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Alternative Treatments for Acne

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is an essential oil extracted from the leaves of a small tree native to Australia. It has long been touted as a safe and effective alternative treatment for acne. In 1990, researchers studied 124 acne patients. Some were treated with 5% tea tree oil in a water-based gel. Others were treated with 5% benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient found in many over-the-counter acne remedies.

This widely-cited study reported that tea tree oil did not work as quickly as benzoyl peroxide. But, the researchers said, its use resulted in a similar reduction in acne lesions after three months. They also reported a significantly lower incidence of side effects such as dryness, irritation, itching, and burning.

Topical treatment with tea tree oil is considered safe for most adults. It may, though, trigger an allergic skin reaction in some people. This is especially true if it has oxidized after exposure to air. Tea tree oil should never be taken orally. It can cause toxic reactions ranging from rash to coma.

Other Alternative Acne Treatments

Some practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine recommend topical treatments containing tannins or fruit acids.

Tannins have natural astringent properties. They can be gotten by boiling a mixture of 5 to 10 grams of extract of bark from such trees as witch hazel, white oak, or English walnut in one cup of water. Commercial preparations, though, are not recommended. The distillation process removes the tannins.

Fruit acids include citric, gluconic, gluconolactone, glycolic,malic, and tartaric acids. These have natural properties that help them remove skin.

Other practitioners recommend treatments which have been approved by the German Commission E. The German Commission E is a European agency that studies herbal remedies. These include oral acne treatments such as:

  • Vitex, a whole-fruit extract for treating premenstrual acne. It's thought to act on follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels in the pituitary. It's said to increase progesterone levels and reduce estrogen levels. Vitex should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women.
  • Brewer's yeast, which has antimicrobial effects.

These practitioners also recommend topical bittersweet nightshade, which also has antimicrobial effects.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on June 27, 2013

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