Skincare products that fight acne without tons of synthetic ingredients

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By: JamieCC BY 2.0
To all those beautiful offbeat girlies that have perfect skin… I am a 26-year-old and still have acne. I recently went off my birth control pills in order to make some off-kilter spawn and now my skin looks like I have the plague! My skin was pretty good on the pill, but now that I’m off, these painful little bastards are seriously putting a cramp in my style.

I have used every over-the-counter wash, cream, and goo on the market and nothing seems to be working. I wash my pillow case, wipe down my phone compulsively, and try not to touch my face with dirty hands. My diet is very good and I get plenty of exercise and water. As the hubs and I work on making puppies, I am more concerned about the synthetic chemicals I’m putting on my face and was wondering if anyone has found a natural or less irritating way to kill the dreaded acne cooties. I’ve got my foot out the door to the dermatologist, but before I go… Help! And thank you.


You can go ahead and say it: acne sucks. It especially sucks as an adult, when you’re all “Shouldn’t I already be past this shit?!” My skin has never been the most stellar on its own, but after being prescribed Tazorac when I was twenty, I had it under control. Fast-forward a few years to twenty-three, when I got pregnant. It turns out using Tazorac while pregnant is a BIG no-no, so I was suddenly stranded without my favorite skincare treatment.

I worked out some new routines, which I’ll share with you here. First and foremost, let me say this: talk to your healthcare provider or someone you trust about what will and won’t work for you. I am by no means an expert — these are just the things that yielded the most positive results for me.

First, I’ll say this: Don’t scrub it. Don’t exfoliate, because your skin will most likely be too delicate to handle it.

Now, let’s talk about some stuff that might help: After many a late-night internet search for solutions, I discovered Moroccan Red Clay Powder. I was able to score a 6 oz. container at a local grocery store, but you can get it on Amazon as well. I won’t say that this completely rid my skin of acne, but it definitely made everything a lot better; if anything, I felt like my face was much cleaner after using it.

Another potential anti-acne aid is an oatmeal scrub. They’re way gentler than most chemical-based stuff you’ll find, and you can make your own pretty easily — you just need oatmeal and water. Another route would be to mix a tablespoon of honey and enough warm water to make a paste. You can use it as an exfoliant or lay gauze over your face and put the mixture on top of the gauze. Leave it on for fifteen minutes, and lift the gauze to remove. The oatmeal mixture will leave behind a milky liquid on your skin, and you simply rub that into your skin for hydration.

Also, take a second peek at your diet. Caffeine, dairy, cooked fats, and meat are all linked to acne. This doesn’t mean too much, since many a water-drinking vegetarian also contends with this facial curse. Foods that have been shown to help include avocado, mango, olives, garlic, and berries.

Alright, Homies. We all have our skincare regimes, and we want to hear about your more facial cleansers, goops, and secret acne treatment methods that are more on the natural end of the spectrum. Share your tips and links in the comments!

Comments on Skincare products that fight acne without tons of synthetic ingredients

  1. I know this won’t work for everybody, but I don’t use any kind of soap at all. I just wash my face with plain warm water, not hot or cold, and pat dry. I have kind of oily skin, so I do this 3-4 times a day but it’s really cleared up my acne. I still get a few hormonal breakouts or when I’m super duper stressed, but I don’t have any day-to-day acne anymore. I also don’t wear any kind of foundation or concealer, so that could be another factor with that. My skin can be dry sometimes, but a really mild moisturizer in the problem spots takes care of that, too.

    • There’s another person like me out there! Huzzah! Everyone’s mystified by this, but I just wash my face, pat it dry and go about my business. I don’t wear make-up either and only in the winter months do I apply a wee bit of lotion to my skin.

      I used to have fairly bad adult acne but weeks after I dropped scrubbing and soaping there was improvement.

    • wow, maybe I should try this. I’ve been washing my face with face wash 1-2 times daily since I was probably 11. I had a surge of adult acne when I moved across the country at almost 22, and now 4 years later, going off of birth control, it’s back. I’ve been using more natural face wash lately- Basis and Neutrogena Naturals, but maybe I should give the just water thing a try. It’s scary though! Haha, habits!

    • Once a week I’ll exfoliate (lightly) with a baking soda paste. I use coconut oil as a makeup remover so my skin stay pretty moisturized. And it’s antiseptic so that kills off bacteria that would cause breakouts.

      Other than that, it’s just a little warm water in the mornings and a little warm water at night. I have small breakouts during that time of the month, but once my hormones settle down my skin does too.

    • Me too! Splash some water, pat dry, move on with life. Only took me 10 years to figure this out. And I use oil of olay moisturizer (for sensitive skin) with an spf in it everyday. My skin went from horrible and oily to manageable (not totally clear but only minor breakouts). I also do not wear makeup.

    • Same here! After many many years of battling acne and oily skin I switched to the oil cleansing method and use coconut oil overnight to moisturize in the winter. My skin has never been so clear and smooth, I can’t recommend it enough.

        • have you tried coal face? i used to use their sea salt but found it too drying in the winter, so i switched to coal face and it works for me even in the crazy summer humidity of southern georgia. (i used it on a 2 month (spring) cross country road trip as well, and i still had the same results, even with all the different climates and types of water)
          to the op: i just use coal face soap from LUSH and a clinique acne cream for the occasional spot that does come through. and if it’s a pretty sensitive spot, i use neosporin. actually, i find the neosporin works quicker and on my super-sensitive, super-fair skin, i’m less likely to have a mark left behind. (annnnd since i’m pregnant i checked and all of these things are completely fine during pregnancy. the neosporin is good for someone like me who’s especially scared of chemicals while knocked up)

    • Yep, I’ve always struggled with a good cleansing routine, since most things I tried would eventually trash my skin in one way or another. Finally, mid-pregnancy, I got fed up & looked up the oil cleansing method.

      I’ve been doing it several times a week, and rinsing with water & witch hazel on alternate days. I had some Burt’s Bees Radiance moisturizer that I dilute with their Cucumber Complexion spray and use after showers, since our hard water sucks all the moisture from my skin.

      I’ve noticed if I really stick with it, it’s pretty much a revelation for my skin. But take too many days off (hey, I’m pregnant, cut me some slack) and the acne comes back with a vengeance. I’m sure hormones have a lot to do with that, but as women, when in our lives are we ever free of those?

      When I’ve had a tough breakout, I use apple cider vinegar (good old ACV) dabbed on the zits, which seems to help clear them up quickly.

    • We use Tea Tree Oil, too, which you can actually get in a mild form in most African American hair care stores/sections. We dilute it as necessary. We’ve even used it to clear up diaper rash/other rashes with great success.

    • YES! Tea tree oil is AMAZING! I use the Desert Essence as well– this one:

      Definitely worth trying if you have oily/combination skin!

      Also, I’m guessing you don’t wear foundation/concealer/powder? My skin is so sensitive I can’t wear any of that stuff even for an evening or it makes me break out terribly. Something to consider if you wear makeup–covering up your blemishes could be creating more!

    • I use this too! Love it. I did need a salycic acid product after I went off the pill though – it was the only thing that worked. Cleaning up my diet really helped too.

  2. I think that since it’s hormonally-triggered, it’s going to be hard to beat. The good news? It should go back to its pre-birth control state within a few months. Talk to your gynecologist or doctor about it, especially if it doesn’t get back to normal within four months or so.
    For spots that appear in spite of all attempts to stop it, I recommend a dab of tea tree oil, witch hazel or a paste of water and aspirin.

  3. the best thing i’ve found so far is just baking soda. just mix with enough water to make it pasty, rub on face, let sit (it will sting if you have scrapes or cracked skin – when it happens, i use it as a sign it is working, and let sit ’till the sting fades off), wash off. i do it in the shower, because i find trying to wash it off with a washcloth is too abrasive for me. it hasn’t cleared everything up, but nothing ever has.

  4. I’ve had tricky skin for ages too, still get the odd break out and I’m 31. What I find helps is not over cleansing. When it was really broken out I thought oh, my skin isn’t clean – that’s why I’m getting zits! Apparently I was wrong. I find as long as I take my make up off (and I just use a nice light tinted moisturizer w/ SPF to protect my skin during the day) usually with make up removing cloths or if I’m having a shower at night I’ll wash it off in the shower, and if I have any dry spots I moisturize those and that’s it and since I started doing that my skin has thanked me! Any rare bad breakouts that I get I will apply peroxide directly to the head of the zit with a q-tip and it drys them right out and lightens the redness too so they are gone very quickly – works for me, might not for every skin type, but worth a shot!

  5. I use honey. It works miracles on my slightly but not extremely prone to breakout face. No soap, just honey. I rinse my face, get a small dab of honey and smooth it over my face. Wait 30 seconds to 5 minutes then rinse. It works so well for me, makes my skin soft and moist but not oily and prevents breakouts.

    • Me too!

      Honey is naturally antibacterial, so it kills the bacteria that causes pimples/acne. In the lead up to my wedding, I used a honey + baking soda + oatmeal + cocoa mask once a day for fortnight and my skin has never. been. so. amazing. It glowed. And I’m pretty sure that wasn’t just from it being my wedding day.

      Afterwards I kept going with the honey and still find that it’s really helpful and effective.

      I’ve also used apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil to good effect 🙂

    • I’ve been trying to use honey but I’m having trouble with the consistency. It’s too thick, even when I warm it up with my hands. As a result, I feel like I’m pulling on my face like crazy as I’m putting in on. I figure that can’t be good.

      Any suggestions?

      Thank you!

  6. My favorite passive skincare trick: fresh pillowcases. Buy a bunch of pillowcases when they are on clearance. Use a fresh pillowcase on the first night and flip it over for the second night. Repeat. It keeps you from rubbing last night’s oil into tonight’s clean pores. You do have more laundry this way, but I try to use the spent pillowcases for some light dusting before tossing them in the wash.

    • Yes! I use a variation of this — I have a bunch of hand towels, and put a fresh hand towel on the pillow each night. It definitely cuts down on acne.

  7. What a timely piece. Today I got a spot right in the middle of my philtrum. I was thinking I’d have to stick on a moustache and tell people I’m taking part in Movember!

  8. using this product as my nighttime moisturiser (actually its my “not leaving the house or expecting company” one too!) has saved my skin. I went from constant horrible acne and red, inflamed, unhappy skin (despite the healthy lifestyle & diet etc) to a few problem area pimples – its not perfect but it is so much better that I am happy! like lady brett I also use the baking soda scrub once a week or so but I find it can be a bit hit and miss – some weeks my skin loves it and others it gets grumpy and retaliates! Goodluck!

  9. My skin is usually cooperative, but when i have some blemishes coming through i dab some tea tree/melaleuca oil on it and it stops it in its tracks. I’ve only been using it for a little while, but it does the trick for me!

  10. Me too! I had Acutane when I was a teen and now that I’m in my mid twenties, acne is back. Here are my two life savior tricks:

    1-HYDRATATION CREAM: If you only dry out your skin with harmful products, your skin will get stiff and won’t be able to clean properly. Dirt will stay stuck in your pores even if you wash your face compulsively. I chose Avene products because they are super extra gentle on your skin and have a special anti-redness collection that really helped minimizing irritation.

    2-PUT MAKE UP ON: Not to hide the pimples, but to actually control the stuff coming from the outside world into your pores. With a foundation cream, there is no dirt in my pores anymore, only a make-up ment for your skin, all day long. I tried several of them before setting my mind on the Maybelline BB Cream. It’s a semi transparent foundation cream that will 1-be easily removable when you wash your face 2-easy to apply, blends in super fast (most of the time I don’t even cover my entire face)3-hydrates your skin 4-don’t leave an oily feel and 5-provide suncreen protection on a daily basis.

    Seriously, putting a foundation cream on my face helped me more than finding the perfect magical product out there.

    • Oh my god the Maybelline BB Cream. I know most people go “Waaaah, it’s nothing like the Japanese ones!”. I care not! For someone who never used to use foundation-type products, it’s amazing. Having my skin be relatively even-toned took getting used to, though.

      I think part of it is also, I think, if my skin looks better, I’m more likely to leave it the hell alone. Which is always helpful.

  11. I use baking soda and water to clean, then a weak mix of water and apple cider vinegar which I rinse off after it sits for a minute or so. Every few days I’ll use a little coconut oil and blot it off over the next hour or so, or sleep with a little bit on. So far, so good.

  12. The best at-home skin care mask I ever made was:

    – lots of fresh thyme, mortared to a pulp (you could also blend it)
    – crushed tea tree leaves (tea tree oil in a small quantity would be fine)
    – bit of sugar
    – bit of sea salt
    – tiny dash of extra virgin olive oil
    – dash of lemon juice
    – bit of honey
    – just enough water to make it a paste
    – touch of fresh pounded mint leaves for cooling
    – if I’d had some avocado I would have blended that in there

    I rubbed that into my face without scrubbing too hard and left it on for awhile. It stung in a pleasant “this is working” way.

    Over the next few days my acne all but disappeared and my skin felt great.

    I’ve heard the key is really fresh thyme: it’s surprisingly good for your skin and good at fighting acne.

  13. As others have said, my acne *almost* completely went away when I ditched every storebought product and simply washed with hot water and a facecloth twice a day. Avoid scrubbing areas with break-out, but I do scrub healthy areas. Then I put on a lovely moisturizer made by a friend: I use the lavender one. There are so many organic, homemade products out there now I’m sure you could find something closer to home with similar ingredients.
    I still get one or two unfortunate break-outs if I don’t get enough sleep, binge on sugar, or right before my period. But other than that it’s like my skin has finally grown up!

    • I should note that for the first week or so of using a body butter on my face it felt wrong. It felt like a stupid thing to do. It felt oily. But after a week my skin balanced itself out and stopped producing that extra oil, using the body butter instead. And, my friends, it’s been heaven ever since.

  14. I too am a convert to minimal facial washing. I cleanse and moisturise in the morning with a very gentle non soap cleanser. At night I just rinse and rub dry. You could switch it around.

    My acne got a whole lot better though when I started regular facial massage. Sounds weird but works! I use Pure Vitamin E oil, and massage about 4 or 5 drops in to the skin for about 3 minutes or so. It is incredibly sticky, so I do it before going to bed and wash the pillowcases regularly!! But it is also amazing for scarring, mine is now almost invisible.

  15. Thank you for posting this! I have crazy combination skin. While my acne breakouts are minimal, I get dry or oily patches when I’m stressed. I’ve always been fond of Tea Tree oil based face washes, toners etc. My challenge to you is: scalp treatments. I have dandruff (that gets much worse with stress) and NONE of the OTC shampoos I’ve tried have been effective, I would really rather avoid the prescription strength ones that feel like I’m getting chemical burns, yech. Any ideas for help north of the face homies?

    • Something I’m currently trying out – zinc supplements! I read on a couple different websites that sometimes acne and dandruff problems result from a zinc deficiency. I take one 50 mg pill in the morning with food (apparently it’ll give you fierce stomach pain if you don’t). I’ve been trying it out for the past week and a half and have been seeing some results- definitely seems to be helping clear the acne and my scalp is much less itchy than usual. Will need more time to be sure, of course. Besides that, I do minimal water only washes in the morning and evening and touch up with some OTC products. I’ve tried moving away from that, but haven’t succeeded so far- I think I may actually try the coconut oil night time treatment others have suggested- I’ve had a terrible time with dry skin and more wrinkles (eek!) since I moved to Chicago in August. Maybe that will help!

      • I haven’t heard of a zinc deficiency, I’ll have to look into that! Good luck with your coconut oil treatment, I hope you find something that works for you!

    • I don’t have horrible dandruff, but I did used to get a bit. Have you tried a few drops of tea tree oil in your shampoo? It used to help me.

      My dandruff is completely gone now and I chalk that up to two things. First, keeping my hair in a super-short pixie cut. Second, not washing it more than once a week. I haven’t seen a flake since my hair was long and more frequently washed.

  16. UGH acne, I was on the pill for 10+ years and stopped about 1 1/2 years ago. Then the cyst type breakouts came: face and shoulders. Gross. BUT epsom salt soaks really helped. Either a bath or make a compress for your face w/a towel. I would say at least 3 times a week. Also: replace morning coffee with a big glass of water. That’s when I saw a big shift in my skin. No more big painful bumps! After a couple months I reintroduced organic black coffee, and so far so good!

  17. These posts always make me sad. The simple solutions don’t cut it for me, because of the hormonal PCOS trigger for me. Anything that doesn’t contain an active ingredient to reduce the amount of oil my skin produces, only gets me marginal gains.

    For the least scary, most effective, and least wasteful packaging I go with

    No I’m not getting paid for any of this, it’s just what has worked for me. I’m a research type of gal, so once I figured out what active ingredient in all the over processed, scented, expensive snake oils you get from the drug store was, (hint: Super oily skin? Try 2.5% benzoyl peroxide), I found somewhere that had basically that ingredient, for a cheap price and nothing else in the package.

    That’s what led me to and what keeps me coming back. I just use the cleanser, in a giant, refillable bottle and viola. Life is good.

    • I just want to note that some people are sensitive/allergic to benzoyl peroxide, and it’s nearly impossible to tell if you’re “just” sensitive to it or are actually allergic, as the symptoms are identical. The symptoms are swelling and redness/irritation. The final time I used a benzoyl peroxide product, my entire face swelled. With that type of reaction, one never knows if the next exposure will induce anaphylactic shock, which can kill you.

      If benzoyl peroxide works for you with no issues, great! I just wanted to put that out there for people like me who thought that their skin just needed to get used to it, and that the irritation and redness would go away with continued use. It doesn’t. Better be safe than sorry and stop using it (or any product!) if you have a reaction to it.

    • Have you tried Apple cider vinegar? I get nasty, hormonal cystic acne that used to take weeks to heal, and the Braggs really works. I just put some on a cotton pad & leave it on like 20 seconds. It brings it to a head and heals a lot quicker with less scarring, at least for me.

  18. Ok, now we need a post for when you are 30+ and you have to simultaneously treat acne and moisturize to prevent or treat wrinkles. It’s a nightmare. I can’t do both. Light moisturizers don’t help wrinkles, and heavy ones cause grease and breakouts. Ugh.

      • Coconut oil kiiiinda has saved my life. Or at least, my skin’s life. I’ve had terrible acne since I was like…11 (I’m 27 now) and I am finally pretty much rid of it…thanks to coconut oil. I stopped washing my face and started massaging my skin with coconut oil and wiping it off with a soft towel. Oil removes oil a lot better and easier than water does. The coconut oil seems to protect my pores from getting clogged with gunk and bacteria and stuff, thus keeping it from escalating into acne.

    • Exfoliate! Not too often but about once a week you must exfoliate to stop wrinkles. Get a small face loofah or some kind of gentle face scrub like “Angels on Bare Skin” from LUSH and get those dead skins cells out of there and scrub your face and neck. This can’t fix the wrinkles you already have (nothing can, all those products are lying) but it will prevent new ones.

  19. I’m almost 30 and I still break out. Only now all those OTC acne medications are causing flare ups of eczema on my face. So I’ve started switching to milder and more natural remedies. I’ve found that tea tree oil works pretty well, but that apple cider vinegar works the best for me. I dilute it with water for a toner and use it full strength with a q-tip for spots. It stings and stinks but dries things up pretty quick. Since I don’t like smelling like vinegar all day I only use it at night.

  20. I admit I’m a bought product girl. I happen to like Lush. I have oily combination skin (and more break outs when not on the pill) and I use their Imperialis moisturizer which I’ve found works really well for being enough moisturizer without being too much. Doesn’t add to the oil. I also like their Tea Tree Water toner. Works great for helping remove makeup or get rid of remnants of my eye makeup remover.

    I’m trying to clean off my makeup before bed. I do need to exfoliate since I also get dead skin build up (yuck) but I do it 1-2 times a week in the shower with a gentle scrub I like.

    It will take up to 3 months for your hormones to stabilize after going off the pill (so my nurse practitioner told me when I switched pills). And any change to your skincare regimine will take a bit for your skin to adjust to as well.

  21. I’ve fought with bad bad skin my entire life. I’m in my late 40s now, and am trying to battle acne AND wrinkles simultaneously. I have also worked in the skin care field and I will make ONE caution. Change only ONE THING AT A TIME!! If you have changed your entire routine and start having problems, you won’t know which product is the culprit. If you get results, you won’t which product is actually helping you.

    Otherwise, I’ve got no good answers. I’ve used witch hazel, and tea tree oil, with some effectiveness on both but not consistently. I currently am embracing a more minimalist regimen using cetaphil cleanser one time per day, and nothing else. Not thrilled with feeling greasy all the time, but not too broken out either.

  22. For me it took cutting out coffee/caffeine completely. I am vegan and reasonably conscious of the foods I eat. I also have used every acne treatment on the planet both “natural” and chemical ones. This is the only thing that really made a difference. After a month of no caffeine my skin was noticeably better.

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