What are some natural remedies for adult acne?
May 28, 2015 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I am a 27 year-old woman and have had acne for the past two and a half years. I have tried an oral antibiotic and two prescription creams (all very expensive and ineffective), and am looking for other routes to treatment. I am looking for any holistic remedies, such as products to use topically, and dietary and lifestyle measures. Any advice is welcome and appreciated.

I have suffered from stress-related adult acne for the past two and a half years (my life fell apart in the beginning of 2013, and my once-perfect skin has been covered with pimples ever since). I have tried a few prescription medications; the first one was an oral antibiotic named Solodyn, which cleared up my skin, but the acne came back as soon as I stopped taking it. And it’s only safe to take it for three months, otherwise it can cause health complications, so I didn’t continue taking it. I also used the following topical creams: Acanya during the day, and Differin at night, for over a year, and those have not worked either.

I’m tired of going to doctors and wasting extensive amounts of money on medicine. Are there any natural, holistic treatments I can use for clear skin? I have heard of people using aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, and bentonite face mask; does anyone know of any of these (or any other topical treatments) being effective? If so, how long do I need to use each one for, and how many times a day?

How about dietary measures? I have read that incorporating more fruits and vegetables in one’s diet, and cutting out excess dairy, is effective, and have started doing that, but I don’t know much about which foods to avoid and which to incorporate for clearer skin.

Additionally, if you know if any other routes or lifestyle measures I can take for clear skin, please let me know of those as well. I really want to get rid of this, and am open and welcoming toward all the knowledge and advice I can receive. Thanks in advance.
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Health & Fitness (58 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Get yourself into a regular routine with basic, gentle products. Use this as a guide, they know their stuff.

I've started being religious about it in the last few weeks, just using cetaphil cleanser, red box stridex wipes, and cerave moisturizer. This is the first time probably since I was 13 that I've gone more than 10 days without a new zit. All are extremely reasonably priced.

If your breakouts come in cycles your acne may be hormonal. I know going on a HBC pill has helped lots of women's acne clear up. And that's a drug that's free. (Thanks, Obama!)
posted by phunniemee at 4:18 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know people who swear by evening primrose oil. I take it - two capsules a day - but not for acne, just to keep my menopausish skin glowing. I use Barleans brand.

There is evidence that a low glycemic diet can help clear up acne - meaning, cut out the processed carbs. It's good for your health to cut way back on the processed carbs anyway.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

How are your stress levels now? Are you doing anything to manage your emotional health? Do you sleep well?
posted by telegraph at 4:24 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: telegraph--Stress levels are still high. I manage through dance and yoga, so I feel a little better mentally, but my skin looks unhealthy.
posted by summertimesadness1988 at 4:30 PM on May 28, 2015

I have had great luck with these two approaches. They may or may not work for you:

1) Eliminating sugar in the diet. This includes not suddenly eating so much fruit that it compensates for the sugar. My theory is that, with less sugar, skin bacteria have less to eat; and

2) Exercising in this specific way: wake up, shower and wash hair, exercise to the point of sweating heavily, shower and wash hair again. Use gentle soap/shampoo/conditioner every time. Every other day. My theory is that the pores get flushed out, but are cleaned before and after, so that bacteria, oil, etc. doesn't get a chance to sit in the pores for a long time. Don't scrub so much that it irritates or excessively dries the skin. I've never been a whole-body-soaping showerer, either, and I always use unscented shampoo, which probably made this less harsh than it sounds.

I later learned that some of my breakouts were probably related to my skin reacting to harsh skin treatments (overuse of Neutrogena soap), and that I had a long-undiagnosed allergy to propylene glycol -- that's in many otherwise awesome moisturizers, and in Neutrogena soap I think.
posted by amtho at 4:37 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't exactly know why, but coconut oil is supposed to be very good for acne.
posted by zagyzebra at 4:38 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

My skin absolutely exploded due to stress when I was in my late 20s. For me, I found that Dr. Gross's Clarifying Colliodal Sulpher Mask works VERY well on cystic pimples. I also wash with Josie Maran's oil cleanser and moisturize with Origins Starting Over. The key for me was sticking to a system and also reducing stress. Using oil seemed counter-intuitive but it works really well for me.

Also, my dermatologist will inject cysts with cortisone, which I've done a few times for the really really bad painful eggs the size of nickels that I've gotten in bad locations (like on the bridge of my nose where my glasses sit or yes, inside my nostril). It's surprisingly not that expensive (but call to ask first) and very effective in emergency situations.
posted by sockermom at 4:43 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh also change your pillowcase a lot more frequently. And don't touch your face.
posted by sockermom at 4:44 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

I've heard that if you are the type who sleeps on your side and you rest your face on your pillow, you should lay a clean towel on your pillow each night to prevent oil and sweat from rubbing all over your face. Especially if your stress causes a lot of late night sweating.
posted by picklenickle at 4:46 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

My nutritional herbologist recommended calendula cream. I can't tell you if it worked because I could never find it, but I've seen it around since. Generally, the harsh chemicals like glycolic acid and salicylic acid have always been a cause, not a cure, for me.

For me, the absolute key to clear skin is moisturizer. That is so counterintuitive that after I got used to using moisturizer on my face, I would still find myself concerned over breakouts on my neck until I finally realized that it's true for my neck as well. My routine includes an olive oil cleanser (again, counterintuitive) and a very mild soap, together with the moisturizer. Oh and hey, do not be swayed by the line of acne treatments at DHC -- again, it made things worse, not better for me.

Once in a blue moon, I use Checks and Balances, by Origins. That was my first step toward better skin as an adult. And it has been quite a long time, but Out of Trouble and Clear Improvement also helped when blemishes started to loom.
posted by janey47 at 4:47 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am foursquare against holistic anything because science, but I will tell you that starting a low carb diet has done wonders for my skin. Get your sugars (and hoo boy, yes: this includes fruit which is pretty much all sugar, all the time) and other carbs to under 50g per day to start. Give it about 2-3 weeks, and see how things are going. Take pictures of your skin to get an objective sense of the progress, too.
posted by gsh at 4:51 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh man, if you like yoga, hot yoga makes my skin look amazing, especially when I remember to rinse off the sweat immediately after class in the locker room. Cutting way back on alcohol and eating tons of fresh greens really helped me too.

Other than that, witch hazel as toner, moisturizing religiously and bentonite clay masks keep my skin clear, as well as only wearing a little bb cream as foundation instead of the thick and goopy stuff.
posted by cakebatter at 4:51 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Change your pillowcase daily (or flip your pillow to go 2 days without changing it). Pull your hair back from your face or use a headband as often as possible.

Wash your hands more. Wipe down your phone.

Drink as much plain water as you can. Cut down on caffeine. If you drink soda, even diet soda, stop.

Eat as many veggies and fruits as you can fit into your diet. Take a multivitamin.

Wash your face with warm or cool water, never hot. Don't scrub, ever. Don't use harsh exfoliation products often. nthing the suggestion of Cetaphil (the "Gentle" kind). Use an unscented moisturizer. Don't use anything with alcohol in it on your face.
posted by erst at 4:52 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is not natural or holistic, but it is extraordinarily affordable, and for me, after only ~6 weeks, has produced impressive results: PocketDerm. I have hormonal acne and have struggled with it all my life, and tried dozens of medications including antibiotics, Accutane, spironolactone, and every description of topical. There isn't anything magic about the medications that PocketDerm prescribes, but for some reason they're working for me. The first month is free so nothing to lose by trying. The doctor there has also given me useful advice on other products not sold by them.

The other big thing for me is avoiding dairy and wheat. So hard to do but it really does help.
posted by HotToddy at 4:53 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another vote for going low-carb. For me, this meant getting rid of all sugars, including natural sweeteners. Also, refined grains/flour. Fruit does not seem to pose a problem for me, in any quantity. I spent my twenties eating a vegetarian high carb diet and my skin was terrible. It cleared up dramatically when I cut out sugars. My theory is that this is the reason we are seeing so much acne; our diets are very rich in sugar, including hidden sugars/refined grains in processed foods.
posted by Atrahasis at 5:03 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

For me: a gentle cleanser, a noncomedogenic moisturizer, and 64 oz. of water a day. I started out using stuff that was a little harsher, but once I got to the maintenance phase, cleansing/moisturizing/hydrating did the job. I did try the oil cleansing method and that just aggravated the pimples -- it's not for everyone.
posted by mirepoix at 5:03 PM on May 28, 2015

Some more holistic suggestions that, full disclosure, I have not myself tried: witch hazel acts as an astringent that may dry out individual pimples. Eucalyptus, tea tree, and peppermint essential oils have antibacterial properties. (If you go the essential oil route: you may want to dilute it with another, milder oil, as essential oil can be potent on sensitive skin.)

Also, I've noticed that if I don't wear makeup to exercise (or remove it before exercising) and wash my face right after, it helps exercise-related breakouts.

As far as stress goes: have you tried meditating? I follow a protocol where I count deep out breaths down from 50 and try to keep a mental image of a cloudy sky. It takes about 8 minutes and, I kid you not, lowered my blood pressure from prehypertensive to solidly normal.
posted by mchorn at 5:04 PM on May 28, 2015

you could try doing a Whole30 (www.whole30.com)... My (zit-prone, early 30s) skin is immaculate and glowing after a week on that plan.
posted by lizifer at 5:05 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I stopped eating processed foods for reasons other than dermatology, but my skin miraculously cleared up as a side effect. Or on preview, what lizifer said.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:07 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

My skin is suddenly really clear after 8 years of adult acne and I think it's because of these factors...

I now try to drink 1.5 liters of water a day. I used to drink very little water per day.

No more than 50g of sugar per day total. Absolutely no coffee, soda, or caffeine.

No hydrogenated or fractionated oils in food or other products.

I use Trader Joe's Enrich moisturizer with sunscreen on my face instead of any other kind of moisturizer.

I use Acure's Brightening Facial Scrub once a week to get the dead cells off.

I use Mario Badescu's Glycolic Foaming Cleanser 1-3 times a week in diluted quantities, and Alba's AcneDote wash whenever I'm not using that.

I wash my pillow cases every week and flip my pillow every night.

I clean my phone every day.

These are my idiosyncratic tastes so YMMV, but my god, my face looks mostly flawless for the first time in a decade and I'm not kidding when I say that it's changing my life.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:12 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Same as the above -- I suffered from adult cystic acne my whole life, and when I gave up processed foods / sugar / refined carbohydrates for three months, it cleared up and has never gotten bad again even after I fell off the wagon.
posted by KathrynT at 5:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I take DIM (diindolylmethane) supplement and it has worked pretty well for me, and for a few friends I have recommended it to. It seems to do something with regulating hormones, and as a nice bonus I no longer get overheated and sweaty when I sleep. Yes to a good, healthy diet, yet to reducing stress. The last few weeks have been really stressful at work, and I am having my worst breakout in years despite all my normally-effective acne reducing regimes. So, yes, stress and acne, major correlation.

For topicals, I stopped most everything a few years ago, including using soap on my face. Now, once a day I just wipe my face with a wet microfibre washcloth and call it good. It seems to have reduced a lot of the redness and irritation that I used to get from just using soap.

Every once in a while I will use glycolic acid or salicylic acid peels just to declog a bit. I have found using stronger topicals but only every few weeks seems to work much better than milder daily use treatments, and then just leaving my face alone the rest of the time.
posted by nanook at 5:18 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had acne for 30 years and finally got rid of it by following the regimen on acne.org. The regimen uses ordinary things that you find in the drugstore. I'm very glad it worked for me.
posted by Coffeetyme at 5:19 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know exactly what you mean by "natural", but if by that you mean "over the counter and relatively cheap", I would recommend using beta hydroxy acid (or possibly alpha hydroxy acid) on your face. For BHA, I'd aim for a 2% formulation (of salicylic acid, a BHA). I get mine from Paula's Choice. I tried alpha hydroxy acids, but I found that they irritated my sensitive rosacea-prone skin - obviously YMMV. I think that BHA is the particularly good type for acne, though, in any case. Make sure to wear sunscreen, as hydroxy acids (or maybe just AHA?) can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. I use by BHA lotion somewhere between several times a week and every day, and it definitely makes a difference. I also use azelaic acid cream (Azelex or Finacea - it's a prescription), and rotate a BHA cleanser, a black soap cleanser, and a tea tree oil cleanser (from Trader Joe's). Together, it usually just about keeps my face clear.

Also, unlike one of the posters above, I'd *seriously* caution you against topical coconut oil for acne-prone skin.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have literally tried all of the above. I too thought it was stress related. It's infuriating and a major self esteem bummer. And like you, I was 27 when all of this started, and I'm 34 now.

I know you say it's stress related, but honestly? Look into various forms of hormonal birth control. I've since learned HBC is not for me, but GOOD GOD DAMN did it clear my skin up.

May not do the trick for you, but don't underestimate hormonal changes. It may not be stress after all! I could have saved THOUSANDS of dollars if I had checked into HBC when I was your age. :-/

Just check into it! It may be worth it.
posted by functionequalsform at 5:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

And if you are willing to use non-holistic products, getting a high quality toner with 10% glycolic acid and using it daily will help turn over skin cells. Peter Thomas Roth products are good, and I'm sure that Paula's Choice site has some more non-chemically icky stuff.
posted by gsh at 5:27 PM on May 28, 2015

Also, I wouldn't automatically jump to stress as what is inducing the acne. It's easy to do because you can always find some stressful event to blame your current break-out on. You can develop acne later than your teenage years, and that might be what's happening to you.

I additionally wanted to encourage you to explore non-natural remedies further. I have struggled with acne since my early teens, and tried a lot of natural/OTC remedies before finally going to a dermatologist. None of them worked well enough on its own to keep my skin at all clear. I cycled through various prescription and non-prescription options under the advice of a dermatologist - topical antibiotics (worked okay), benzoyl peroxide (worked well but irritated my skin), topical retinoids including tazorac (basically gave me chemical burns on my face) and differin (didn't do anything) and retin-a (didn't particularly help and irritated a bit), and maybe a few more things. It was only after trying azelaic acid (azelex/finacea) that my acne is finally under control. I know how frustrating it is to spend money on prescriptions and have them not work, but sometimes you need to try a few different prescriptions before something works. That's how it was in my case, anyway, and while it's a frustrating process, I'm glad I did it because natural stuff on its own never would have cut it for my acne.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have an ironic suggestion given the above "eliminate sugar" feedback, but when I developed a combination of sun-damaged/dry and oily skin upon moving to a Mediterranean climate from a swampy one, what helped was making an olive oil and sugar face scrub and not using anything else on my face except sun screen and cosmetics. It's uber cheap and easy, use regular sugar and mix them about evenly with a little more olive oil to cover the top of the sugar.

Wet your face quite damp first, then put a little of the scrub in one palm and massage into face with fingertips - light touch, it shouldn't hurt at all. The sugar will melt as you scrub and then wash off, leaving the olive oil behind. I also used it on my upper arms, which had lots of those little red bumps, and they pretty much vanished. Now and then I use it on other rough areas for exfoliation.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:47 PM on May 28, 2015

For me it was Lysine that finally fixed mine.
posted by idb at 6:00 PM on May 28, 2015

What has mostly worked for me (minus a 6-month period where we moved and my skin flipped out completely):
- burts bees acne wash
- clarisonic
- tea tree oil directly on any pimples, it gets them able to be popped the next day (which i know is bad, blah blah blah)

When my skin flipped out completely, I stopped all that for a while and used cetaphil face wash (washing with my fingertips only, no washcloth, no clarisonic), neutrogena night cream with retinol on the freaked out areas. Cleared up within a month, now I'm back to my usual routine.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:05 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Retin-a helped me so much, even after Accutane didn't entirely do the trick, but it didn't *really* kick in for at least a year (and that's a year after upping the dose to the full %). And I had no idea that I needed to moisturize over it at night and then do a gentle (chemical) exfoliant in the morning to get the dead skin off.

It's a journey but I'm 30 and my face is finally clear and looks amazing without foundation, too. Today and yesterday's pictures, although filtered, are just highlighter, blush, and eye makeup.
posted by ancient star at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

A good friend of mine had a major flare of hormonal, cystic acne in her mid-30's she had a strong family history of it as well. She tried all topicals, antibiotics, and various hormonal birth control pills, spironolactone, facials, and diet. No significant changes with those. Finally, her dermatologist asked if she ate protein powders or protein bars. She's a runner and was using protein powders regularly. As soon as she gave up all protein supplements, the acne cleared up about 90%. She still gets a few pimples, but not the deep, painful cysts she used to get all over her face, chest, back, and scalp. The derm said that she saw bad acne from protein powders and supplements quite a bit.
posted by quince at 6:27 PM on May 28, 2015

quince, do you know if that issue was a particular source of protein (soy? whey?) in the protein bars, or overconsumption of protein, or what? I'm intrigued.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:35 PM on May 28, 2015

Ugh. Acne sucks big-time. I've suffered from it my whole life and still haven't found a permanent solution. But I did notice these things have helped calm down the cystic acne flare-ups:

1) cutting down dairy (like you also mentioned, this one thing has probably helped eliminate 50% of my acne)
2) diet (I find alkaline veggies like broccoli and berries to be especially effective) along with some high-quality supplements (Omega 3s, Zinc). Side note: I was on a paleo diet for a while and noticed my skin breaking out quite a bit then. So I incorporated whole grains (mainly brown rice and quinoa) back in to my diet and it seems to have helped, not sure why that happened though.
3) Psyllium husk. This was a suggestion by a homeopath doctor and I've been adding a tablespoon to my morning smoothies. It's helped improve the overall texture of my skin as well.
4) Exercise
5) Minimize stress (this is a big one. I find that all my other efforts are in vain if I'm not able to control my stress levels).

I'm wary of recommending topical stuff because what works for me might not be effective for you but I find argan, jojoba and tea tree oil to be quite good at eliminating post-acne hyperpigmentation (I'd also stay away from coconut or olive oil on my face, made me break out really badly!)

Also, have you seen an endocrinologist? Make sure you rule out PCOS and other hormone-related issues first. That seems to be a primary cause of adult acne for many women.
posted by KTN at 6:51 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

In response to some of the comments above, I want to stress that pure tea tree oil (or any other essential oil) should *never* be used undiluted on skin, especially on the face. It is way too strong and can cause contact dermatitis (painful burns and rashes, potentially rendering you not able to use the oil again). I think tea tree dilutions should be around 5%. A study comparing 5% tea tree oil with 5% benzoyl peroxide showed that the former may have a similar efficacy to the latter in treating mild to moderate acne, although it takes longer to work (the study was 45 days, I think).

I also want to say as a general note that not all "natural" things are actually safe, including tea tree oil. See, for instance, this Guardian story about the potential dangers of tea tree oil. Additionally, tea tree oil exposed to air and/or light oxidizes and should not be used at that point, as the products of oxidation apparently can cause allergic reactions. Tea tree oil may also have estrogenic effects (causing breast growth in boys, etc.). Additionally, tea tree oil is toxic when ingested, and can be toxic for pets as well in very small quantities. It has also caused some hearing loss in animals when applied in the ears (presumably the ethics committee precluded such tests on humans to see if the same holds!). The US government classifies tea tree oil as "Possibly safe", for what it's worth (here). I know you've had a bad time with the efficacy of two acne prescriptions, but prescriptions in particular (and actually real topical over the counter products too) are heavily regulated by federal agencies, and are almost certainly going to be both much less dangerous and more effective than homemade "natural" remedies. I am very well versed in reading articles and scientific studies, and I personally do a lot of research on PubMed and similar sites before going rogue with home remedies. I would advise you to do the same, or to stick to prescriptions or OTC formulations from the store. Some of this stuff can be pretty dangerous, and the efficacy is going to be significantly worse than formulations that have had to pass tests by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.
posted by ClaireBear at 7:06 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

My big acne trigger is high fructose corn syrup (or syrups in general); it's also in things like cheap tonic and cheap beer. So I read labels really closely and try to eat/drink less processed stuff. I don't drink soda/pop and avoid mixed drinks with them, and I learned to drink coffee without sugar or flavored syrups; I mostly drink water or tea.

Oh, also, I started carrying makeup remover wipes in my gym bag, so I wipe my makeup off before I start working out. Cetaphil makes wipes now (yeah!) so that's what I'm using; I'm almost out and I'd buy them again.
posted by littlemisslaika at 7:08 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

nthing trying hormonal birth control if you haven't already. I started getting adult acne in my 30s--deep, painful cystic acne on my chin and cheeks. Nothing I tried--diet changes, creams, upping my water intake until I was practically swimming--worked until I went on the pill. Two months in, my skin cleared completely and I haven't had even one single tiny zit in years.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:14 PM on May 28, 2015

Vitamin A supplements. No dietary change or supplement can possibly compare to the effects of oil-based vitamin A supplements. Accutane is essentially a slightly altered form of Vitamin A. Since it is fat-soluble, getting too much is an issue, but toxicity takes quite a while to build. Do not get pregnant while doing this as this method is teratrogenic.
posted by decathexis at 7:23 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, you might want to try a solution with topical zinc oxide. There is some evidence that it can help calm skin and keep acne at bay. Zinc oxide preparations are found in baby diaper creams (e.g. Desitin), and also found in many sunscreens that use physical blockers as opposed to chemical blockers). I personally use Josie Maran's sunscreen (although I use the previous version before it was reformulated), which has zinc oxide as well as titanium dioxide. While I can't isolate its effect from the other things that I use for my acne, it definitely doesn't break me out, and may well help calm my skin. Might be worth switching to a zinc oxide sunscreen (or trying out a zinc oxide cream) to see whether it helps. In addition to topical zinc, oral zinc may also help. Definitely consult your doctor before you start oral supplementation.
posted by ClaireBear at 7:27 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry to engage in back and forth, but, apparently, any protein isolates are an issue according to the derm. It didn't matter if it was soy or whey/organic or not. Proteins from whole foods are supposedly fine and have no acne effect, regardless of amount. That's been my friend's experience as well.
posted by quince at 8:10 PM on May 28, 2015

Iodized salt and sea salt cause me to break out like crazy. I have not developed a goiter from avoiding them. YMMV.
posted by corey flood at 8:19 PM on May 28, 2015

This is horrible advice but it worked miracles for me... But first some background... I am a woman and at 15 suddenly the acne started and it was awful, my face was deformed by it (about 30-40 pimples on my face at any given time, and always at least six yellowish and pustulant - yes I counted). I looked freakish. I did everything recommended by doctors and overpriced health books plus my family was very concerned about cleanliness so it wasn't like I lived in squalor rubbing dirt into my pores. We came from a culture where people bathe at least daily and change sheets several times a week in a rural part of the developing world. And we don't eat sweets but are salt and cheese fiends. So the usual advice may not apply.

My parents were trying to help because I was sad people thought I was ugly and they wanted to make me feel pretty. Yet nothing changed until I was in my 30s. My mom had this same problem until she went through menopause in her 50. We all kept excellent hygiene but it seemed to be a hormonal thing that not even drugs could treat. What changed for me was discovering red wine. It was for me an instant cure when hormonal medication, vitamins, all manner of cleaning solutions and being terrified of dirt had failed. In about two weeks of my first glass of red wine (and subsequently having about three a week) I could see the pimples vanishing and none returning. I honestly have no idea why it was helpful. Maybe stress reduction or supplying my body with more calories? But it changed my life - I instantly had great skin and never have had another pimple after. I do drink rather heavily now but even when I stop for two months straight the pimples don't come back. In bright lights you can still see the awful acne scars on me but it is totally unnoticeable in normal light. I actually get compliments constantly from creepy strangers about my skin which is bizarre to me. So, long story short, alcohol solved all my problems.

Realistically my life is a thousand times more stressful than what it was 10 years ago and nothing in my diet has changed other than alcohol. But the red wine worked so I will happily tout it as a miracle drug.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 8:25 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I stopped drinking milk and limited any other dairy intake. That got rid of the most serious of my acne. Of course, if you go that route you will want to supplement your calcium needs in another way.

Then the very good folks on AskMe recommended Don't Go to the Cosmetics Outer Without Me, and I learned that all my fancy and expensive cleansers and facials were counter-productive. At first I switched to Cetaphil, but these days I don't use soap or cleanser at all, just water. I rarely exfoliate.

At some point, once my skin had cleared up, I discovered that eating almonds as a daily snack caused me to breakout. So you may examine your diet for minor food allergies.

Most recently I discovered Kate Somerville sunscreen, which has been the only one that doesn't cause me to break out and is light enough that I use it regularly. For a while I was going without.
posted by vignettist at 8:53 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone who struggled with acne, and then had adult onset cystic acne, don't beat yourself up over natural cures. It's a laudable goal, but there is a limit to what might be possible. As others have said, it's often hormonal at your age. Sure, stress makes it worse, but stress is just a catalyst.

I only wish someone had told me sooner; I wouldn't have had to suffer through painful, ugly cystic acne for years. For me, spironolactone cleared it right up.* But many have luck with hormonal birth control. I now get compliments how great my skin looks.

*i still get the occasional painful zit, and have a topical steroid that helps it go away quickly. It's so much better than trying to tear my face apart to relieve the pain.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:56 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would also suggest looking into the combined pill (COCP, not the progesterone-only pill) - many women's acne is very hormonally driven, and even if you don't see much change week-to-week during your cycle you are producing spot-friendly androgens; the oestrogen in the COCP blocks that. Evening primrose may do a similar thing I suppose, or you could try eating loads of oestrogen-friendly soy. The COCP would be easier though.

I did find that when I came off HBC my skin flared up, so my eventual solution was Roaccutane. That was nearly 20yrs ago, and aside from massive outbreaks when I miscarried (thanks hormones) I've not really had any spots since. It was expensive but I only had to take it for three months and the side-effects were pretty mild. If your skin is really bad it is worth considering - it really works.
posted by tinkletown at 12:59 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another lifelong acne victim here.

•Cut out nuts as much as possible. Nuts --- peanuts, almonds, all of 'em --- are full of oil.
•Avoid processed cheese, especially stuff like American cheese.
•Citric acid is another killer. Unfortunately, this means NO oranges, lemonade, grapefruit, etc. Most sodas also have citric acid, so they're out too. (If I have a glass of orange juice today, you'll see it on my face tomorrow!)
•Ditto acidic vegetables like tomatoes.
•Wash your face with just water, nothing else whatsoever.
posted by easily confused at 1:38 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Be careful with natural remedies, as the results are not always quite what you were hoping for. This has already been covered above, more or less, but I just wanted to emphasise: Please do not put lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, or pure essential oils on your face. Avoid using sugar or salt as facial exfoliants, as they can cause abrasions. Facial skin and its protective acid mantel is delicate and if you upset the balance, you're only going to make things worse.

I'd recommend taking the following supplements daily: probiotics, zinc, vitamin C, evening primrose oil.

Consider getting prescriptions for Spironolactone and Retin-A.

Cut out all cane sugar, corn syrup etc.

Drink at least 2 litres, but ideally more, of water each day.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Please listen to ClaireBear and do not put undiluted tea tree oil (nor coconut oil nor Lemon Juice nor baking soda) on your face. Please go to SkincareAddiction on Reddit and read through the recommended routines, lurk in the forum or even ask questions.

Natural does not mean good. Poison ivy is natural, after all. (And water is a chemical - H2O!!)

Please do not use just water or just water and Soap. (Especially since Soap is at the wrong ph level usually and often what holds it together in its form is comedogenic.) If you don't want your acne to leave scars, please wear sunscreen. Sunscreen does not completely come off with just water. Use a gentle cleansing oil (Mineral oil, despite its Reputation, is actually very gentle and non-acenegeic) and an exfoliating toner. Acne cleansers are too harsh and the good ingredients like glycolic acid do not stay on your Skin Long enough to work. Plus, the ph is usually all wrong. Do make sure you don't overly dry our your Skin. No alcohol, please.

As for nutrition, have you had bloodworks done? (Vitamin deficiency or thyroid issues may be at fault here.) Have you tried quitting dairy/sugar/nuts/whatever? (Good fat is not necessarily bad, but sometimes a mild allergy or intolerance to dairy, nuts or whatever - like easily confused, I cannot drink orange Juice - can manifest as acne.)

Did you move to somewhere with very hard water, perhaps?

I know going to the derm can frustrating, and that hormonal birth control may not be what you want. (I know I will never go on the pill again.) Maybe a Routine as suggested by SkincareAddiction will help you. If it doesn't after a couple of months, and your bloodworks and allergy tests look clean, maybe it's time to try another derm, though.

(I apologize for random capital letters. I hate Internet Explorer.)
posted by LoonyLovegood at 5:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I also swear by taking spironolactone and wearing sunscreen every day: azelaic acid was OK but the natural remedies just did not work for me since my acne is hormonal, apparently. I was really skeptical of the medicine at first, too, but it's worked wonders and I can't recommend it enough. I understand if you decide to stick to other remedies but wanted to share my experience, too. Maybe a start could be switching to a different dermatologist for a second opinion?
posted by smorgasbord at 6:24 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another vote for spironolactone. It was the only thing that cleared my cystic acne in my twenties.
posted by luckdragon at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to have "moderate" acne as a teenager (I am being optimistic here - let's face it, my acne were really bad and just constant, for years and years). The miracle treatment for me was sulfur supplements.

I discovered sulfur when a friend had a complete "recovery" from acne after just a month of sulfur supplements taken on her dermatologist's advice. I went to her doctor and she wrote the same prescription for me (pure 100% sulfur) . She said that it will either fix my problems completely, or won't help at all, but that either way there is no use in continuing to take it beyond the one month. So I took it for a month (it's a fine yellow powder without any taste so I just scooped a 1/3 teaspoon on my tongue and washed it down with water) and the acne just... disappeared. Before, I would have about a dozen big pimples all over my face plus a dozen more brewing just under the surface at any given time - but after this month, I had nothing. And just like my derm said, I continued to have nothing. It's like the sulfur re-balanced something, and I was done having acne.

Years later I moved to the US and the acne reappeared, probably due to stress, different food, water, etc. I had a hard time finding pure sulfur this time around (ah, life before internet) but I finally found a small pharmacy that procured it for me (and explained that the reason it was not easily available was because sulfur is apparently a bomb-making ingredient!). Again, I took it for a month, and all my problems went away.

Keep in mind if you google for sulfur + acne, you will find a lot of material that relates to applying it on the outside e.g. via sulfur masks. What I am taking about is taking pure sulfur for a month as a supplement. Good luck!
posted by rada at 8:43 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Find a gym with a salt-water pool and take up swimming as an exercise. First, exercise helps, period. Second, salt-water immersion has been seen to help treat acne, particularly body acne, in some people.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:58 AM on May 29, 2015

Yeah I just wanted to chime about the tea tree oil as well, should have mentioned earlier. Definitely dilute it with water, like ClairBear suggested. Personally, I haven't had any trouble using tea tree oil in terms of dryness or anything but I know many people who have. Same goes with lemon, I had a very bad reaction recently to a lemon and green tea DIY mask for acne a few weeks back (I was the poster that kinddieserzeit linked to). Thankfully, it's much better now but it really did a number on my skin. Either dilute it heavily (and use sparingly) or stay away from acidic contents on your face altogether. And moisturizing with a high-quality moisturizer is very important! I used to think I should keep my skin as dry as possible to prevent acne but it's quite the opposite actually.
posted by KTN at 1:14 PM on May 29, 2015

Stuff that's helped me: a ketogenic diet, drinking ~70 oz water/day, eating foods that balance hormones (soy, flax seeds, spearmint tea), and the oil cleansing method.
posted by moons in june at 3:20 PM on May 29, 2015

Lifelong hormonal acne sufferer here. What's worked for me after decades of trial and error is a very low-carb/ketogenic paleo diet, spironolactone, and drinking lots of water. If I eat gluten, it shows up on my face within hours. Same with sugar and processed foods.
posted by culfinglin at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2015

Related to Cool Papa Bell's comment, I'm giving a try to a sea salt wash (yeah, I can't believe I'm linking to Reddit either, but here we are).

Unrefined, no additive sea salt only. For the record, I'm not misting it on my face, just dabbing it on gently using cotton facial pads.

Why did I decide to try this? It came up on my radar recently as an effective treatment. It's about as low risk, low cost and low effort as any acne treatment can be, my skin has always responded amazingly well to ocean sea water, and other Internet people are reporting great results when nothing else works. I already eat pretty clean and drink lots of water.

It's only been a few days, but I'm already seeing positive results with longstanding trouble spots clearing and healing. I plan to continue. If it becomes too drying to my skin as time goes by, I'll likely cut back on frequency and up my water intake even more.

But let me say -- if the longer term results continue to go as well as the early signs indicate, this easy solution (pun intended) will be lifechanging for me. Hope it might help you, too.
posted by vers at 10:23 AM on May 31, 2015

The reason you need to apply sunscreen, even on cloudy days, is that ultraviolation (UV) radiation has a synergistic affect on the acne bacteria. The physical UV blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are natural compared the chemical ones. Have you reviewed your make-ups, sunscreen and other products to make sure that they don't contain hormone and endocrine disrupters such as parabens? The place to go Environmental Working Groups's sunscreen and cosmetics databases.
posted by dlwr300 at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chiming in late-ish because I have had sensitive skin and had acne (not widespread, but horribly painful cystic acne in one or two locations at a time) and the following have worked for me:
- Tea tree oil--YMMV, but as a SPOT treatment, fabulous. I used a local natural beauty store brand, but only bought it because a friend swore by the Burt's Bees blemish stick. Yes it has alcohol in it, which is generally a no-no in an all-over treatment on sensitive skin, but in a spot treatment is less a problem.
- Another excellent spot- or trouble-zone treatment that worked for me is salicylic acid gel, the simpler the better.
- Drink water.
- Eat fish, or take fish oil or omega 3. I had some success with the Greens Plus/Genuine Health Perfect Skin supplements, but they are PRICEY.
- Find a moisturizer that works for you. I love, love, LOVE Clinique's incredibly lightweight Dramatically Different (the gel is slightly better than the lotion, but both are awesome) and while not cheap, a little goes a long way, so it's a good value. Dove makes (or used to make?) something called "Dove Sensitive Essential Day Lotion", but it had oat-derived ingredients, to which I am sensitive, so I stopped using it just in case.
- Topical anesthetic. Your acne is uncomfortable. Since you can literally feel it, you can't really forget it. Also, you are touching it waaaay more often than you think. I started putting Polysporin with pain relief on my acne (the cream, not the ointment) and it worked wonders. I then learned that the antibiotic is a bit of a nuclear option, possibly doing more harm than good by killing off the good with the bad. With a little trial and error I figured out it was the anesthetic, and the consequent non-touching, that was having the effect. Unfortunately, your first-aid creams are still the most convenient way to get this effect.
posted by sarahkeebs at 5:23 AM on June 16, 2015

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