Naturopathic Treatment for Acne

Acne is a common skin condition characterized by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and papules and pustules (pimples). The disease usually first appears at adolescence, when an increase in hormones called androgens causes sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin to increase in size and in oil production.

If these glands become blocked, whiteheads and blackheads can develop. These may become infected by bacteria that cause the condition's characteristic inflammation and pimples.

Acne typically appears on the face, back, shoulders, and chest. The condition may be superficial or deep, which can lead to scarring. In general, most cases of acne clear up after adolescence, although in some persons it may continue, or even begin, in adulthood.

Acne occurs more commonly in males, and there appears to be a familial tendency. In adults, acne can result from other factors such as exposure to chemicals and corticosteroid use. In women, it may occur because of hormonal changes and may worsen during menstruation and pregnancy.

From a naturopathic viewpoint, acne is an external manifestation of an internal imbalance. As with many naturopathic treatments, nutrition is key to treating acne. The body makes the oil (sebum) secreted by the sebaceous glands from the fats that are eaten. If poor quality fats (saturated fats, trans fatty acids) are eaten, the body produces poor quality oil. If good quality fats (olive oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil) are eaten, the body produces good quality oil. Poor quality oil does not flow adequately, so it clogs pores and attracts bacteria. Good quality oil flows well and nourishes the skin.

Acne & Nutrition

  • Eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Include vegetables, seaweeds, fish (cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and haddock), whole grains, sprouts, and fruits in the diet.
  • Avoid fried foods, dairy products, processed foods, junk food, sugar, margarine, nut butters, citrus (except lemon juice), caffeine, food that aggravates the acne, and food sensitivities. Determine food sensitivities through the elimination and challenge diet.
  • Fasting can be an effective method of treating acne but should not be undertaken for more than 2–3 days without a physician's supervision.
  • Drink 50 percent of body weight in ounces of water daily (e.g., a 150 lb person would drink 75 oz of water).

Acne & Supplements

  • Brewer's yeast—Take 1 tbsp 3 times daily.
  • Chromium—Take 400 mcg daily.
  • Flaxseed oil—Take 1—2 tbsp daily.
  • Selenium—Take 200 mcg daily.
  • Vitamin A—Take 100,000 IUs daily. Toxicity to Vitamin A can occur at doses of 20,000 IU daily; therefore, use vitamin A only with a physician's supervision. It is possible that the acne may return several months after discontinuing vitamin A.
  • Vitamin B-6—Take 50 mg 3 times daily.
  • Vitamin C—Take 1000 mg daily.
  • Vitamin E—Take 400 IUs daily.
  • Zinc—Take 50 mg daily (particularly for males).

Acne & Herbal Medicine

Herbs are used to treat acne by cleansing the blood. When toxins accumulate in the blood, the liver works less efficiently and cannot metabolize hormones effectively, which leads to skin eruptions (i.e., an external manifestation of an internal imbalance).

  • Burdock (Arctium lappa)—Used as a blood purifier when taken internally and as an antibacterial when applied topically.
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)—Used as a liver purifier. The leaves may be applied topically in a poultice.
  • Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus)—Indicated for acne associated with the menstrual period.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)—Used as a liver cleanser.
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)—Used as a blood purifier.
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)—Used as a skin disinfectant; it kills many organisms and penetrates the skin layer. Tea tree oil may be applied directly (sparingly) to the pimple. If irritation occurs, which is uncommon, use diluted tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has a very strong, medicinal odor.

Acne & Hydrotherapy

  • Alternate hot and cold compresses with to the affected area.
  • Apply a hot washcloth to the affected area for 45 seconds then apply a cold washcloth for 15 seconds. Do this three times in succession always ending with the cold. Repeat several times during the day.
  • Apply a poultice to the affected area.

Acne & Other Recommendations

  • Avoid exposure to oils and greases.
  • Avoid medications that contain bromides or iodides.
  • Avoid touching the face. Hands can transmit oil and bacteria. Do not pick or pop pimples.
  • Avoid the use of greasy face creams or cosmetics.
  • Do not smoke.

  • Do not wash the affected area with soap. Use warm water to rinse off. If a cleansing agent is needed, use only a gentle non-soap product (e.g., glycerine "soap"). To remove excess oil during the day, use a warm washcloth followed by a cold washcloth.
  • Dry brush the face with a soft brush. This improves circulation to the skin.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015