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Herbs for acne: Separating fact from fiction

Discover the potential of herbal remedies for acne treatment.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Sliced Aloe Vera in Aloe Gel
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Does herbal medicine work for acne?

When it comes to treating acne, a quick online search can lead you down a rabbit hole of remedies, including various herbs and natural solutions. But how effective are these herbal treatments, and which claims hold true? Or are they all overblown hype?

Our dermatology providers are here to share what they know. Here, we’ll dive into the world of herbs for acne, separating fact from fiction. We’ll examine some of the most popular herbs known for their acne-fighting properties and some conventional acne treatments to help you get clear and radiant skin.

Does herbal medicine work for acne?

Herbal medicine for acne has been a subject of scientific research for quite some time, and research has shown promising results. Trials have found that certain herbal medicines can safely reduce acne lesions and severity. In some cases, their efficacy was comparable to standard treatments.¹

It’s important to note that further research is needed to conclusively establish the effectiveness and safety of herbal medicines for acne. Each person’s response to herbal treatments may vary, and what works for one individual may not work for another. Consult with a dermatology provider or healthcare professional before starting any new treatment, including herbal remedies, to ensure it’s appropriate for your specific skin condition and overall health. 

It’s also worth mentioning that while herbal medicine may have potential benefits, it should not replace evidence-based treatments prescribed by medical professionals. That said, combining herbal remedies with traditional acne treatments under medical guidance may offer a comprehensive approach to managing acne and optimizing your results.

Herbs used to treat acne

There have been studies conducted on various herbs and alternative acne treatments. Let's explore some of those herbs in more detail.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera has been found to have an anti-acne effect.² One key reason for its effectiveness may be its anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce redness and general inflammation. Further, aloe vera contains six antiseptic agents that help fight various microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses.³

It’s important to note that while aloe vera has shown promise in treating acne, its effectiveness can vary among individuals. Additionally, it’s important to use high-quality aloe vera gel or extracts and ensure proper application for optimal results. 

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) 

Calendula officinalis, commonly known as marigold, is an aromatic herbaceous plant traditionally used as a remedy for various skin issues. It has a long history of use in dermatology for conditions such as minor burns, inflamed skin, redness, acne, and fungal eruptions.⁴

A study involving 66 participants with mild-to-moderate maskne (acne caused by wearing masks) investigated the efficacy of a serum containing Calendula officinalis and other ingredients over 12 weeks. The results showed that the serum significantly reduced inflammatory acne lesions compared to a placebo.⁵ Participants who used other acne treatments alongside the serum also experienced similar results. This suggests that the Calendula officinalis-containing serum could be an additional beneficial treatment for maskne, specifically.

While this research suggests its potential effectiveness in managing acne, individual responses may vary. 

American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

American witch hazel has been studied for its potential effects on inflammation caused by the bacteria notoriously associated with acne, Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes). Research supports that it has anti-inflammatory effects.⁶

Witch hazel also contains tannins, which are natural compounds found in plants. These tannins have been studied for their potential benefits in reducing acne and exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects.⁷ 

English walnut (Juglans regia) and Common guava (Psidium guajava)

English walnut (Juglans regia) and Common guava (Psidium guajava) leaf extracts have shown potential in treating acne due to their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.⁸ The extracts of these plants may be beneficial in managing acne by targeting bacteria and reducing inflammation.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis)

Green tea lotion has also demonstrated effectiveness in treating mild to moderate acne, possibly due to its tannins and flavonoids, which possess antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. One study showed that a 2% lotion of green tea applied topically during six weeks among 20 patients suffering from mild to moderate acne helped improve their skin.⁹

Rosemary gel (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary gel has shown promising results in significantly improving the healing of acne vulgaris symptoms.¹⁰ This suggests that rosemary has the potential to be utilized as an effective agent for treating acne vulgaris, providing an alternative option for individuals seeking natural remedies for acne management.

Conventional acne treatments

Conventional acne treatments encompass a wide range of options, including over-the-counter products, oral antibiotics, prescription-strength creams and gels, and combination therapies. While these treatments have proven efficacy, some people who use them may experience undesired side effects. This has led to an interest in seeking alternative remedies that may provide desirable outcomes while being more tolerable for certain individuals.

The herbs mentioned above can serve as good alternative treatments for acne when used alongside conventional treatments. However, herbal remedies may also have potential side effects like any other treatment. It’s essential to consult with a dermatology provider or healthcare professional before incorporating these herbal treatments into your acne management routine. You should approach conventional and herbal treatments cautiously and under professional guidance. What works for one person may not work for another, and individual responses to treatments can vary. 

Topical acne treatments

When seeking acne treatment, your provider will likely recommend proven topical options that have been extensively researched. These may include topical retinoids, which work by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation; benzoyl peroxide, which kills acne-causing bacteria and helps to clear blocked pores; and azelaic acid, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.¹¹ These treatments have shown efficacy in managing acne and are commonly prescribed by healthcare professionals.

It’s important to follow your provider’s guidance regarding proper application and any potential side effects. These evidence-based treatments effectively address acne and can be integrated into a comprehensive management plan.

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What herbs clear up acne?

There are several herbs you can use to help clear up your acne, including:

  • Aloe vera 

  • Marigold (Calendula officinalis), 

  • American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana

  • English walnut (Juglans regia

  • Common guava (Psidium guajava

  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis)

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis

However, before using any herb, consult a dermatology provider first to see what’s best for your skin.

How can I clear my acne?

Clearing acne involves adopting a consistent routine like our three-step skincare routine and healthy lifestyle choices. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can support overall skin health. It's important to note that the severity of acne varies, and it’s recommended to consult with a dermatology provider for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan. They can provide personalized advice and recommend suitable natural remedies or additional interventions to address your specific acne concerns.

Can Chinese herbs cure acne?

Certain Chinese herbs have shown potential in treating acne. One example is Pulsatilla radix, a Chinese medicinal root plant. The root of Pulsatilla Radix has been found to possess anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, and antimicrobial properties. It has demonstrated effectiveness against P. acnes, a bacterium associated with the inflammatory lesions in acne vulgaris.¹²

However, use caution when considering Chinese herbs for acne or other medical conditions, just as you would any other new treatment. We recommend consulting with a medical provider or specialist in Chinese herbal medicine before incorporating Chinese herbs into your acne treatment regimen.

• • •

P.S. We did the research, so you don't have to:

  1. Proença, A.C., et al. The Role of Herbal Medicine in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (2022, June 15).

  2. Surjushe, A., et al. Aloe vera: a short review. Indian J Dermatol. (2008, n.d.).

  3. Surjushe, A., et al. Aloe vera: a short review. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  4. Mur, R., et al. Concentration of Antioxidant Compounds from Calendula officinalis through Sustainable Supercritical Technologies, and Computational Study of Their Permeability in Skin for Cosmetic Use. Antioxidants (Basel). (2021, December 30).

  5. Puaratanaarunkon, T., et al. Efficacy and safety of a facial serum containing snail secretion filtrate, Calendula officinalis, and Glycyrrhiza glaba root extract in the treatment of maskne: A randomized placebo-controlled study. J Cosmet Dermatol. (October 2022).

  6. Piazza, S., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Acne Effects of Hamamelis virginiana Bark in Human Keratinocytes. Antioxidants (Basel). (2022, June 5).

  7. Nasri, H., et al. Medicinal Plants for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: A Review of Recent Evidences. Jundishapur J Microbiol. (2015, November 21).

  8. Qadan, F., et al. The antimicrobial activities of Psidium guajava and Juglans regia leaf extracts to acne-developing organisms. Am J Chin Med. (2005, n.d.).

  9. Nasri, H., et al. Medicinal Plants for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: A Review of Recent Evidences. Jundishapur J Microbiol. Ibid.

  10. Masoud, F., et al. The novel topical herbal gel might be an alternative treatment in patients with acne vulgaris: A randomized, double-blind controlled study. Phytomedicine Plus. (May 2022).

  11. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, August 17).

  12. Muluye, R.A., et al. Anti-inflammatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Heat-Clearing Chinese Herbs: A Current Review. J Tradit Complement Med. (April-June 2014).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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