Honey has several antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help balance the skin. [Photo: Bigstock]

Natural treatments for acne

21 February, 2017

Acne affects more than just your skin. It can also put a big dent in your self-confidence as well.

Although it is typically a problem in for people in their early teens, and usually disappears by the mid-20s, for some a tendency towards spots can be a lifelong problem.

Acne is caused by chronic inflammation of the air follicles and sebaceous glands. Bacteria, mainly Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), but also others such as Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis), are thought to be behind most cases of acne. But like any bacteria they are more likely to take hold in an environment that encourages its growth.

For this reason it’s very important to keep skin clean using a mild cleanser. Be careful not to scrub the skin too hard as it could cause irritation. Essential oils can help to manage acne by helping to clear the infection, reducing the amount of sebum produced, promote healing, minimise scarring, reducing inflammation, reducing stress and anxiety, helping the body to eliminate toxins.

Once it does take hold, it’s the waste products of these bacteria which eventually cause the inflammation that can cause spots to develop on the skin, usually on the face, back and chest. The resulting spots can range from blackheads and whiteheads, to deep, inflamed, pus-filled pustules and cysts, which can be severe and long-lasting, sometimes leading to scarring.

Conventional treatments don’t always work

Conventional treatment for severe acne is usually antibiotics, which don’t always work and can lead to immune system problems elsewhere, as well as to candida overgrowth. Drugs like Accutane are associated with scary adverse effects including inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as well as depression and increased risk of suicide.

Topical treatments contain either a harsh detergents or anti-microbial like benzoyl peroxide or a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid as their primary active ingredient.

A natural approach

There are better ways to deal with acne. Some of them are as close as the kitchen cupboard.

A recent review in Medical News Today, written by nurse Rachel Nall, looked at the evidence for honey and cinnamon.

Nall writes that honey has several chemical properties that enable it to kill bacteria, including:

  • A high concentration of sugar, which puts pressure on bacterial cells, making them less likely to multiply.
  • An acidic environment where bacteria cannot easily grow.
  • The compound propolis that bees use to seal their hive has antimicrobial properties.

Research shows that honey contains enzymes that create hydrogen peroxide, which has antimicrobial properties. Some, like Manuka honey contain other properties that make them highly antibacterial.

Cinnamon, Nall notes, also has antimicrobial properties that help it kill or suppress E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Candida albicans microbes. It also has astringent properties. Astringents help to shrink pores, which can make the skin appear smoother and more even.

Studies show promise

One study compared the application of a 90% medical-grade Kanuka honey (a relative of Manuka honey) and 10% glycerine (honey-derived) treatment after washing the face with an antibacterial soap twice daily for 12 weeks, with washing the face with the same soap alone. In this study around 8% of those in the honey group experienced improvement, compared to just 2% in the soap alone group.

Another investigation found that some types of honey from Iran had as much antimicrobial activity as certain antibiotics, though Iranian honey hasn’t been studied as widely for its ability to kill the P. acnes.

Research has also shown that cinnamon essential oil can kill or suppress the E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Candida albicans  microbes.

A review that looked at 70 articles about cinnamon confirmed its antimicrobial properties as well as its wound-healing properties. The researchers also suggested that cinnamon may have anti-aging properties in the skin.

Making a mask

As part of your regular skincare routine you could try giving yourself a honey and cinnamon face mask twice a week. This can easily be made at home. Be aware, however, that cinnamon essential oil is very strong and cause skin irritation. For use on skin use only the milder cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) leaf essential oil.

The cinnamon leaf essential oil should not be more than 0.5% of the final mixture. That means for every tablespoon of honey add only add 2 drops of the cinnamon essential oil and mix well in a small bowl before use. Always do a patch test first to ensure your skin can tolerate the mixture. Wash off with tepid water after 20 minutes and pat skin dry.

Other essential oil treatments

The Neal’s Yard Remedies Essential Oils book, co-written by our Editor Pat Thomas, has several great skin treatments to help balance acne prone skin. Here’s a few for you to try to see which works best for you.

Lemon and bergamot facial sauna

In this mix the skin-clarifying and toning effects of lemon are combined with the antiseptic and skin-balancing properties of petitgrain and soothing and antibacterial bergamot

  • 3 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 2 drops lemon essential oil
  • 1 drop petitgrain essential oil

Add the essential oils to a bowl of hot water. Cover your head with a towel, make a tent over the bowl of hot water and, leaning over the bowl, allow the steam to act on your face for 5 minutes. Rinse your skin with cool water and pat dry.

Palmarosa massage oil

Both palmarosa and geranium have skin-balancing properties that naturally help reduce the amount of sebum produced by the oil glands. This combination makes a nourishing and toning massage that can help calm outbreaks.

  • 1 tsp jojoba oil
  • 2 tsp grapeseed oil
  • 3 drops palmarosa essential oil
  • 2 drops geranium essential oil

Combine the ingredients in a clean bowl and transfer to a sterlised dark glass bottle with a dropper cap. Massage into the skin on the face and body as needed.

Tea tree hot compress

Tea tree is known for its antiseptic properties making it an excellent choice for treating problem skin. Added to a hot compress it can help soothe and cleanse your skin. This mixture can also be used neat on spots and pimples.

  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 3 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 2 drops cajeput essential oil
  • 1 drop lavender essential oil

To make the oil mixture follow the instructions for palmarosa massage oil above. To make a compress fill a bowl with warm water. Add a few drops of the essential oil mixture to the water. Soak a flannel in the bowl, wring out and apply to the affected area.