For many, finding the right acne treatment can be a long and painful process. So what do you do if all the drugstore and prescription options you’ve tried haven’t helped? It might be time to look into alternative treatments. Here’s a look at some of the most popular, and how they work!
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For many, finding the right treatment for acne can be a long and arduous process. Not everyone has success using the gold standard ingredients of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid that are present in over-the-counter acne treatments. It’s even possible that a prescription drug (or several) might not work. So, what do you do when it seems that all your options have met with limited success?
Don’t give up, because there are other options worth investigating, either on their own or combined with other acne products. Below we look at some of the major alternatives, and weigh their risks and benefits.
Alternative Acne Treatments
The world of alternative acne treatments is wide and varied. It includes options that are easily obtained at the drugstore, some that you can find at your local health supplement supplier, and even options in your grocery store. We describe some of these below.
Tea tree oil. There is some interesting research demonstrating that tea tree oil is an effective antimicrobial agent, although it’s not without its drawbacks.
In a study comparing tea tree oil with benzoyl peroxide, it was found that a 5% concentration of tea tree oil has an effectiveness similar to that of 5% benzoyl peroxide. That sounds as if they’re equally effective; the thing is, though, there are no skincare products being sold that contain 5% tea tree oil.
The highest concentration of tea tree oil we’ve ever seen in a cosmetic product is less than 0.5%, which likely makes it ineffective for treating acne. “Pure” tea tree oil is typically a 3% concentration diluted in a carrier oil, so even that isn’t strong enough, despite the “100% tea tree oil” statement you might see on the label.
Niacinamide and nicotinic acid are derivatives of vitamin B3. There are a handful of studies showing they can be helpful for improving the appearance of acne, which most likely is the result of their anti-inflammatory and barrier-restoring properties.
When included as part of an anti-acne skincare routine, these B vitamin ingredients can be part of a powerful combination of products and ingredients to combat the events taking place in the skin that lead to acne. Niacinamide has anti-aging benefits as well, so it’s a brilliant solution for those struggling with wrinkles as well as acne.
Prebiotics and probiotics are microorganisms that occur naturally in the body and are present in many of the foods we eat, such as yogurt. Although they can be helpful when consumed, the research on prebiotics and probiotics related to topical application and their effect on acne is non-existent, so any benefit remains theoretical, although there has been at least one study that indicates they may have potential.
There’s no harm in trying this option, either via foods, supplements, or gentle skincare products that contain these ingredients (although these are few and far between).
Fatty acids are an interesting group of ingredients that can have an effect on breakouts, but exactly what that effect is, either positive or negative, is not clear; more research is needed.
Fatty acids, such as lauric, oleic, and palmitic acids, can have an antibacterial effect on P. acnes. However, their stability is an issue: A product that contains a fatty acid must be carefully formulated to ensure the fatty acid can exert its antibacterial action before it breaks down. If these fatty acids are present in skincare products that are packaged in a jar, chances are good they’ll break down before they can really help your skin.
Sulfur can have some benefit as a disinfectant for breakouts. However, compared with other options, it is an overly strong ingredient for the skin, potentially causing more irritation than needed to fight acne-causing bacteria. For this reason, using sulfur to manage acne has largely fallen out of favor—but it’s an option to consider if other active ingredients aren’t working.
Diet can have both a positive and negative effect on acne. Reactions to certain foods can cause acne, while other foods may help reduce the frequency of occurrence. Reactions to foods such as dairy products (mostly due to naturally occurring hormones in dairy) or excess sugar intake can have varying degrees of influence on acne breakouts, depending on the individual.
Identifying which, if any of these, are true for you can lead to a significant and relatively rapid improvement in your skin. It takes experimentation to see what’s true for your acne.
Links to dietary factors such as shellfish, gluten, or peanuts are anecdotal, and haven’t yet been demonstrated in research.
On the other hand, theoretically, a diet high in foods known to have anti-inflammatory properties, such as antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids, can potentially fight acne from the inside out. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy foods just might help your acne, too!
The Bottom Line
Perseverance and the willingness to keep experimenting even when it seems you’ve tried everything can be the key to finding the routine that works best for you in treating acne. We know it can be frustrating, and that at times you might think there is no solution out there that will help – but there are ways to get your acne under control, no matter how bad it might seem.