Photo of a young women with acne
Before you reach for powerful drugs, or harsh chemicals, try these natural treatment for acne

What to do about acne?

9 October, 2012

Acne is typically a problem in the early teens and usually disappears by the mid-20s, but for some a tendency to spots can be a lifelong problem.

It’s a physical condition that also has an emotional component since severe or persistent acne can have a huge impact on a person’s self confidence. Most common areas for spots are the face, back and chest. In adults its usually on the jaw and chin, with fewer but more painful spots.

The cause is inflamed sebaceous glands just below the skin. In healthy skin these produce the oils necessary to keep the skin soft, supple and protected. In people with chronic acne there may be excess oil production or a genetic predisposition producing an excess shedding of skin cells.

Both oil and skin cells end up clogging pores, thus creating an ideal environment for the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes to proliferate. The waste products of P. acnes are what eventually cause the inflammation we know as pimples and blackheads.

The usual treatment for severe acne is antibiotics, which don’t always work and can lead to immune system problems elsewhere, as well as to candida overgrowth, so alternative measures need to be sought. 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.

In fact acne has multiple causes  including heredity, oily skin, menstrual cycle, allergies, stress, the pill and other medications, nutritional deficiencies, diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars, high meat intake, pollution and body pH. There is evidence that severe acne may be the result of an immune system, or a hormonal, dysfunction – so topical remedies and narrowly focused approaches can only go so far.

If you have persistent acne, you may need a substantial shift in lifestyle. Dietary changes often produce very good results. These can  includes removing foods to which you are sensitive. For one month try avoiding dairy, sugar, processed foods, iodised salt, hydrogenated fats, alcohol and caffeine. Introduce them slowly, one at a time and make a note of any sensitivity reactions you may have.

Pay attention to things like water intake, since adequate liquid will help the body flush toxins out more efficiently. Dealing with stress before it becomes overwhelming and getting enough sleep are also important factors in keeping acne and other skin problems at bay.

A good quality multivitamin is essential. Make sure it provides you with adequate chromium, selenium and vitamin E and vitamin A may help. B6 (50 mg a day) can aid acne associated with menstrual cycles and supplementing can help fight stress associated with acne as well as improve skin tone.

Vitamin C (50-1000 mg per day) is anti-inflammatory, necessary for collagen repair & boosts immunity. Supplementing with zinc (try 30mg twice daily) can aid skin repair and boost immunity. Essential fatty acids are important for skin repair while probiotics can help replenishes good gut bacteria, strengthening the immune response and helping to reduce outbreaks.

Adequate exposure to sunshine – 20-30 minutes a day without sunscreen – is important to help maintain a healthy hormone balance for men and women. And this in turn can help reduce a tendency towards acne.

Quick relief

Rub cut garlic over the spots.


Use herbs that support the immune system and clear out toxins, such as Echinacea, stinging nettles, sarsaparilla, burdock, red clover, cleavers and yellow dock. Chaste berry (Agnus castus) can improve skin condition by normalising hormonal function.

Mahonia or Oregon Grape (Berberis aquafolium) is a traditional herbal treatment for acne. it is useful as an internal treatment but studies also show that using it topically can decrease sebum, reduce infection and inflammation. The antibacterial compounds in this herb are berbamine and berberine, which are antiseptic when used topically. When used internally, these compounds are liver tonics that improve bile flow, stimulate digestion and act as a tonic on the bowel wall.

Chlorophyll-rich herbs such as microgreens can fight inflammation & boost nutrients and seaweed is useful to improve skin tone.


Silicea, Sulphur and Carbo veg are all good general choices (see our Remedy Finder for hints on dosage). Remedies chosen to suit individual symptom patterns may also prove useful. Arsenicum: where the skin flakes and scales. Belladonna: in the early stages, when the face is hot and dry. Sulphur iod: when the face is always red and dry, with pus-filled pimples. Sanguinaria: for burning and itching, aggravated by heat. Nux vomica or Lachesis: for pimples made worse by alcohol, tea and coffee. If in doubt consults a homoeopathic practitioner.

Essential oils

Apply neat tea tree oil. Or try a steam bath with eucalyptus and/or: lavender, juniper, cedarwood, sandalwood and camphor.