Medicinal Herbs For Treating Acne

Why Clear & Healthy Skin Treatments work better than prescription drugs?

Most traditional prescription drugs mask the symptoms of Acne but often they do not address the root cause. That is why, pharmaceuticals often provide temporary relief of symptoms, but the Acne itself doesn’t seem to go away when you stop taking the medicines.

Herbal medicines do the exact opposite, they aim to resolve the root cause. In doing so, the issue AND the related symptoms disappear. This results in skin stability and thus, lasting change. To accomplish this, herbal formulas address all the contributing factors that affect your skin such as: your basic constitution, environment, lifestyle, diet and psychological well-being. Every formula is customized to work with your unique skin presentation.

How often do I need to visit Clear Skin for my acne

Herbal medicines treat your Acne condition from the inside, out.
Since we strive for lasting change, the number of appointments will depend upon what needs to change in you, internally. Typically, after the initial intake, we see patients every 2 weeks. This way, we can 1) monitor how your skin (and body) is responding to the herbal formula and 2) determine if your herbal formula needs revising to continue the healing process.

As a rule of thumb, acute conditions typically resolve quicker (a few weeks) while longstanding chronic issues will probably need more time (months). When we first begin treatment, sometimes it takes a few weeks to find the right combination of ingredients that work for your constitution and presentation since all formulas are customized and no two are alike. Once we find that right combination and you are taking your herbal formula consistently as directed, you should see changes and improvement with each subsequent week of herbal formula treatment. There are likely to be changes and tweaks to your formula as the condition resolves and your skin needs different ingredients to continue healing. So, be prepared to work with your practitioner as a team throughout the process. Communication will be your skin’s best friend!

How much will my treatment cost?
Initial Dermatology Intake/Appointment: $225

During first appointment, we will review your completed New Patient forms to better understand all the contributing factors to your skin condition. The practitioner will examine and take pictures of your skin, develop a treatment plan, prescribe a customized herbal formula and set-up a check-up appointment.

Dermatology Check-Up: $100

During each check-up appointment, the practitioner will re-examine and take new pictures of your skin to determine progress. As your skin evolves, your herbal formula will be adjusted to promote continued healing. Therefore, expect to see the practitioner every 2-3 weeks until your skin resolves.

Herbal Formulas: approximately $70-100/week

Herbal formula costs are in addition to the appointment costs. Once your skin has stabilized and healed completely, you should not have to take herbal formulas any further.



Herbal therapy for skin disorders has been used for thousands of years. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of the use of herbs due to the following reasons: the side effects of chemical drugs became apparent, there was a call to return to nature, natural remedies became a part of the green revolution, and there was a return to organic produce. Herbal remedies, including those for skin disorders, are currently gaining popularity among patients and to a lesser degree among physicians. In Asia, especially in China and India, herbal treatments that have been used for centuries are now being studied scientifically.

Most patients seek alternatives because conventional therapy has failed to help them sufficiently or because they feel there are fewer side effects with the natural products. The recent increase in the use of alternative medicine has led to more research regarding alternatives and requires education of physicians on the subject to enable them to better inform and care for their patients. In the United States, herbal remedies continue to be sold as dietary supplements, with no standards of potency and efficacy required currently.

Although the tea tree oil did not act as rapidly as benzoyl peroxide, it did show statistical improvement in the number of acne lesions at the end of 3 months, and there was a significantly lower incidence of adverse effects such as dryness, irritation, itching, and burning with tea tree oil (44%) than with benzoyl peroxide (79%; ).

Oral administration of vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) is effective in treating premenstrual acne. The whole-fruit extract has an amphoteric hormone-regulating effect that is thought to act on follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels in the pituitary to increase progesterone levels and reduce estrogen levels. It is included in Classes 2b, 2c, and 2d, and may counteract the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. The German Commission E monographs recommend a dose of 40 mg/day. The main adverse effects reported are gastrointestinal tract distress and occurrence of rashes. It should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women ().

Essential oils have been studied in a randomized, controlled, double-blind study of 86 patients with alopecia areata (). A mixture of essential oils including thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood in carrier oils with grape seed and jojoba (a liquid wax) was massaged into the scalp daily. The control group massaged only the carrier oils into the scalp. Success was evaluated on the basis of sequential photographs, by both a six-point scale and a computerized analysis of areas of alopecia. The treatment group had a statistically significant improvement over the control group (44% vs. 15%). There were no reported adverse effects.

A double-blind study that lasted 6 months and in which 396 patients participated evaluated the topical use of a Chinese herbal formula, Dabao (manufactured by Engelbert & Vialle, Venlo, Netherlands), for the treatment of androgenic alopecia (). The ingredients of Dabao include 50% ethanol, 42% water, and 8% Chinese herbal extracts, including saffron flowers, mulberry leaves, stemona root, fruits of the pepper plant, sesame leaves, skin of the Szechuan pepper fruit, ginger root, Chinese angelica root, bark of the pseudolarix, and fruit of the hawthorn plant. The ingredients of the placebo included 50% ethanol, 48% water, and 2% odorizing and coloring agents consisting of cherry laurel water, cinnamon water, licorice syrup, sugar syrup, and a solution of burned sugar. In both groups, there was an increase in nonvellus hairs. Although the Dabao group was statistically superior to the placebo group in number of nonvellus hairs, the cosmetic improvement in both groups was minimal. There were no reported adverse effects. Other TCM herbal mixtures have also been used for alopecia areata ().

18.3.3. Bacterial and Fungal Infections of Skin

Garlic (Allium sativum) contains ajoene, which has been demonstrated to exhibit antifungal activity. In a study of 34 patients treated topically with 0.4% ajoene cream once a day for tinea pedis, 79% noted clearing within 7 days and the remainder reported clearing within 14 days. In a 3-month follow-up, all participants remained free of fungus (). Contact dermatitis has occasionally been reported with frequent topical exposure (). Oral administration should be avoided while breast-feeding as this is regarded as a Class 2c herb (). Prolonged bleeding may occur when garlic is taken orally ().

Tea tree oil (see Section 18.3.1 for a description of tea tree oil) is applied topically for treatment of bacterial and fungal infections. Tea tree oil has shown in vitro activity against a wide variety of microorganisms, including Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Trichophyton rubrum (). Tea tree oil 10% cream was compared in a randomized, double-blind trial of 104 patients with 1% tolnaftate cream and placebo cream. Although symptomatic relief was comparable in tea tree oil and tolnaftate groups, there was significantly greater mycologic cure in the tolnaftate group (85%) than the tea tree oil group (30%). Cure rates between the tea tree oil and placebo groups were not statistically different (). Another randomized, double-blind study of 117 patients compared a solution of 100% tea tree oil with 1% clotrimazole solution in the treatment of onychomycosis. The two groups showed comparable results after 6 months of treatment in terms of mycologic cure (11% for clotrimazole and 18% for tea tree oil), clinical assessment, and subjective rating of appearance and symptoms (61% for clotrimazole and 60% for tea tree oil; ). Tea tree oil may thus have a role in at least the symptomatic treatment of tinea pedis, onychomycosis, and other superficial wounds. However, it should not be used on burns because of its cytolytic effect on epithelial cells and fibroblasts ().

Thyme oil from thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has been used topically as an antibacterial and an anticandidal agent (), and is Class 1 (). The traditional Korean antifungal herb Galla rhois was found to have a methanol extract active against Candida albicans (). The TCM herbal mixtures for treating bacterial and fungal infections of the skin are extensively discussed by .

Studies have demonstrated that topical chamomile is comparable with 0.25% hydrocortisone and shows improvement in sodium lauryl sulfate–induced contact dermatitis (). A small double-blind trial found that chamomile significantly decreased the surface area of wounds and, in animal studies, healing time was found to be reduced with chamomile. Chamomile also shows in vitro antimicrobial activities (). The main adverse effect reported is allergic contact dermatitis. Chamomile is considered safe to use topically and orally, and is included in Class 1 (). The anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, and antimicrobial effects of German chamomile are attributed to an essential blue oil that contains sesquiterpene alcohol, α-bisabolol, chamazulene, and flavinoids. These substances showed anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties in animal studies, due in part to the inhibition of cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase in vitro.



Herbs can treat both the root and branches of acne: hormones, stress, bacteria while drugs cannot without side effects. Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years in cultural medicine like Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, along with other traditions across the world,” says Doctor of Chinese and Integrative Medicine Elizabeth Trattner. 


From a dermatologist’s standpoint, herbal ingredients or products containing them are worth trying but with the caveat that they might not be potent enough for some. “Those with severe breakouts can use herbal products to treat acne but may need a more boosted treatment and a prescription from a dermatologist,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur. Though data is not as abundant as it is for more conventional acne medications, “herbal remedies were used to clear up acne and other skin conditions well before modern treatments existed for hundreds of years,” says Los Angeles-based, board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban.

Why Herbs Can Help with Acne—And Which to Look For
“When studied in a lab, many plants seem to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-sebum (anti-oil) properties,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Tatyana Nektalova. “Considering that acne is a multi-factorial inflammatory skin condition caused by the overproduction of oil and overgrowth of cutibacterium acnes, a bacteria, some plants have the potential to offer a promising solution.” 

“Some herbs have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. These help reduce acne-causing bacteria and inflammation and heal blemishes,” Shamban says. Some of the best herbs for acne-prone skin contain tannins, which Trattner explains are “bitter compounds that are found in nature that have an anti-inflammatory and anti-acne effect on the skin.” (Tannins are found in witch hazel).

There is a multitude of herbs that are common in skincare—maybe even some you already use. These are some to look for:


Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel, Shamban notes, “is high in the antioxidant group tannins which help to constrict and absorb excess sebum. They actually compress proteins, mop the oils on the skin surface and minimize the appearance of pores.” Though tannins can be drying and sensitizing for some, most can use them. Witch Hazel is an inexpensive and easily accessible ingredient, too, found in products like Mario Badescu’s soothing, hydrating, and purifying Witch Hazel & Rosewater Toner.



“Lavender oil works well to kill bacteria, which can help prevent further acne breakouts,” explains Shamban. “It also unclogs pores and reduces inflammation, but is not best applied directly to skin without being diluted or applied using a carrier oil.” To skip the DIY, try the Kypris Clearing Serum, which uses lavender alongside other blemish-busting hero ingredients like zinc to keep acne at bay.



When you think of chamomile, you probably think of tea for a sore throat or an upset stomach. And those calming, anti-inflammatory properties are exactly why the herb can also benefit inflammatory acne: “It is commonly used for people with sensitive skin to reduce redness and may be useful in treating inflammatory acne,” New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Josh Zeichner explains. Find it in the simultaneously soothing and exfoliating Eminence Organics Calm Skin Chamomile Exfoliating Peel.


Tea Tree 

Tea tree can help kill acne-causing bacteria; however, Trattner warns, “it’s also one of the strongest and most sensitizing essential oils,” so she recommends always patch testing it and diluting it with a carrier oil. To simplify the process, you can try a product already formulated with it diluted, like the Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Balancing Oil, an ultra-light oil that’s safe for acne-prone skin. 



Neem comes from an evergreen tree native to India and has a long history in Ayurvedic tradition. According to Shamban, it “has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiandrogenic abilities that may block hormone-causing flare-ups to help prevent as well as treat acne. It’s part of the formula in Ayurvedic brand Uma’s Deeply Clarifying Neem Charcoal Cleanser. 


Spearmint has some real research backing its potential, when ingested, in fighting acne, thanks in part, Shamban explains, to its anti-inflammatory properties. In a 2015 American Academy of Dermatology study, two cups of spearmint tea a day were shown to reduce acne lesions by 25% after one month and 51% after three months. If you’re battling breakouts, there’s no harm in sipping two cups of something like Traditional Medicinals’ Spearmint Tea. 

Side Effects
Topical skin care products containing herbs don’t pose any risk of irritation beyond potential sensitivity. As such, when introducing any new skincare product into your routine, it’s important to patch test. Ingesting herbs is a separate issue and should never be done without a prior conversation with a doctor. After all, “all plant medicines are weak forms of drugs,” Trattner says.

“If you stick to a regimen of gentle herbal products, you should expect to see a difference in your skin within a couple of months,” Marmur notes, adding that, “if your skin, however, becomes more irritated and breakouts continue, you should consult your dermatologist.”

The Final Takeaway
If you see a dermatologist to help with your acne concerns, they are far more likely to recommend more conventional,research-backed options (think: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide treatments, retinol, and even over-the-counter helpers like hydrocolloid patches). Still, if herbs and herbally-fortified products can help on the path to clearer skin, dermatologists agree that there’s no reason not to try them

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