Natural Skin Care Routine for Acne: Tips, Tricks & Products

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Natural Skin Care Routine for Acne: Tips, Tricks & Products

Skin care is a delicate and fine art, but over the years many products are becoming super strength, concentrated serums, or simply too harsh for most, leading to irritated and acne-prone skin.

That’s why many are tired of trying to balance the confusing mix of modern skin care options and want to go back to basics with a natural skin care routine for acne.

While going natural isn’t always the miracle change some are hoping for, for other people it is the thing that finally makes a difference to their acne.

Why is it really effective for some and not for others?

The answer is building intolerance to the many chemicals that come included with skin care products. These compounds are often not even ‘active ingredients’ but are filler ingredients designed to keep contents acidic, give them a longer shelf life and prevent bacterial buildup amongst other things.

Often single exposure to these ingredients isn’t a problem. Over time, however, someone with a ‘full’ skin care routine (not even thinking about cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner) is exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a weekly or monthly basis.

Eventually, the balance and integrity of the skin and skin barrier starts to break down under the weight of these chemicals. Symptoms vary but usually result in imbalance, creating overly dry or oily skin, irritated, and susceptible to outbreaks and infection.[1]

What can appear to be acne-prone skin is often perfectly healthy skin that has been worn down over time.

This is a really important point to know as it means that what you don’t need is expensive treatments or trips to a dermatologist.

What you need is a gentle and natural skin care routine for acne that restores the natural pH, sebum level, and hydration of the skin. This will in a surprisingly short period of time restore your skin back to health and keep acne and outbreaks at bay.[1]

What is a natural skin care routine?

best facial moisturizer vitamin c

Simply put, it is a routine that includes only raw or homemade remedies that can be made using many ingredients found in your local food or health store.

Not all ingredients are made equal, however. The majority of the natural world isn’t designed to be rubbed into your skin, so you still need to know what you are doing to avoid making things worse for your skin.

However, picking the right combination of natural ingredients can effectively replace a portion of your skin care routine, giving your skin a rest from synthetic, man-made compounds which could be causing or exacerbating your acne.

How best to start a natural skin care routine?

If you suspect that your acne is indeed made worse by your current line up of products then the best thing is to stop everything immediately.

Let your skin rest for a few days (up to two weeks) and then begin slowly introducing your natural skin care routine one ingredient or ‘product replacement’ at a time.

This lets you see the reaction to each step of the routine over the course of a few days. Only then will you know what is actually providing some benefit and what isn’t effective for you.

Natural skin care ingredients for acne

This section will help give newcomers and those familiar with natural treatments a good base to build their own skin care routine from.

One point to note- there is a balance between DIY skin care and looking to mainstream offerings that concentrate on natural and organic ingredients. Natural DIY skin care comes with lots of benefits – hence us publishing a whole article on the topic.

However, once you become comfortable that you know which synthetic products are causing issues and which natural compounds work for you then it might be time to upgrade from DIY.

Why the need to upgrade?

Well, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies have the resources to standardize and optimize their products. When you do DIY skin care, the amount of ‘active ingredients’ and more that you apply to your skin will differ in consistency, concentration, and more. This is unavoidable when dealing with the natural world.

So when you know what is good to you and your skin the next sensible step is to look for a mainstream standardized offering that uses the same natural ingredients and doesn’t muddy the waters with synthetic compounds.

Finally – be careful about anecdotal ‘DIY skin care recipes’ on the internet. Although most people are well-meaning, not all are qualified to comment on skin care. Things like coconut oil get offered up as the next best thing with many then finding it causes excess greasiness and outbreaks.

Often this is because individual benefits have been found in research, and these findings cause people to completely ignore the effects of real-life application.

Take a look at our article if you are unsure about any ingredient popular online. This website will tell you how ‘comedogenic’ any particular ingredient is. If it is recorded as high you should probably avoid it regardless of how popular it might seem to be.

Cleansers

Raw manuka honey:

manuka honey

At first glance, something that is sweet and sticky may not seem like a sensible first choice for a cleanser. However honey has great properties which help skin lock in moisture and stop it from evaporating and drying the skin. It manages to do this without leaving an oily layer or clogging pores.

Perhaps more importantly both Manuka and medical-grade honey have been shown to combat bacteria, even antibiotic-resistant bacteria! Aside from inhibiting a wide variety of microorganisms that can affect skin, honey also brings skin pH back into balance, further soothing skin and restoring its own repair function.[2]

All these benefits work together to bring down inflammation and stop the acne cycle from recurring.

How to:

  1. Wash your face with water
  2. Use just a fingertip or two to spread the honey over your skin
  3. Let it sit for at least a minute for antimicrobial effectiveness
  4. Rinse and dry

Upgrade option:

APIVITA 3 in 1 Natural Cleansing Milk – Infused with chamomile and honey, this gentle 3 in 1 cleanser is rich in antioxidants and still retains a 99% natural origin.

Toners

Apple cider vinegar (avoid):

Apple cider Vinegar or AVC for short has numerous articles around the net backing its health benefits. Unfortunately, the hype has got mixed up with the science and there are plenty of untruths hidden within its real strengths (like helping with arthritis for example).

One of these untruths is that ACV is good for your skin, or in the very least can be used like a Beta or Alpha hydroxy acid to peel the skin. While ACV will peel your skin away, it does so in a damaging fashion, unlike hydroxy acids.

ACV isn’t even that great at correcting skin pH, after 60 minutes the skin goes back to its previous state. Diluted ACV will still dry out your skin, even when mixed with water.

While you will see the opposite claim all over the internet, there isn’t one piece of research that even suggests that ACV can be used for skin care. All research is reports of damage and risk only.[3]

Witch hazel (a safer alternative):

Witch Hazel is a type of bush that’s been used by Native Americans for centuries.

It seems to have both anti-oxidant effects as well as helping with acne. This is in part due to its astringent qualities, reducing the appearance of outbreaks and potentially reducing comedones formation as well.

For men who seem who have acne following a close shave, Witch Hazel has come to the rescue. It has been studied for all types of skin damage such as UV, physical trauma, and chemical burns.[4]

It seems to be effective in promoting recovery, which soothes skin and slows the reactionary acne cycle so many are caught in. Those with Acne will want to pay special attention to current antibacterial research that shows it may act against propionium acnes, the main bacterial culprit of acne outbreaks.[5]

A word of warning – for some witch hazel is too astringent. If this is the case for you it could overly dry your skin, prompting for oil and acne down the line. If you are trying to go back to basics washing with water (no soap) may be the best bet initially if you are giving your skin a rest from synthetic products.

How to:

Witch hazel tends to come as bark rather than powder so it needs to be prepared. Beware of witch hazel tonics or solutions, they may have gone through a manufacturing process that diminishes its potency.

  1. Put 50g of Witch Hazel Bark into 250ml water
  2. Let it absorb the water for 1 hour
  3. Bring to a simmer in a covered saucepan for 10 minutes
  4. Let the mixture cool
  5. Strain and put liquid into a sterilized container
  6. Dab using a cotton ball
  7. You can dilute the mixture with boiled (and cooled) water if you find it too astringent

Don’t worry that you are ‘watering down’ the witch hazel solution too much. It will retain its antibacterial properties and it is always better to have skin that isn’t dried out from an overly strong solution.

Upgrade Option:

Belif Witch Hazel Extract Toner – A well-balanced toner with 3.5% Witch Hazel extract to hydrate dry and dull skin. Infused with a range of other botanicals to give an antioxidant boost to your toning.

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Moisturizers

Jojoba oil:

best jojoba oil moisturizer

Jojoba oil is a great sebum analog. What that means is that when applying Jojoba oil it acts as your own natural oils would and your body reacts in kind. Whether this is a direct effect or happens because of jojoba’s soothing properties is not currently known.

Rather than moisturizing like a standard cream, Jojoba helps to lock in moisture and keep your skin hydrated the natural way – by supporting the skin’s barrier function and reducing excess water loss.

The oil soothes the skin and inflammation, reducing the level of reactive sebum being produced. For those struggling with acne this leads to less angry outbreaks and less oily, happier skin.[6]

How to:

This will depend heavily on your skin but try a few drops rubbed into your skin every morning. Stay consistent for a few days even if your skin seems to become more oily or dry out. When your skin adjusts to a more hydrated and calmer way of being sebum production should normalize.

Upgrade option:

ZELEN Life Moisturizer – A handmade and organic toner with Jojoba, calendula, and clary sage as its base to give powerful hydrating and antioxidant action.

UV protection

We should all be trying to use more natural products when possible – but this is even more true of SPF and sunscreen. Synthetic sunscreens notoriously break down, are toxic, and are severely damaging to marine wildlife.

We do however need some form of sunscreen to combat skin aging, sunburn, and skin cancer.

The below natural compounds are all plant or marine-derived, safe and are effective UV filters. In fact, they have ‘higher UV assimilation and antioxidant capacities when compared to synthetic products’:[7]

  • Lignin
  • Silymarin (silybum marianum)
  • Guava fruit extract
  • Red algae (Gracilariopsis longissimi and Hydropuntia cornea)
  • Antarctic moss (Sanionia uncinata)
  • Amazon mosses (H. laevifolia and Leucobryum sp.)
  • Cordyceps sinensis
  • Coffea Arabica (Arabica Coffee)

Keep in mind that almost all the research on the above was carried out on extracts. While the research showed they were as good as or better than mainstream sunscreen extracts are inherently more concentrated than the original plant.

Rather than plastering coffee and guava fruit on your skin look for sunscreens that incorporate these ingredients as extracts.

How to:

These extracts will need to be purchased from a reliable food or health store. You want there to be no other ingredients except for aqua (water) and perhaps a stabilizer. Anything more than that and you would be better served simply applying an SPF.

Upgrade option: 

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion – A natural, vegan, and reef-friendly sunscreen that offers 50SPF while being Hypoallergenic, Gluten, and Cruelty-Free.

Exfoliators

Sugar scrub:

apply a sugar exfoliator

Mixed with water, a sugar scrub is a fast, easy and gentle way to remove dead skin and oil. Make sure you wash your face well – aside from feeling sticky the strong osmotic pressure from the sugar could pull hydration out of your skin.

Upgrade option:

ZELEN Life Exfoliator – A natural facial scrub that combines Jojoba and sunflower oils ot provide antibacterial properties alongside the great anti-aging benefits of this exfoliator.

Ground Almond:

Rather than utilized for botanical properties, Almonds provide a softer physical scrub when crushed compared to most other nuts. They can be crushed in almond or oatmeal milk to give some soothing action throughout your scrub. Simply ground into a fine paste and use as any other scrub.

Upgrade option:

Mario Badescu Almond & Honey Face Scrub This finely ground almond scrub is nonabrasive and gentle to your skin, removing the build-up of dead cells and buffing your face.

Tomatoes:

Our only acid scrub on the list, as opposed to physical, is pulped fresh tomatoes. The acid within tomatoes is the well-known salicylic acid, a Beta Hydroxy acid. Beta hydroxy acids are effective for those with acne as they help to gently remove dead cells, grime, and oil.[8]

If you find that any type of physical scrub is too much for your skin then a quick tomato scrub and mask combo might be right for you. This method uses sugar as it dissolves within the water of the tomato fruit, giving the most gentle physical action whilst also sticking the salicylic acid within the tomato pulp to your skin.

How to:

  1. Crush one fresh tomato with a teaspoon of white sugar
  2. Remove the thick flesh and mix the pulp until the sugar begins to dissolve
  3. Gently run the remaining mix onto your skin
  4. (optional) leave for up to 10 minutes to give the acid even more time to work
  5. Rinse with water
  6. Apply a natural moisturizer or top up with Jojoba oil

Upgrade Option:

Mario Badescu Strawberry Face Scrub – Drawing instead on Alpha hydroxy acids, this is a dual-action, gentle scrub with strawberry seeds also providing a physical exfoliator.

Masks

Oatmeal mask:

Calming skin is perhaps the number one goal in acne control. Once you have that worked out, oil levels, inflammation, redness, and dryness start to fall into place. This is why oatmeal masks can be especially effective for those living with acne.

Oatmeal naturally absorbs oils and as it is particulate in nature also doubles as a soft scrub. Where it really comes into its own is the long list of potential benefits. Oatmeal has been shown to possess anti-oxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties. These have been demonstrated to be effective in treating not only acne but also pruritus, atopic dermatitis, and viral infections.[9]

To round it all off recent investigations have uncovered its potential benefit in protecting skin against harmful UV rays.

How to:

  1. Use 100g rolled or ground oats and mix with hot water
  2. Mix until a milky paste is formed
  3. Add more oats until it sticks to the bottom of a spoon
  4. Massage onto your skin
  5. Leave for 10 minutes to absorb oil, bacteria, and grime

Do not make the mistake of using very milky/watery oats. While this may have some soothing action the oats are most effective when they are not overhydrated themselves. This gives ‘osmotic room’ for them to mop up dead skin and oil.

Upgrade option:

The Body Shop Mediterranean Almond Milk With Oats Instant Soothing Mask This oatmeal mask both soothes dry sensitive skin, but also works as a gentle exfoliant taking away excess oils and dead skin. Noted for relieving tightness and itchiness.

Serums & Antioxidants

Teas (Green, Black, and White):

green tea

The use of tea outside simply being a beverage has been growing across the healthcare and cosmetics world. Green tea in particular has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in skin.

This translates into being a useful anti-acne and anti-aging treatment. Green tea applied to the skin is also seen to reduce damage from the sun, further driving down inflammation and preventing reactionary acne outbreaks.[10]

White tea appears to be a better antioxidant than green tea, whilst black appears to give better all-round protection after exposure to UV.

So pick whichever flavor of tea suits your needs best!

How to:

  1. Add green tea to 90°C water (not boiling)
  2. Leave for 5 minutes
  3. Apply to your face with a cotton ball
  4. Rinse and dry

Boiling water will denature green tea, although black tea can handle it just fine.

Upgrade option:

Green Tea Matcha Facial Mud Mask – A concentrated mix of green tea matcha extract antioxidants, volcanic mud, Vitamin C, and Hyaluronic Acid, this mask drives hydration into the skin and helps repair it from within.

A natural lifestyle for acne skin care

Low glycaemic index food

There is plenty of discussion surrounding food and acne. While there is much noise clouding the space there are definitely changes that you can make to your diet to improve your skin.

The main method that your body will also thank you for is sticking to natural, low glycemic index foods. If you haven’t heard of them before, low glycaemic simply means food that doesn’t contain simple sugars, which includes sweet foods like cakes but also carbs like white bread.[11]

Reduce dietary fats and dairy

This is not to say that these factors cause acne in everyone. However, there is enough evidence to say that for a significant subset of people removing or minimizing them in their diet can ‘enhance therapeutic outcomes and potentially reduce the risk of relapse upon treatment cessation.[11]

So diet may not be the cure but it has the potential to make a real difference to you and your skin health.

Fish oil supplementation

This is a bit of a mixed bag, so trial it and see if you see any significant changes. A few studies have demonstrated that fish oils such as Omega 3 can help reduce acne severity. It’s not a clear-cut cure however and some experience the opposite so some experimentation is required.[12]

Exfoliate the right way

Rubbing harsh chemicals or rough particles of rock or seed just isn’t natural. Your face has evolved to withstand a lot: wind, rain, temperature changes, and sun exposure. Being too rough with exfoliating products will just break down your skin’s natural defensive barrier.

While it may seem to clear up dried skin and blemishes in the short term, after just a few hours your oil and inflammation levels will rise as a result. Do your skin a favor and keep things gentle.

Rest and relax

If you experience acne often, chances are it has affected you mentally in some way. This might just be an annoyance all the way up to having your self-esteem impacted.

Unfortunately for some, this can create a downward spiral of stress and either lack of proper self-care or overdoing it with anti-acne products.

Stress lowers your immune response to a wide variety of conditions including acne outbreaks.[13]

Get outside

Too many of us in the Western world don’t get outside enough, and that was before COVID hit. Acne and outdoor exposure are linked for a number of reasons but correlation with Vitamin D seems the strongest link.

While restoring Vitamin D levels won’t get rid of acne, making sure you don’t have a deficiency will bolster your immune system and reduce the frequency of any outbreaks. Increasing Vitamin D beyond normal healthy levels doesn’t seem to reduce the severity, however, only the frequency.[14]

Conclusion

This brings us to the end of our natural skin care routine for Acne. There are so many things to think about when it comes to skin care, sometimes the best thing to do is go back to square one and work your way up from there. This way you give your skin the best chance to recover from man-made chemicals and come back to natural health.

If you have any alternative formulations or ideas, share them in the comments below and tell us what works for you.

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References

  1. Dréno B, Bettoli V, Araviiskaia E, Sanchez Viera M, Bouloc A. The influence of exposome on acne. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018;32(5):812-819. doi:10.1111/jdv.14820
  2. Nolan VC, Harrison J, Wright JEE, Cox JAG. Clinical Significance of Manuka and Medical-Grade Honey for Antibiotic-Resistant Infections: A Systematic Review. Antibiotics (Basel). 2020;9(11):766. Published 2020 Oct 31. doi:10.3390/antibiotics9110766
  3. Luu LA, Flowers RH, Kellams AL, et al. Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019;36(5):634-639. doi:10.1111/pde.13888
  4. Rodan K, Fields K, Falla TJ. Efficacy of a twice-daily, 3-step, over-the-counter skincare regimen for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:3-9. Published 2017 Jan 4. doi:10.2147/CCID.S125438
  5. Trüeb, Ralph M. “North American Virginian Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Based Scalp Care and Protection for Sensitive Scalp, Red Scalp, and Scalp Burn-Out.” International journal of trichology vol. 6,3 (2014): 100-3. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.139079
  6. Pazyar, N et al. “Jojoba in dermatology: a succinct review.” Giornale italiano di dermatologia e venereologia : organo ufficiale, Societa italiana di dermatologia e sifilografia vol. 148,6 (2013): 687-91.
  7. He H, Li A, Li S, Tang J, Li L, Xiong L. Natural components in sunscreens: Topical formulations with sun protection factor (SPF). Biomed Pharmacother. 2021 Feb;134:111161. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2020.111161. Epub 2020 Dec 24. PMID: 33360043.
  8. Li T, Huang Y, Xu ZS, Wang F, Xiong AS. Salicylic acid-induced differential resistance to the Tomato yellow leaf curl virus among resistant and susceptible tomato cultivars. BMC Plant Biol. 2019;19(1):173. Published 2019 May 2. doi:10.1186/s12870-019-1784-0
  9. Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A, Feily A. Oatmeal in dermatology: a brief review. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2012 Mar-Apr;78(2):142-5. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.93629. PMID: 22421643.
  10. Stallings AF, Lupo MP. Practical uses of botanicals in skin care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(1):36-40.
  11. Baldwin H, Tan J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment [published correction appears in Am J Clin Dermatol. 2020 Dec 26;:]. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2021;22(1):55-65. doi:10.1007/s40257-020-00542-y
  12. Heng AHS, Chew FT. Systematic review of the epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):5754. Published 2020 Apr 1. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-62715-3
  13. Yang J, Yang H, Xu A, He L. A Review of Advancement on Influencing Factors of Acne: An Emphasis on Environment Characteristics. Front Public Health. 2020;8:450. Published 2020 Sep 17. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2020.00450
  14. Alhetheli G, Elneam AIA, Alsenaid A, Al-Dhubaibi M. Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne and Its Relation to Acne Severity: A Case-Control Study [published correction appears in Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020 Nov 02;13:815]. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020;13:759-765. Published 2020 Oct 7. doi:10.2147/CCID.S271500

About The Author

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Board-Certified Doctor and Educator

Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery MBBS (Cardiff University)

London, United Kingdom

Dr. McKeown is a UK based NHS clinician with over 10 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. After an initial career in maxillofacial surgery his focus now lies in elderly care and rehabilitation medicine. A board member for Wadham College of Science, Dr. McKeown is passionate about widening access to both education and healthcare around the world and as a result, outside of his clinical work he spends much of his time either teaching or providing medical consultancy to healthcare startups. Commercially, his interests lie in helping research and promote novel, evidence-based medicines originating from natural sources and processes.

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