Are there any effective natural acne treatment options?

Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

Some natural treatments may be helpful in reducing acne inflammation and breakouts:

  • Tea tree oil. Gels containing 5 percent tea tree oil may be as effective as are lotions containing 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, although tea tree oil might work more slowly. Possible side effects include contact dermatitis and, if you have rosacea, a worsening of those symptoms. One study reported that a young boy experienced breast development after using a combination lavender and tea tree oil hair product. Tea tree oil should be used only topically.
  • Alpha hydroxy acid. This natural acid is found in citrus fruit and other foods. When applied to your skin, alpha hydroxy acid helps remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. It may also improve the appearance of acne scars. Side effects include increased sensitivity to the sun, redness, mild stinging and skin irritation.
  • Azelaic acid. This naturally occurring acid is found in whole-grain cereals and animal products. It has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many other conventional acne treatments when used twice a day for at least four weeks. It's even more effective when used in combination with erythromycin. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is an option during pregnancy and while breast-feeding.
  • Bovine cartilage. Creams containing 5 percent bovine cartilage, applied to the affected skin twice a day, may be effective in reducing acne.
  • Zinc. Zinc in lotions and creams may reduce acne breakouts.
  • Green tea extract. A lotion of 2 percent green tea extract helped reduce acne in two studies of adolescents and young adults with mild to moderate acne.
  • Aloe vera. A 50 percent aloe vera gel was combined with a conventional acne drug (tretinoin) and tested for eight weeks on 60 people with moderate acne. The combination approach was significantly more effective than tretinoin alone.
  • Brewer's yeast. A specific strain of brewer's yeast, called CBS 5926, seems to help decrease acne. Brewer's yeast is the only item in this list that's taken orally. It may cause flatulence.

More research is needed to establish the potential effectiveness and long-term safety of these and other natural acne treatments, traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic herbs.

Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of specific treatments before you try them.

Oct. 22, 2014