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Herbal Remedies for Acne

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Safe and effective herbal remedy treatments for acne including information on how they help, dosages, precautions, side-effects, and more.

Acne is a skin condition that mostly affects the face, the back, and the upper parts of the torso. In mild to moderate cases, acne appears as comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), pustules, papules, and red, scaly skin.

In severe cases, acne can have inflammatory presentations such as nodules and cysts as well as cause scars.

Acne is primarily caused by changes in the hormonal balance of the body. More specifically, the onset of puberty usually coincides with the first eruption of acne because of rising levels of androgens such as testosterone and its metabolite, dihydrotestosterone.

These male hormones change the nature of the sebaceous follicles and lead to the clogging of skin pores with plugs made of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

Apart from the androgens, the other major cause of acne is the bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes. Therefore, acne treatment can target either or both the bacterium and/or the increased productions of androgens.

Both herbs and conventional medications can treat acne by restoring hormonal balance and killing off P. acnes. Herbal extracts which are natural remedies have far fewer side effects.

There is a long list of herbal remedies that can be used to treat acne. Most of these have antibacterial properties. Others also have anti-inflammatory properties and can provide a deep cleansing effect on the skin.

Some of the effective herbal remedies for acne are discussed below.

1. MSM

MSM or methylsulfonylmethane is an organosulfur compound sold as a dietary supplement.

While MSM is found in nature, it is only found in minute amounts. Therefore, even though it is a natural remedy, it has to be synthesized to be produced in commercial quantities.

MSM is found in all living things. It is believed to originate from planktons in the sea. Upon release, it is converted to DMS, a precursor of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO).

While the properties of DMSO make it an important industrial solvent for topical skin preparations, MSM has a different set of qualities. It is medicinal and can cross the blood-brain barrier. It is also a major contributor of sulfur in the human body and is especially useful for skin health.

MSM is used to treat allergies, arthritis, and skin diseases. It provides sulfur which is needed in the production of collagen in the skin. This allows the flexibility of the skin and prevents premature aging.

The sulfur contribution is also essential to the importance of MSM in acne treatment. Beyond improving skin health, MSM can help kill off Propionibacterium acnes. More importantly, it has anti-inflammatory properties that help resolve the nodules and cysts associated with acne.

2. Gum Guggul

Gum guggul is the resinous sap of Guggul or Commiphora wightii. This flowering plant is an important herbal remedy in Ayurvedic medicine. It is still used today and extensively too. In fact, Guggul is currently classified as an endangered species.

The extract of the Guggul sap used is called guggulipid. Its major content is guggulsterone, which is a steroid. Herbal gum guggul preparations contain 10% guggulsterone.

This gummy resin is harvested from the bark of the plant by a process called tapping. It produces a fragrance similar to myrrh and is sometimes used in perfumes and incense.

Gum guggul is traditionally used to treat arthritis, obesity, oral infections, digestive problems and to lower blood cholesterol. It is also used to treat skin diseases.

Its exact mechanism of action in treating acne is unknown but because the active ingredient is a steroid, it is most likely that gum guggul possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It can, therefore, be used to prevent swelling, relieve acne cyst and nodules and prevent scar formation.

Both MSM and gum guggul can be found in Actimine, a product formulated with a potent mixture of herbal remedies that provide quick and lasting relief for acne sufferers.

3. Dong Quai

Dong Quai is also known as female ginseng. Dong Quai is called female ginseng because it is an herbal remedy used as a uterine tonic and to regulate hormones in women. However, it is not recommended for pregnant and nursing women.

Dong Quai is an extract taken from the dried roots of Angelica sinensis. It is useful in acne treatment because it contains estrogen-like compounds.

Since increased production of androgen hormones is responsible for acne even in women, estrogen which is a powerful female sex hormone is known to have anti-acne properties. These estrogen-like compounds inhibit the effect of the androgens on the sebaceous follicles and, in this way, help treat the presentations of acne.

Care should be taken when using dong quai because it can make the skin overly photosensitive.

4. Vitex

Vitex is a herbal remedy whose activity is similar to that of Dong Quai. It is obtained from the dried fruit of Vitex agnus castus which is also known as the Chaste tree and Monk’s Pepper.

Vitex is a traditional remedy for treating female hormonal imbalance caused by childbirth, menstruation, menopause, and infertility. It is especially effective in the treatment of acne caused by hormonal changes during menstrual cycles.

Vitex stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone from the pituitary gland. This hormone goes on to increase the production of progesterone, a female hormone produced in the ovaries.

The increase in the levels of female hormones helps counterbalance the effects of androgens found circulating. This, in turn, reduces the damage caused to the sebaceous follicles by the male hormones.

Vitex is also not recommended for pregnant women and should be used with care in nursing mothers.

5. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a popular home remedy for skin infections. It can be applied topically or taken orally.

There are 2 major ways by which Aloe vera can benefit acne sufferers. First, it is a great moisturizer and cleanser. This popular herbal remedy can penetrate the layers of the skin to nourish the follicles and soothe skin irritation. It can also speed up the healing of acne scars.

Secondly, Aloe vera contains at least 6 antiseptic agents which can provide a broad antimicrobial cover for the skin. Therefore, the herb can kill off the bacteria and fungi which cause or worsen acne symptoms.

6. Olive Leaf Extract

This herbal remedy is taken from the leaves of olive trees or Olea Europaea. Its use can be traced back to the ancient Greek civilization.

This extract has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. When taken orally, it can help detoxify the body and regulate hormone balance.

Therefore, olive leaf extract can normalize the production of androgen and other hormones in the body. It can also kill the microorganisms which promote the formation of acne.

Since this herbal remedy is a detoxifier, users may experience symptoms of detoxification such as a headache, nausea, and muscle aches.

7. Burdock

Burdock is the name given to the herbal extract taken from the roots of Burdock. The plant extract has long been used for treating skin diseases in traditional medicine.

Burdock has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Therefore, it can help kill off Propionibacterium acnes and other bacteria contributing to the development of acne. Furthermore, its anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce the swelling associated with acne nodules and cysts as well as reduce the acne scars formed from such inflamed lesions.

8. Dandelion Root

The extract of dandelion root is known as a detoxifier and regulator of hormone levels. It is also a rich source of essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, B, C, D, and some trace elements.

Therefore, dandelion root extract can be useful in acne therapy for promoting skin health and reducing the number of androgens produced.

9. Licorice Root

Licorice is an ancient herbal remedy that was commonly used by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese to promote vitality and improve general health.

This herb has anti-inflammatory properties useful for relieving the swelling caused by acne cyst and nodules. It provides a soothing effect when applied topically and it can also relieve the red, scaly appearance of the skin caused by irritants during acne breakouts.

Licorice root should be avoided by pregnant women and nursing mothers.

10. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is obtained from steam distillation of the leaves of Australian tea tree oil or Melaleuca alternifolia.

The oil obtained is traditionally used to treat skin infections as well as heal skin burns and cuts. Its active ingredients are terpenoids and the most abundant of these compounds is tepen-4-ol.

The terpenoids are responsible for the antimicrobial activities of tea tree oil. Its use in acne treatment is, therefore, mostly to kill off the bacteria responsible for acne.

In a comparative study done by researchers in the Department of Dermatology of Australia’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, tea tree oil was compared to benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne with or without inflammation.

The study took 3 months and both anti-acne medications were proven to be effective. However, benzoyl peroxide was more effective than tea tree oil and had a faster onset of action. On the other hand, tea tree oil produced far fewer side effects and in fewer study participants.

11. Lavender Oil

Lavender oil is a natural herbal remedy known for its analgesic, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It can be applied directly to the skin but only after dilution with grape seed oil since lavender oil is very strong.

It is useful for killing off the bacteria responsible for acne. The oil can also deeply penetrate the skin to ease the pain, redness, and inflammation associated with acne. Lastly, lavender oil soothes the skin and promotes skin health.

12. Red Clover

Red clover is a popular traditional herbal remedy for treating skin diseases ranging from eczema and psoriasis to acne. It is believed to be a detoxifier and blood cleanser which acts internally to prevent the break out of acne lesions.

13. Green Tea

Green tea is an ancient Chinese herbal remedy. When combined with honeysuckle, it is known in many Asian cultures as “pimple tea” and used for treating acne.

Green tea is taken for its antioxidant property which is attributed to its polyphenol content. These antioxidant compounds help mop up free radicals that can damage the skin and cause hormonal imbalances.

14. Garlic

Garlic is surprisingly effective at getting rid of acne. Garlic has antibacterial properties, which can remove acne bacteria from the skin. Raw garlic is better than powdered garlic. You can add raw garlic to recipes you cook at home or apply raw garlic directly to breakouts. Don't apply garlic to broken skin or it will sting. Wash the garlic off after a few minutes to get rid of the smell, or you can apply it at night right before bed and wash it off in the morning.

15. Amaranth

Amaranth is a plant similar to wheat. The seeds of the amaranth plant are credited with the ability to reduce acne flare-ups by calming inflammation and removing bacteria from the skin. Amaranth is most effective when applied topically as a toner. Mix three cups of water with two teaspoons of amaranth seeds and bring to a boil. Steep the seeds until the water is room temperature. Apply to the face with a cotton ball before bed after washing your face.

16. Neem

Neem is a powerful acne fighter. It has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. You can take neem internally or apply it externally to pimples to reduce redness and speed healing. When taken internally, it can take a few weeks before the benefits kick in.

17. Coriander

Coriander (also known as cilantro) is high in many vitamins and minerals, making it ideal for filling in any nutrient gaps. Coriander is also anti-inflammatory and can calm red, irritated skin. Adding coriander to your diet regularly will help control redness, irritation, and discourage acne flare-ups.

18. Basil

Basil is a plant with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it ideal for treating acne. You can add more basil to your diet (fresh is best) or apply it topically to active breakouts. Make a basil toner by steeping basil leaves in boiling water until the water cools to room temperature. Dip a cotton ball in the toner and apply it to the face once a day.

19. Evening Primrose

Evening primrose is an effective acne treatment. The oil is antibacterial, making it effective at healing existing pimples and preventing new ones from forming. Evening primrose oil can be applied both topically and taken internally in supplement form. Women who are pregnant, however, should avoid taking evening primrose internally as it has been linked with triggering contractions.

20. Chamomile

Chamomile is a surprisingly effective acne treatment. Although we think of chamomile as a soothing remedy for anxiety, it also has soothing effects on acne and irritated skin. Chamomile decreases swelling, redness, and inflammation and helps to speed the healing of acne breakouts and prevent scarring. Use chamomile tea as a topical toner and drink a cup of chamomile tea daily to help reduce acne flare-ups from the inside out.

21. Mint

Just like basil, mint is surprisingly effective at reducing acne breakouts. Mint has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and is soothing on the skin just like basil. You can make a tea from mint and drink it daily as well as apply mint leaves directly to acne pimples to reduce redness, pain, and inflammation in the area.

22. Echinacea

You may think of Echinacea as an herb that is useful for boosting the immune system, but the herb also has anti-acne properties. Echinacea’s biggest benefit is its ability to reduce inflammation, making pimples appear smaller and fade faster. It has also been shown in clinical trials to have a hydrating benefit when applied topically to the face. This is useful for those who have acne as numerous acne treatments cause dry, irritated skin.

23. Willow Bark

Willow bark is a powerful herbal remedy for more than just acne. However, it is favored among acne sufferers because of its high salicin compound, which is used in many prescription treatments for acne. This acid reduces acne flare-ups and willow bark also contains compounds that soothe inflammation and redness. Applying willow bark extract to the face once a day will help control and prevent acne flare-ups.

24. Thyme

Thyme is a surprisingly effective remedy for reducing oil on the face and preventing clogged pores. Thyme is unique in its ability to tone and hydrate the skin while preventing the overproduction of oil. This prevents pores from clogging and helps maintain smooth, healthy skin. You can make a toner by boiling thyme leaves and applying it to the skin a few times a week.

25. Calendula

Calendula is another herb that helps control oil and reduce clogged pores. Brewing a tea with calendula leaves and using it as a face wash once or twice daily will help prevent excess oil production and keep your skin healthy, clear, and looking good.

26. Blue Tansy

Blue tansy is effective in reducing clogged pores. Blue tansy should be used in essential oil form mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil. The blue tansy lives up to its name, so the oil should not be applied to the skin directly or your face will be stained. Use blue tansy oil mixed with coconut oil as a spot treatment for pimples and to prevent your skin from producing too much oil. Don't use blue tansy on the skin more than twice a week or the balance of your skin might be thrown off, potentially increasing breakouts.

27. Yellow Dock

Yellow dock is most beneficial in reducing inflammation and redness. You can take yellow dock as a daily supplement and use it externally. However, the herb is most effective when used internally, as it works to improve digestion, reduce stress, and improve colon function. These side benefits of Yellow dock will work to prevent acne at the earliest stages and prevent acne bacteria from ever reaching the face.

28. Arnica

Arnica is a popular herbal remedy for acne. The herb has been used since the 1500s as a treatment for acne-prone skin. Arnica is anti-inflammatory, but it can also help reduce swelling and pain. This makes it ideal for treating larger, painful pimples to reduce size, redness, and pain in the area. Arnica can be applied to the skin directly in essential oil form or taken internally as a supplement.

29. Turmeric

Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. For acne, turmeric can reduce inflammation, swelling, and redness. Turmeric is used both as an internal and external remedy for acne. You can take turmeric supplements safely along with other herbal supplements for acne and make a paste of turmeric to apply directly on pimples to reduce their size and redness.

30. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus has numerous properties that help reduce inflammation and redness. It also has antiseptic properties, reducing the number of acne bacteria present on the skin. Eucalyptus should not be taken internally. The most effective form of eucalyptus against acne is eucalyptus essential oil. The oil can be added to a face wash or applied directly to pimples to speed healing.

31. Goldenseal

Goldenseal can be used internally or externally to reduce acne. When used topically, goldenseal has antibacterial effects that kill bacteria that cause acne. Internally the goldenseal has similar effects on bacteria present inside the body. Studies show that acne is often triggered in the gut and controlling the bacteria present in the stomach and intestines can influence the number of bacteria on the skin and face. Applied topically, goldenseal will reduce redness and soothe the skin.

32. Chaste Tree

The Chaste tree regulates the production of hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Chaste tree is often considered a female herb for this precise benefit. In one study from Germany, it was found that taking chaste tree supplements was able to reduce hormonally-induced acne in adults. Do not take chaste tree supplements if pregnant, as it can lead to miscarriage and early labor.

33. Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is largely known for its ability to block the production of DHT. DHT actually encourages the production of sebum, so there is some evidence to suggest that taking saw palmetto can also reduce the presence of acne on the skin. This works for both women and men, as both sexes have some level of DHT in the body. Studies indicate that when hormone imbalance is a suspected cause of acne, supplementing with saw palmetto reduced acne breakouts.

34. Oregon Grape

Oregon grape is used both topically and internally to treat acne. Studies indicate that Oregon grape can reduce sebum production, which is linked with causing acne breakouts. The same effects are realized when used internally or externally. The herb also contains properties that have been shown to kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin and improve digestion.

You Can Use Herbal Treatments for Acne

Acne is an imbalance of hormones and bacteria that cause the skin to break out. Most people experience acne at some point in their lives, although some people experience it more than others. Acne isn't isolated to teens, and many older adults still suffer from acne well into their forties. Herbs are a viable treatment for acne for individuals who don't want to take prescription medication that may have side effects. The herbal treatments for acne listed above include the most effective herbal remedies for acne.

If you want to cure your acne for good, herbal treatments should be mixed with dietary changes and anti-stress activities to reduce all causes of acne. Don't overload your skin with too many herbal remedies at once. Try one or two herbal treatments at a time for at least a month before moving on to other remedies. In some cases, doing less with your skin rather than more will actually be more beneficial than trying too many remedies at once.

Most people with acne have sensitive skin, and trying too many things at once will only make the problem worse. When trying herbal treatments for acne, don't use them in conjunction with prescription acne medication or harsh facial washes. Always use gentle cleansers and avoid scrubs as they can cause acne to worsen. Gentle, soft treatments using natural ingredients are more likely to yield positive results.



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