The 8 Best Natural Acne Treatments of 2022

Fight acne with some flower power.

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Treating acne can sometimes feel like being at war with your own skin. You can try to use the harshest chemicals, exfoliants, and masks to obliterate the pimples. Yet it’s important to remember that you and your skin are on the same side, and piling on extreme ingredients can actually backfire by making your skin overly dry and sensitive.

In fact, acne is often more than skin deep and can be caused by a variety of factors that no skin care product can fix, like hormones, stress, sleep, and diet. After first addressing these issues, Kavita Mariwalla, board certified dermatologist and founder of Mariwalla Dermatology, recommends sticking to a simple skincare regimen, consisting of cleansing, moisturizing, and using acne fighting actives. Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tretinoin are safe and powerful acne fighters, but even they cause irritation. Thankfully, there’s a number of mineral and plant derived-ingredients that also can effectively treat blemishes. 

For a plant-powered acne fighting routine that’s dermatologist recommended, check out the best natural acne treatments below.

Best Overall: Cliganic Certified Organic Tea Tree Oil

Cliganic Certified Organic Tea Tree Oil

Amazon

Key ingredients: tea tree oil | Certifications: USDA Organic, Non GMO Verified, PETA Cruelty Free

One of the best plant-based acne fighting ingredients is tea tree oil. It’s derived mainly from a plant native to Australia known as Melaleuca alternifolia. With both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil is great at killing acne causing bacteria and soothing inflammation. A study compared tea tree oil with 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion and found that both treatments reduced non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne. It took more time to see the results from the tea tree oil, though users had fewer side effects, meaning it can be a good option for those with sensitive skin.

With that being said, tea tree oil can also be irritating if applied directly to the skin. It’s best to always dilute it with another oil. Jojoba oil is a good carrier oil since it’s also anti-Inflammatory and antimicrobial and resembles the skin’s natural sebum or oil, so it doesn’t clog pores. Selecting organic tea tree oil and jojoba oil from Cliganic, you can create a DIY blend in a 40-60 ratio and put it in a dropper bottle to easily apply to the skin. You can always blend a gentler formula with less tea tree oil. Talk about customized skincare.

Best Spot Treatment: Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

Amazon

Key ingredients: sulfur, salicylic acid, zinc oxide | Certifications: PETA Cruelty Free

If you wake up to the dreaded red, angry zit, reach for a product with sulfur. “Sulfur is an agent that calms inflamed skin which is helpful in cystic acne and true pimples and even rosacea,” says Dr. Mariwalla. The mineral works to exfoliate dead skin and dry out pimples, and reduce the appearance of acne overall while still being gentle on the skin. With Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment, you simply dab the solution when you feel a blemish coming and let the product do its magic while you sleep. 

In addition to the 10% sulfur, the solution also has salicylic acid, a core player in fighting acne due to its ability to break up the keratin that causes clogged pores, says Dr. Mariwalla. Zinc oxide also works to further reduce oil production and clogged pores. Dab it on and watch that zit shrink overnight.

Best Mask: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

4.6
Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay

Amazon

Key Ingredients: bentonite clay | Certifications: NA

Some of the masks you see on social media aren’t as effective as they claim, but the Aztec Secret Clay Mask may be worth the hype. Beloved by celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Mindy Kaling, the mask contains one simple ingredient: bentonite clay. Dr. Mariwalla recommends masks with this clay as it can be effective in reducing excess oil from the skin, which can clog pores. Studies have also shown that it can help heal wounds and soothe inflammation, two issues acne sufferers know very well.

Simply mix the clay with water to create a smooth paste to apply to your skin. Like with any mask, Dr. Mariwalla recommends not using it too frequently to avoid overdrying the skin, so it’s best to use it once every week or so. Set aside the time to do a face mask and reap the skin benefits of not only detoxing but also destressing.

Best for Body: TreeActiv Acne Eliminating Body Spray

TreeActiv Acne Eliminating Body Spray

Amazon

Key Ingredients: salicylic acid, tea tree oil, willow bark and witch hazel | Certifications: NA

One of the hardest parts about treating acne on your back, or bacne, is physically reaching the area. That’s why a spray like this one from Treeactiv can be so handy when applying it on your own. Just simply spray it on your back, shoulders, chest, or anywhere you need it, and you are good to go. This formula combines many of the key ingredients that Dr. Mariwalla recommends for treating acne, like salicylic acid, tea tree oil, willow bark, and witch hazel. While some other popular body acne sprays can have a heavy chemical smell, this spray actually has a pleasant scent, thanks to the blend of essential oils like peppermint, menthol, and eucalyptus.

Best On the Go: CelleRx Clinical Reset

CelleRx Clinical Reset

CelleRx

Key ingredients: pure hypochlorous acid | Certifications: NA

Whether you already had acne or a fresh batch of mask-ne, face masks can wreak havoc on your skin. As dermatologist Dr. Julie Russak puts it, masks can be breeding ground for bacteria as they trap the air you exhale. She says the best remedy is to wash your face as soon as you are done wearing a mask. 

Of course, that’s easier said than done. If you are on the go, you can try a hypochlorous acid spray like CelleRX Clinical Reset. HOCl is created by your body from white blood cells as a defense system against infection, and chemists have replicated this formula by using electrolysis to break down a simple saltwater solution. The result is a substance that both kills bacteria and calms the skin. Studies have found the solution to be just as effective in treating inflammatory acne as benzoyl peroxide.

"Having personally tried this product, I’m impressed by how I can spray it over a full face of makeup without causing a waterfall of foundation streaks. Seriously, once the spray air dries, my makeup looks as good as new. The spray is perfect when I’m running errands or traveling and want to freshen up my face. It’s so much easier than having to wash my face after every time I’m done wearing a mask and less wasteful than using a cleansing wipe."—Emily Cieslak, contributor

Best Oil Cleanser: Skinfix Barrier+ Foaming Oil Cleanser

Skinfix Barrier+ Foaming Oil Cleanser

Skinfix

Key ingredients: aloe barbadensis leaf juice, jojoba oil/macadamia seed oil esters, squalene | Certifications: PETA Cruelty Free and Vegan

When treating acne, the answer isn’t to pile on as many acne fighting ingredients as possible. Rather, you want to stick with a simple routine with a few key ingredients, so your skin doesn’t get too irritated or dried out. Dr. Mariwalla recommends using Skin Fix’s Barrier+ Foaming Oil Cleanser because it removes dirt and makeup withouts stripping your skin from lipids. As the brand writes, think of lipids (ceramides, fatty acids, and good cholesterol) as the “mortar” that holds the skin-barrier “bricks” together. Without a strong barrier, your skin becomes more susceptible to premature aging, dryness, and inflammation.

This vegan formula uses jojoba oil, coconut cleansers, and aloe vera to clean and soothe your skin. The brand also incorporates sustainable packaging, like cartons made from 100% recycled or reclaimed fiber and vegetable-based ink so you can feel better about your purchase.

Best for Dark Spots: Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil

Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil

Key ingredients: squalane, rosa damascena flower extract, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (vitamin C) | Certifications: EWG Verified, Leaping Bunny and Peta Cruelty Free

Dealing with acne not only means treating the pimples you currently have, but also reducing the dark spots and scars past pimples have left behind. Vitamin C is known to promote wound healing and prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. We like this EWG verified serum by Biossance. Not only does it contain antioxidant boosting vitamin C and moisturizing squalane, but it also has rose oil which contains antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Though it is moisturizing, the product quickly soaks into the skin, so you aren’t left feeling greasy. The rose essential oil gives the oil a light pink color and subtle floral scent, making it feel like a luxurious part of your beauty routine.

Best Toner: Dickinson's Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater

Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater

Key Ingredients: witch hazel, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and vitamin E | Certifications: NA

For those battling mainly non-inflammatory acne, such as blackheads and whiteheads, a toner with witch hazel can help. As an astringent, witch hazel works to remove excess oil and shrink pores while offering anti-inflammatory benefits too. Dr. Mariwalla recommends a formula like Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner that is free from drying alcohol and has hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera. To avoid any irritation and over-drying your skin, try using this toner once a day after washing your face before bed and before applying any other skincare products. Use a reusable pad to be extra sustainable.

What to Look for in Natural Acne Treatments

Ingredients 

To treat your acne, it’s important to first understand what you are dealing with. There are two types of acne: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Inflammatory acne is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and are those red, angry bumps that may or may not have a white head. Non-inflammatory acne is characterized by blackheads and whiteheads caused by clogged up pores. 

Based on the type of acne you have, Dr. Mariwalla recommends different ingredients.

“In terms of ingredients, clays are oil absorbers, so they work well in acne products to reduce sebum and oil from the skin. I also like willow bark, which has natural salicylic acid in it that is also helpful for acne,” says Dr. Mariwalla. Salicylic acid works to keep pores clear, making it a good choice to prevent black and whiteheads. 

For inflammatory acne, Dr. Mariwalla says sulfur and tea tree oil can be effective when used correctly. Tea tree oil is soothing and calming and can be used to spot treat inflammatory acne but be careful that you don’t become sensitized to it,” says Dr. Mariwalla. It’s best to use a tea tree oil blended with another carrier oil or create your own blend at home.

Certifications

If you want to keep a closer eye on where the ingredients in your beauty products are coming from, look out for various sustainable certifications

Beauty products can be certified vegan and cruelty free by PETA or Leaping Bunny. Though there currently isn’t a way to certify cosmetics as organic, you can look for individual ingredients that are certified USDA organic. A couple of the product’s on this list are EWG verified, which means they don’t contain ​​what the Environmental Working Group considers to be chemicals of concern. The products meet the organization’s strictest standards for your health.

FAQs

What are natural ways I can avoid acne?

Treating acne goes beyond just skincare. From what you eat to how much you sleep, there are many lifestyle factors that can affect your skin and how often you break out. 

“We know from some studies that diets high in the glycemic index can trigger cystic acne and that does not necessarily mean things like chocolate, but can also be things like skim milk. Dairy can also create acne for some people,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “Stress alters hormone levels and often leads to a cycle of bad habits including poor eating, poor sleep hygiene, and not adhering to skincare routines which can inadvertently make acne worse as well.”

Before tackling your acne, it’s best to meet with a board certified dermatologist who can go over your lifestyle and pinpoint any acne triggers. The changes can be small—like making sure you wash your towels and gym clothes more regularly to bigger changes like diet changes or going on birth control or other medications. That’s why it’s best to talk to a health expert before making any drastic changes to your routine.

Are traditional acne fighting ingredients bad for our health? 

Most acne fighting products contain three main key ingredients—salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tretinoin or retinol. If you’ve been treating your acne products since puberty, you may be wondering if regularly using these ingredients can have any adverse effects on your health. Dr. Mariwalla says there’s no need to worry. 

“All of these products are very safe to use and do not get absorbed in any appreciable amount into your bloodstream,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “These are actually the main staples of acne fighting.”

While Dr. Mariwalla says early stage acne can typically be treated well with plant-based products, cystic and inflammatory acne may need more intense treatment. If you find these natural products aren’t getting you the results you want, it’s best to visit a dermatologist and discuss alternative options.

Why Trust Treehugger?

Emily Cieslak loves writing about skin care for Treehugger and other sites like Byrdie and Real Simple. As someone who has had acne for most of her life, Cieslak has spent many hours talking to dermatologists as well as trying different acne products. Though her skin is a constant work in progress, she swears by tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and hypochlorous acid to keep blemishes at bay.

For this article, Cieslak interviewed board certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla about the best plant-based acne treatments. Dr. Mariwalla has been practicing dermatology for more than 16 years and started her own practice, Mariwalla Dermatology in New York.

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