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31st August, 20205 min read

Natural ways to treat acne

Medical reviewer:Healthily's medical team
Author:Alex Bussey
Last reviewed: 01/09/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Certain acne medications can have serious side effects and some people can be allergic to the treatments.

As a result, you might find yourself looking for natural ways to treat your acne. But it can be hard to tell what works and what doesn't.

Here’s what you need to know.

Lifestyle changes that may help your skin

You may be able to make your acne symptoms better by changing your diet and making some small adjustments to your daily routine.

Changing your diet

Changing your diet probably won’t get rid of your acne completely, but it may help to reduce your symptoms.

According to the British Skin Foundation, eating a diet with a high glycemic index (GI) can aggravate your acne, while eating a low GI diet can result in fewer spots and pimples.

Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food’s sugars can be digested and absorbed by your body. Food with a high glycemic index is easy to break down, so it releases its sugar in a short amount of time.

This can cause inflammation and may increase the amount of oil (sebum) that your skin produces. Too much oil can block the pores in your skin and cause new spots and pimples.

Some examples of high GI foods include:

  • sugary soft drinks
  • white bread
  • potatoes
  • white rice
  • fries
  • doughnuts and other pastries

Examples of low GI foods include fresh vegetables, beans and oats.

Washing your face with a gentle soap

Washing your face with a gentle cleanser or an oil-free soap using lukewarm water will help to lift dirt and bacteria away from your skin and may help to stop spots from forming.

Experts recommend that you wash your face twice a day.

It’s important to avoid scrubbing at your skin, because scrubbing too hard causes irritation that may make your acne worse.

You should also avoid products like astringents, toners and exfoliants. These products can dry out your skin, and may make your acne look worse.

Choosing the right cosmetics

Certain cosmetic products are designed for acne-prone skin. These are often labelled as non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic or oil-free, which just means that they won’t block your pores or encourage bacteria to grow on the surface of your skin.

You can also try looking for water-based cosmetics.

It’s important to remove all of your makeup before you go to bed — using a gentle cleanser to stop your skin from becoming irritated.

Ways to prevent acne scarring

If your skin is prone to acne, you may also want to know the best ways to avoid scarring.

Giving up cigarettes

You're more likely to develop acne scars if you smoke cigarettes.

This may be because smoking shrinks your blood vessels, and prevents blood from reaching any burst spots or pimples. This slows down the healing process and encourages scar tissue to form.

Quitting smoking can be very challenging, but it may help your acne and provides many other health benefits.

Letting your skin heal naturally

It can be tempting to pick at your spots. You may have even heard that bursting them in special ways will speed up the healing process.

But popping, squeezing or picking at your spots can damage your skin and increase your risk of scarring and infection, so try to let your skin heal naturally.

Acne treatments that don’t work

There are many myths around acne treatments, so as well as knowing what works, it's also important to understand what doesn't.

Putting toothpaste on your spots

You may have heard that putting toothpaste on your spots can speed up the healing process. But this is bad for acne.

Using toothpaste could irritate your skin and make your acne worse.

Bee venom or tea tree oil

If you search the internet for natural acne treatments, you may also read about treatments that contain purified bee venom or tea tree oil.

A study published in 2015 looked at all the evidence for alternative acne treatments that used these ingredients and found that there wasn’t enough evidence to support their use.

The same study also found that tea tree oil could dry out or irritate your skin.

Treating acne at home

If you have acne and you want to treat it at home, try to stick with methods that are proven to work.

You can also talk to your pharmacist about gentle skin treatments, or ask a doctor about medications that can treat your acne without causing serious side effects.

Key points:

  • changing your diet may help to reduce symptoms of acne
  • quitting cigarettes may help reduce acne scarring
  • washing with a gentle cleanser or an oil-free soap helps to lift dirt and bacteria away from your skin
  • popping, squeezing or picking at your spots can damage your skin
  • there's no evidence that toothpaste, purified bee venom or tea tree oil help to treat acne
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