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The DIY acne treatments that actually work, according to our editors


diy acne treatments
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova
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After years (maybe even decades) of trial and error with so-called acne-busting treatments, you’re probably still grappling with breakouts (the adult acne struggle is real).

If you’ve reached the point where you’d try anything if it worked, there’s good news: The editors at Well+Good tested out the at-home DIY treatments that you always hear about but are too nervous to actually try out, to see if any of them did the trick.

We came up with a list of the ingredients that seemed the most worthy of up-close-and-personal time with our faces (some even have studies behind their skin-clearing effectiveness), hit up Whole Foods, and treated our pimples solely with superfoods, tea, and, yes, starches and dairy products to see which (if any) can stand alone as a go-to blemish-fighter.

Keep reading to see the results of our DIY skin-care experiment—you might be surprised.

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diy acne treatments
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Apple cider vinegar

This healthy salad dressing ingredient is also reputed to be a great natural toner for your skin due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Note: be sure to mix one part ACV to two parts water (it’s very strong!).

Verdict: Great spot treatment that you can feel (and smell) working its antimicrobial magic.

“This is the one DIY acne treatment that I felt gave me instant results. Although the smell is quite intense—maybe don’t try this one if you’re sharing a bed with your S.O.—it felt the most like a spot treatment for my troubled areas at night. When I applied in the morning, my skin stayed matte for much longer—even on super humid days. Now if someone can just invent odor-free ACV….” —Katie Maguire, Associate Editor

“Although the smell was quite unpleasant, I felt like it truly killed all of the acne-causing bacteria on—and underneath—my skin. Nothing’s noticeable after wiping your face with it, but I woke up with less redness on my acne spots and didn’t get any new breakouts after I used it for almost a week—which speaks volumes considering my very temperamental complexion. If you just get past the odor, you can pretty much kiss all store-bought toners goodbye.” —Rachel Lapidos, Assistant Editor

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diy acne
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Spearmint tea

Drinking two to three cups a day reportedly has anti-inflammatory powers, and a study done last year by the American Academy of Dermatology found that two cups a day greatly reduced breakouts. It’s also known to help regulate your acne-causing hormones (called androgens).

Verdict: Aids in a brighter glow (and keeps you hydrated). 

“I happened to have a really terrible breakout right when this experiment started, so I seemed to heavily rely on these frequent daily cups of tea. That said, my skin didn’t exactly clear any faster than a normal breakout would, but I do think that overall my complexion looked brighter and healthier than normal. Perhaps because it helped me avoid my afternoon caffeine fallback in favor of a healthier, more hydrating tea.” —Katie Maguire, Associate Editor

“It’s hard to say whether or not the spearmint played a powerful role in keeping my skin clear, but I will say this: It was a refreshing way to get me to keep refilling my mug at work—and hydration is crucial in keeping skin looking glowy. For that alone, it was worth adding in to my tea rotation, alongside a.m. green tea and evening chamomile.” —Rebecca Willa Davis, Deputy Editor

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diy acne
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Honey and turmeric mask

I’ve had excellent results replacing my facial cleanser with honey (which is antimicrobial), and turmeric is a super-power anti-inflammatory spice that’s said to aid in skin health—so mixed together, they’re a pretty powerful face mask. But I wanted to see if my colleagues had the same success.

Verdict: Seriously soothes any redness.

“Judging by what turmeric does to my fingertips (and my bamboo utensils) when I’m cooking—AKA deeply stains them bright yellow—I was afraid to put it anywhere near my face. Good news: No staining! And the other good news: After rinsing the honey mixture off each night (FYI warm water gets the sticky job done much faster), my skin felt smoother, calmer, and deeply cleansed. Not only was I not bright yellow, but my tendency toward redness was corrected. Pro tip: Don’t put it on too thick, since the heat of your skin melts the honey and thins it out—sending drips down your face, your neck, and beyond. Your couch will thank you!” —Erin Hanafy, Senior Editor, Articles & Special Projects

“I really wanted this to do wonders to my skin—honey and all-powerful turmeric? Please work your magic. Although I do think the honey helped to calm my face, I don’t think the turmeric was as anti-inflammatory on my skin as it is in my food. Plus, it was a little messy—as in, it dripped down my tank top. And honey, no matter how powerfully healthy, is pretty sticky and hard to clean off of fabric!” —Katie Maguire, Associate Editor

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diy acne
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Papaya

This lovely smoothie ingredient and immunity-boosting fruit contains papain, an enzyme that’s been said to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne.

Verdict: Not worth the mess.

“This one was a bit tedious to prepare. I scooped out most of the seeds and put the papaya pulp into the food processor before applying it to my face. Inevitably there were still seeds in my DIY face mask. The papaya kept sliding off my face, but I managed to get enough on there and after about 10 minutes, I could feel it tighten on my face. Bonus points: It smelled great. But after keeping the face mask on for about 25 minutes, the only difference I noticed afterwards was that my skin felt dry. It was actually the opposite of what I expected!” —Emily Laurence, Food Editor

“I’ve admittedly never sliced open a papaya before, so working with its texture was new to me. After mashing it up, it still didn’t really stay on my skin—chunks kept sliding off, so this is a really messy endeavor. The worst part? It didn’t do anything for my breakouts. My skin didn’t feel particularly soft or look glowy—instead, it was a bit dry to the touch, and my red spots were still pretty angry-looking. I’d recommend saving this for your smoothies.” —Rachel Lapidos, Assistant Editor

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diy acne
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Yogurt

The probiotic-packed snack’s not just good for your gut; studies have shown it to be helpful in achieving that natural glow. What happens when you slather it all over your face, as if it’s a mask?

Verdict: Firming and good for redness, but smelly.

“I was surprised initially at just how cold the yogurt was when I put it on my face—yes, I knew it was refrigerated but the feeling was less ‘at-home spa’ and more ‘how long do I have to do this?’ And in terms of a sensory experience, cold wasn’t the only drawback. The scent was…earthy. After sitting on my face for a couple minutes, the yogurt began to smell like milk approaching its sell-by date. But when the 20 minutes was up, the results were impressive: My skin was lightly exfoliated—reportedly due to the lactic acid (a type of alpha-hydroxy acid) that yogurt naturally contains. It was noticeably smoother and firmer, with no redness added, and my pores had seriously gone bye-bye. Amazing! That smell, though. I’ll definitely try this again but I’ll need to do some essential oil experiments—neutralizing the stank is a must.” Erin Hanafy, Senior Editor, Articles & Special Projects

“I stay away from dairy as much as possible since it causes inflammation, so the idea of putting Greek yogurt on my face was a little iffy to me. (I always thought dairy caused acne?) And perhaps because of my preconceived notions, it wasn’t my jam. The smell grossed me out the whole 20 minutes it was on my face. So, was it worth the results? Real talk: I only did this mask one time because I missed my yummy-smelling normal face mask so much, but I was mildly surprised by the results of the yogurt. Even though the texture is nothing like clay, it still had the same firming effect.” —Emily Laurence, Food Editor

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diy acne
Graphic: Katherine Sokolova

Potato slices

This one may sound out-there, but nothing will stand in the way of clear skin—not even rubbing the starchy tuber on our faces. Potatoes have been used as a plant-based acne treatment, and some say swiping slices of it on your face helps keep oily skin under control.

Verdict: Moisturizing and helps with pigmentation, but requires regular use.

“Potato slices are cucumber slices’ less glamorous, starchy cousin. And the same goes for their effect on your skin: Though they felt really moisturizing (almost creamy) as I rubbed them on my problem areas, it didn’t have an immediate noticeable benefit. But that’s not to say it didn’t do anything—I was shocked, but my acne did seem less angry, and my skin seemed like a moisturizer was just applied all over it. I only did it several times, but I think with habitual potato rubbing, my skin would look more even.” —Rachel Lapidos, Assistant Editor

“I was really surprised by the whole process. For one thing: potatoes are actually pretty juicy! (Who knew?) I sliced a bunch, thinking I’d go through them quickly, but one was more than enough to coat myself in potato juice. (Yup, it smelled exactly how you’d think.) Another thing: It almost felt like I was applying a serum on my face, which was very unexpected. While I wouldn’t recommend trying this out if you’re in the midst of a serious flare-up—rubbing something solid on top of a breakout is not a great idea—it could be good post-breakout, when you’ve got an ex-pimple spot on your face. (Potato is said to help with pigmentation, but I didn’t use it enough to see a huge difference.)” —Rebecca Willa-Davis, Deputy Editor

Not ready to rely on just your smoothie ingredients for skin care? Try these acne-fighting facial oils—and yes, oils give you glowing skin, not zits.