Acne

Alternative and complementary therapies, supplements and home remedies for acne

Alternative and complementary therapies, such as herbal medicine and homeopathy, can be used on their own or alongside ‘conventional medicine’ (such as topical treatments, antibiotics and isotretinoin). A few people we talked to had used alternative or complementary therapies or said they were interested in trying them in the future. This section includes experiences of herbal products, home remedies and beautician therapies. Alternative medicines come in different forms – ingested (swallowed/drunk), topical (applied to the skin) or a procedure (having something done, like reflexology).

Some people who had grown up in South-East Asian countries has seen practitioners there and had not always seen doctors in the UK about acne. Yi finds it hard to access Chinese medicine now she lives in the UK. Yi and Becky had both had taken Chinese medicine in a drink form. Yi wasn’t sure what exactly was in the liquid but knew it contained over 20 different types of herbs. She drank it every day for over a year but says it tasted bad and she wasn’t sure if it helped.
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Sometimes parents first told the young person about alternative therapies and herbal remedies. Chris says his mum is interested in “holistic therapies”, although he himself “never really got into that” or tried them. Yi says her Chinese medicine doctor has cared for her family members too. Alexandra’s mum went with her to her appointments for private treatment where she had a chemical peel of her back skin.
Examples of home remedies were often found online, such as in forums and blogs. Hester tried drinking aloe vera juice and putting toothpaste on her spots. Harriet searched for home remedies for acne scarring and came across examples like almond oil. She was sceptical about some, saying “if this really worked then more people would know about it”. Friends were also a source of suggestions for home remedies, as for Marga whose friend showed her how to make a paste using aspirin to put on spots.
Some people had bought ‘herbal’ products from shops (e.g. tea tree oil) and sometimes used this in mixing their own ‘DIY remedies’. Fatima says conventional medical treatments contain a lot of “chemicals”. She prefers "organic" options, although it isn’t always the case that these products contain less chemicals. Some people had tried creams high in ‘antioxidants’, thought to help with acne. Alexandra and Shu En had used vitamin C creams, and Harriet tried vitamin E oil.
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Often alternative or complementary therapies and home remedies were seen as unlikely to cause harm though some people had bad experiences. Becky had tried two cosmetic treatments – one involved extracting sebum from her skin pores and the other was a steam machine. She’s concerned that both might leave scars. Hester got a burn mark from using toothpaste on a spot. Molly tried using lemon juice on her acne but stopped after reading warnings that it can bleach and damage the skin. Ish says he wouldn’t go to a beauty parlour and let them “go at your skin” – instead he advises visiting a doctor.
Getting unwanted advice and suggestions about herbal remedies could be upsetting. It can also be disappointing to try a home remedy and it not work. Harriet was hopeful about even “weird” remedies “that don’t work but you think maybe they will”. Examples she had heard about included putting tomato skins and eggshell linings on the skin. Ish found that home remedies had made his skin worse and further knocked his confidence.
There was uncertainty about whether home remedies, alternative or complementary therapies worked. Some thought these helped their skin, such as Harriet with tea tree oil. Becky thinks herbal medicines helped her but not as much as she had expected. Yi says she always has a bottle of tea tree oil to put on spots but is unsure whether it makes a difference. Marga tried eating fresh yeast for a while but saw no difference. Molly was sceptical about things offering a “miracle cure” and Yi was wary of advertisements online for acne remedies.

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