Are there any effective natural acne treatment options?

Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

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

Topical treatments

  • 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. Tea tree oil may cause a skin reaction known as contact dermatitis. There's also some concern that topical products containing tea tree oil might cause breast development in young boys. Don't use tea tree oil if you have acne rosacea because it can worsen symptoms.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids. These natural acids — found in foods such as citrus fruits — help remove dead skin cells and unclog pores when applied topically. Alpha hydroxy acids may also improve the appearance of acne scars. They can also cause redness, mild stinging and skin irritation.
  • Azelaic acid. This naturally occurring acid is found in whole-grain cereals and animal products and has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many other conventional acne treatments, including 5 percent benzoyl peroxide and oral tetracycline.

Oral treatments

  • Zinc supplements. Zinc plays a role in wound healing and reduces inflammation, which could help improve acne. Taking a zinc supplement with food may reduce side effects, including a bad taste in your mouth and nausea. Zinc can also be added to lotions or creams and may reduce acne breakouts.
  • Brewer's yeast. A specific strain of brewer's yeast, called CBS 5926, seems to help decrease acne. Brewer's yeast may cause migraines in susceptible people and may cause intestinal upset.

More research is needed to establish the potential effectiveness and long-term safety of these and other natural acne treatments.

If you're considering natural acne treatments, consult your doctor first. He or she can help you weigh the pros and cons of specific treatments.

Oct. 05, 2011 See more Expert Answers