What Skin Doctors Use to Fight Acne Breakouts at Home
Check out these derm-approved blemish busters for easy (and affordable!) ways to beat breakouts.
Banana peels, strawberries, yogurt and ice. What do these kitchen staples have in common? According to top dermatologists, they’re what you should be reaching for the next time your skin breaks out. Yes, we're giving you permission to forget pricey, over-the-counter blemish busters. Those aisles are crowded with hundreds of products. And the ingredients lists? Forget it. That tiny text is nearly impossible to read. And who has time to stand there debating between them all anyway? Rather than linger in the drugstore aisle or conduct tedious research the next time a pimple pops up, you can count on these at-home acne fighters. Each item on this list was recommended by a dermatologist, so you can feel confident that these solutions will work. And that's the kind of confidence you need when you wake up on the day of a big event with an unsightly blemish on your face.
Green Tea and Honey
“My favorite at-home remedy for acne is green tea and honey. I make a cup of green tea, add a teaspoon of honey, and let it cool before soaking a cotton ball in the liquid and applying it to the pimple for at least a minute. Green tea is a natural anti-inflammatory and can decrease redness and swelling, while honey—an antibacterial—can destroy acne-causing germs. This remedy is incredibly gentle, making it safe for even sensitive skin,” says Rachel Nazarian MD, assistant clinical professor, department of dermatology, at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
"I can’t overstate the acne-fighting benefits of witch hazel, a plant-based topical ingredient derived from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant. It breaks down excess deposits of dead skin and oil, while cleaning pores—amazing for those with oily skin or anyone suffering from acne. The tannins in witch hazel act like an astringent, yet won’t dry or strip the skin because it’s alcohol-free and blends with the natural pH of your skin," says Dennis Gross, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist.
“Plain and simple, my favorite at-home remedy for pimples is ice. Ice can decrease skin swelling and redness, and in situations where you don’t have access to acne medication, it soothes an angry pimple without causing irritation or damage to the top layer of your skin,” say Jeanine Downie, MD, a New Jersey-based dermatologist.
“The inside of a banana peel is chock-full of vitamins and nutrients that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties. Rub the inside of the peel on the breakout until the peel turns brown, then leave the residue on you skin for ten to fifteen minutes before rinsing,” says Sejal Shah, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and a contributor at RealSelf.com.
“Aloe is one of the best natural acne solutions, especially on blemishes that are red and filled with fluid. Taken in its purest form—from the aloe plant—it acts as an anti-inflammatory, soothing skin and reducing redness almost immediately. Simply remove some of the gel-like substance from the inside of the leaf, apply it to the blemish, and leave it on overnight,” says Craig Austin, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
“Strawberries are a great blemish fighter because they contain acne-fighting salicylic acid, antioxidants, and a number of vitamins and nutrients. Simply mash up two to three strawberries and apply the mixture to any blemishes, leaving it on for fifteen to twenty minutes,” advises Shah.
“A lemon contains stable vitamin C, which can prevent and reduce breakouts and speed up acne healing time. It also acts as an antioxidant and natural skin brightener, reducing acne scarring and redness. Simply strain the juice of a lemon and apply it directly to the blemish using a cotton ball,” says Sonia Badreshia, MD, a clinical instructor at The University of California at San Francisco.
“Turmeric is a potent spice with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also contains acne-fighting salicylic acid. Twice a week, add a half to one teaspoon of turmeric to yogurt and apply a thin mask to your face. Leave it on until it dries (about twenty minutes), but no longer as it can temporarily stain your skin. (If this happens, you can make a sugar scrub with almond or coconut oil to eliminate the tint.) Turmeric is widely used in Indian culture to brighten and clear up the skin. In fact, there’s a whole event during traditional Indian weddings that revolves around applying turmeric to the bride to ‘beautify’ her skin,” says Shah, MD.
“Once, while traveling for work, I had a big presentation—so of course, I had a big breakout! I'm not acne prone so I didn't have any blemish cream with me, but I did have a baby aspirin. Aspirin is salicylic acid, like the stuff we use in acne products to dry up oil and clear pimples. I crushed the baby aspirin and added it to a bit of moisturizer and applied it to the blemish. Worked like a charm overnight!” notes Ranella Hirsch, MD, a Boston-based dermatologist.
Tea Tree Oil
“Hands down, tea tree oil works great as an at-home acne remedy. It’s both antimicrobial—it fights the bacteria that causes acne, fungi, and even some viruses—and anti-inflammatory, which means it won’t further irritate the skin. The active ingredient is terpinen-4-ol, which can be used at strengths ranging from 1 to 5 percent. Start with 1 percent to be safe, applying it two to three times a day directly on blemishes,” says Neal Schultz, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist, host of DermTV.com, and creator of BeautyRx.
Apple Cider Vinegar
“Apple cider vinegar is an effective homeopathic treatment for acne. Diluting the vinegar is essential, as applying it directly to the skin could cause irritation. It treats acne through its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties—reducing inflammation quickly, usually within three to five days. Simply dilute half a cup of apple cider vinegar in four cups of water, apply it to the affected skin with gauze or a cotton ball, and leave it on for five to ten minutes before rinsing,” says Jenneé Rommel, MD, a Chicago-based dermatologist.
“Rosemary works as an antibacterial against all types of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, red bumps, and cysts. I discovered its benefits when I needed to come up with a quick blemish solution after my luggage was lost while traveling (with no pharmacy in sight!). Simply brew rosemary tea or rosemary sprigs in boiling water, allow the liquid to cool, and then apply the solution to any blemishes using a cotton swab. Tap or roll the swab over the pimple five to ten times, with a 30-second pause between passes,” says Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology, New York City.
“Talc absorbs surface oil, which helps dry out blemishes. It also reflects light to minimize the appearance of pores and can help camouflage the redness and inflammation associated with acne. Apply it to any breakouts using a makeup brush or a clean finger,” says Diane Berson, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University - New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
“Yogurt contains healthy probiotic bacteria that can help fight acne-causing bacteria, along with lactic acid, a hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin to reduce and prevent clogged pores. Apply some plain yogurt (full-fat, with live and active cultures) onto the blemish for ten minutes before rinsing,” notes Shah.
“Choose a white, natural-based paste (avoid gels which can be irritating to the skin), containing baking soda, tea tree oil, or hydrogen peroxide. The anti-bacterial and drying powers of these ingredients will help your zit heal faster. Dab a small amount right on the pimple and leave it on for a few hours or even overnight. It works!” says Erin Gilbert, MD, director, Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York.