cystic acne hormonal acne picture

Natural Treatment for Acne

What Causes Acne?

Pimples beyond puberty are usually caused by persistent hormone imbalances usually estrogen dominance or androgen (male hormone) excess.   Androgen excess often causes the more painful, deeper, inflammatory or cystic acne outbreaks.

What are the other symptoms of Estrogen Dominance?

Symptoms of estrogen dominance can include:

  • very heavy and/or very painful periods
  • tender breasts
  • very clotty periods
  • weepiness or feeling highly emotional

What are the other symptoms of Androgen Excess?

Androgen excess symptoms include:

Natural Treatment for Acne that Works

As a naturopath, here is how I would approach acne to fix the underlying cause:

  1. Balance your hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHT, and DHEAs) through:
    • healthy diet
    • regular exercise
    • stress reduction
    • liver detoxification (not through the kits from the health food store!)
    • vitamin and mineral support
  2. Increase healthy skin nutrients through diet and/or supplementation.
  3. Decrease excess oil production in your skin
  4. Improve your immune system function to prevent excessive bacterial growth on your skin
  5. Test for and eliminate food allergies or do an elimination/challenge diet

Seeing lasting improvement in your skin can take some time and effort.  Quick remedies aren’t really addressing the underlying cause and are usually only temporary.

The Benefits to Seeing a Naturopath for Acne Treatment

  1. Better hormone balance to prevent hormone-related conditions like breast cancer
  2. Healthier looking skin without chemicals on your skin
  3. Clearer skin without the chronic antibiotic use
  4. Healthier looking skin without hormone treatments like birth control pills
  5. Healthier looking skin without skin irritation and harsh drugs like Accutane
  6. Lasting improvement versus recurrence every time you stop treatment
  7. Lower overall (systemic) levels of inflammation through natural anti-inflammatory treatment

Book an appointment here or call the Toronto office for more information on naturopathic remedies for acne at 416-481-0222.

Authored by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Research on the Best Natural Remedies for Acne

Diet & Pimples

Observational studies reported that cow’s milk intake increased acne prevalence and severity, and a positive association between a high-glycemic-load diet, hormonal mediators, and acne risk. Source: Skin Therapy Letter, Volume 15, Issue 3, pages 1-2, 5, March 2010.

Probiotics & Health

Probiotics have been found to help irritable bowel related diarrhea and pain, chemotherapy- and radiation-induced diarrhea, constipation, immunity, allergies and acne.  Source: Complementary Prescriptions Journal, Vol.26, Issue 12, Dec. 2012

Fish oil & Acne

Fish oil supplementation improves overall acne severity in those with inflammatory acne. Source: Lipids Health Dis. 2012 Dec 3;11:165.


There are lower incidences of acne in non-Western populations. Their diets do not contain processed foods, dairy, sugars, and refined oils. Instead, they eat mainly fresh food, fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken, and grilled seafood.  Source: An Bras Dermatol. 2010 Jun;85(3):346-53.

IGF-1 concentrations decreased significantly among participants randomized to a low GI and GL diet. No change in body composition, glucose, insulin, or insulin resistance after the 2-week trial.

Source: Burris J, Shikany JM, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. A Low Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diet Decreases Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 among Adults with Moderate and Severe Acne: A Short-Duration, 2-Week Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 2018;118(10):1874-1885. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2018.02.009.


Fouladi RF. Aqueous extract of dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris L. in acne vulgaris, a clinical trial. J Diet Suppl . 2012; 9(4):253-61.
After 4 weeks of treatment, mean # of non-inflamed, inflamed and total lesions, plus Michaelson’s acne severity score, decreased significantly in the barberry group (ages 12-17)

Aloe vera gel

Hajheydari Z, Saeedi M, Morteza-Semnani K, Soltani A. Effect of Aloe vera topical gel combined with
tretinoin in treatment of mild and moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, prospective trial. J Dermatolog Treat. 2014; 25(2):123-9.
The combination of TR/AVG was significantly more effective in reducing non-inflammatory, inflammatory and total lesion scores compared to control group; at the end of the study, erythema in the TR/AVG group was significantly less severe.

Lactobacillus fermented Hinoki Cypress Cream

Kwon HH, Yoon JY, Park SY, Min S, Suh DH. Comparison of clinical and histological effects between lactobacillus-fermented Chamaecyparis obtusa and tea tree oil for the treatment of acne: an eight-week double-blind randomized controlled split-face study. Dermatology . 2014;
A comparison between lactobacillus-fermented Hinoki cypress cream vs. tea tree oil finds the cream was more effective at reducing the number of inflammatory acne lesions (although both treatments reduced the number), worked faster than tea tree oil, decreased size of sebaceous glands and sebum output – there were also significant decreases in NFkB, IL-1alpha, IL-8, insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, and sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1.

Tea Tree Oil and Adult Acne

In a study looking at the effectiveness of tea tree oil and adult acne, participants applied tea tree oil products to the face twice daily for 12 weeks and were assessed after 4, 8 and 12 weeks. The participants saw a significant decrease in pimples after the 12 weeks of use. The use of the tea tree oil products significantly improved mild to moderate acne and the products were well tolerated.
Source: Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. 2017 Aug;58(3):205-210.

Low Glycemic Index Diet

Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Makelainen H, Varigos GA. A low-glycemic diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr . 2007; 86(1):107-15.
Male acne patients (ages 15-25) for 12 week – low glycemic diet was 25% energy from protein and 45% from low-glycemic-index carbohydrates; control diet emphasized carbohydrate-dense foods without reference to the glycemic index.
● Total lesion counts decreased in the low-GI group compared to the control group
● Experimental diet also resulted in greater reduction in weight and BMI and improved insulin sensitivity compared to control

Great summary of the research on acne and plants:

A review of phytotherapy of acne vulgaris: Perspective of new pharmacological treatments 

Acne Medications:


Acne medications include antibiotics such as clindamycin, doxycycline, erythromycin, and tetracycline. Excess oil production on the skin and poor immune function can lead to excessive bacteria growth on the skin.  Antibiotics will help kill off the bacteria on the skin but they also can disrupt the good bacteria in your digestive tract and weaken your immune system.

Killing off the bacteria on the skin isn’t really addressing the root of the problem which is the hormone imbalance that leads to excessive oil and bacteria growth.  So, antibiotics are only a temporary solution.

Antibiotic side effects

Antibiotic side effects include: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lightheadedness, dizziness, unsteadiness, drowsiness, mouth sores, cough, sunburn (sun sensitivity), muscle pain, difficult or painful swallowing, change in the amount of urine, pink urine, brown/gray tooth discoloration, blue/gray/brown discoloration of the skin/lips/tongue/gums, numbness/tingling of the hands/feet, unusual fatigue, stopping of menstrual periods, or new signs of infection (e.g., fever, chills, persistent sore throat, yeast infection).

Oral Contraceptives

Birth control pills will provide measured amounts of hormones.  This can help shut down excessive hormone production from the ovaries.  However, that doesn’t really fix the underlying problem.  It just masks it temporarily while you take the pill.  Balancing hormones means ensuring that your diet is clean, stress is managed, and you exercise regularly.  Also, your liver is efficiently managing hormones and chemicals that can be acting like hormones.

Birth control pill side effects

Common side effects of the birth control pill include acne; breast tenderness or enlargement; changes in appetite; changes in sexual interest; changes in weight; dizziness; hair loss; headaches; nausea; stomach cramps or bloating; unusual spotting or bleeding; vomiting.


Spironolactone is an anti-androgen medication that helps block the male hormones.  This still doesn’t address the root of why the male hormones may be too high.  Therefore, it will only provide a temporary solution while you are taking the medication.

Side Effects of Spironolactone

Side effects of spironolactone include drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or headache, increased thirst, change in the amount of urine, mental/mood changes, unusual fatigue/weakness, muscle spasms, menstrual period changes, breast pain, breast enlargement (gynecomastia) in men, and sexual function problems.

Accutane (Isotretinoin)

Accutane is a powerful vitamin A derivative that blocks vitamin A receptors.  It dries the skin and shuts down normal oil production.

Accutane Side Effects

Accutane comes with many side effects. It can cause dry lips and mouth, swelling of the eyelids or lips, crusty skin, nosebleeds, upset stomach, or thinning of hair, mental/mood changes (e.g., depression, aggressive or violent behavior, thoughts of suicide), tingling in the skin, sun sensitivity, back/joint/muscle pain, signs of infection (e.g., fever, persistent sore throat), painful swallowing, and peeling skin on palms/soles.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here may not apply precisely to your individual situation. Diagnostic and therapeutic choices must always be tailored to the individual patient’s circumstances, and consultation with a licensed naturopathic physician should be undertaken before following any of the treatment strategies suggested in this website.

Article Name
Acne in women & men beyond puberty is caused by persistent hormone imbalance such as excess estrogen or excessive male hormones like testosterone & DHEAs.