and coconut. And while these oils could have skin benefits in other scenarios, Dr. Dhingra recommends steering clear of them when trying to treat acne. “I’ve had patients come in who are doing olive oil or coconut oil masks that were just adding fuel to the fire,” he says. “It’s actually just adding extra oil into the pores and leads to more breakouts.” Most effective acne treatments will work to remove some oil, as well as target bacteria and inflammation that can lead to breakouts.
Just like more traditional acne treatments, using home remedies requires patience. You don’t do one set of crunches at the gym and expect to walk out with a six pack, right? The same goes for skincare, especially acne issues. Use a treatment consistently in order to see results and “if your pimples are not improving in two to four weeks, schedule a visit with a board-certified dermatologist,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Trying an at-home remedy for acne is simple: put down the toothpaste and instead try one of these.
The Best Home Remedies for Acne
“There is some data to suggest that a crushed-up aspirin may help acne,” according to Dr. Zeichner. That’s because aspiring contains an ingredient that’s “the cousin to salicylic acid,” which is used often in more traditional acne treatments. “While it does not remove excess oil like salicylic acid does, it can help calm inflammation.” To use it as a spot treatment, crush up a tablet or two of aspirin and mix it with water to form a paste. Then apply it as a spot treatment to the pimple you’re attacking.
Honey, especially manuka honey, “has both skin protecting and antimicrobial benefits,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It may help lower levels of acne-causing bacteria and soothe skin inflammation.” To use it, he recommends adding it into another ingredient, like yogurt, or you can dab it straight-up onto a pimple as a spot treatment. Use it sparingly and don’t smear it all over your full face. “It will leave you sticky,” he says.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has actually been studied for its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, similar to more-potent benzoyl peroxide. You’ll often even find it as an ingredient in more traditional skincare for this exact reason. Tea tree oil in its pure form, however, can be harsh and irritating on the skin. Instead temper it with water or a carrier oil like jojoba oil and dab it on your pimples as a spot treatment.
This super-traditional ingredient often shows up in skincare products like toners because of its high level of tannins, which have proven antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. When used as a toner, witch hazel can help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation in the skin as well as possibly promote healing. Wet a cotton ball or pad with witch hazel toner and swipe it onto your skin after you wash your face.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Like witch hazel, apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and is best used as a toner after washing your face. “Dilute it half and half with water and apply it with a cotton ball,” says Dr. Zeichner. The biggest hurdle to using apple cider vinegar is the smell. “You may want to wash your face again half an hour later if the smell bothers you,” he says.
Unlike some of these other remedies that are found in your kitchen, this one is probably in your first aid kit. Dermatologists use cortisone regularly and even inject it directly into under the surface cystic pimples. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may have a similar effect, especially in pimples just starting to form, says Dr. Weiss. “Apply a little dab right on the pimple two to three times a day for about three days then stop,” he says. Don’t use it on your face for longer than a few days as it could have a negative effect long term (overdoing it could actually cause more acne) and never apply it all over your face.
A high concentration of antioxidants is what makes green tea healthy to drink and also could make it a useful tool in combating acne when applied to your face. It’s been shown to have possible antibacterial properties and help reduce inflammation as well. Some studies have even shown that it could help reduce oil production. Instead of drinking it, make a pot of green tea, then allow it to cool before applying it to your face with a cotton pad after cleansing.
“There is a lot of data behind zinc supplements” for reducing inflammation, says dermatologist Robert Finney, MD of Spring Street Dermatology. Even taken orally, zinc has been shown to help treat pimples on your skin and could even help prevent new ones from forming thanks to its anti-inflammatory ability. Use a tablet that has 30 milligrams of elemental zinc, like zinc oxide, which is the dose that’s typically studied, according to Dr. Finney.
Aloe is a classic home remedy for burns, because not only is it anti-inflammatory, it’s also highly moisturizing because of its high water content. It’s also antimicrobial, which also makes it a useful acne treatment, especially for people with sensitive skin or have gotten dryness or irritation from other spot treatments. After washing your face, apply a thin layer of aloe gel to pimples as a spot treatment.
There is some suggestion that fatty Greek yogurt may work to help soothe inflamed skin thanks to probiotics and could help brighten skin thanks to lactic acid. Plus, “it’s not oily, which is a big no for acne,” says Dr. Dhingra. For acne specifically, he suggests making a mask by adding small amount of water to the yogurt as well as a dash of turmeric, which has known anti-inflammatory properties and “can be helpful on inflamed pimples.”
Like green tea, chamomile also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help soothe irritated skin and help control breakouts. You can use it as a toner, similar to green tea, by brewing a pot and then letting it cool before applying it with a cotton pad, or grind the tea leaves from a couple of tea bags before adding water to create a paste. Use the paste as a spot treatment for angry pimple to chill them out.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
“There have been a few studies that have shown that omega-3s can help with acne,” says Dr. Finney. Supplementing your diet with fish oil, for instance, could help decrease overall inflammation that can lead to acne. Dr. Finney suggests taking a fish oil supplement or looking for foods rich in Omega-3’s, like fortified milk.
Apart from anything you put on your skin, making changes in diet and stress levels can have a real impact on your skin. “The most date is behind high glycemic foods like processed sugars and dairy,” says Dr. Finney, which can be linked to increased breakouts. Cortisol levels, which raise when stress increases, can also be to blame for acne flare ups due to increased oil production. Changing your diet and finding ways to minimize stress, he says, could be “holistic ways to manage acne.” And no matter what, “if you’re acne prone, you should be washing your face twice a day,” notes Finney. “You have to make it a priority.
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