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The blackheads and sometimes painful pimples that we know as acne occur most commonly during adolescence, but they may persist into later life as well. There is much we still don't understand about what causes acne. We do know that during adolescence and other times of hormonal imbalance, such as around menopause, glands in the skin increase their levels of oil secretions. A combination of naturally occurring yeast and bacteria then breaks down these secretions, causing the skin to become inflamed and the pimples to eventually rupture. In severe cases, acne can lead to permanent scars.
Conventional treatment, which usually is quite successful, consists primarily of oral or topical antibiotics, cleansing agents, and chemically modified versions of vitamin A.
Note: Do not rely on any of the natural treatments discussed in this article to treat severe acne in which scarring is a possibility.
Studies suggest that people with acne have lower-than-normal levels of zinc in their bodies.9,17,18 This fact alone does not indicate that taking zinc supplements will help acne.
Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have found zinc more effective than placebo but less effective than antibiotic therapy.
In one of these studies, 54 people were given either placebo or 135 mg of zinc as zinc sulfate daily. Zinc produced slight but measurable benefits.1Similar results have been seen in other studies using 90 to 135 mg of zinc daily,2-5although others failed to find that zinc helped.7,8
Relatively weak evidence suggests that a lower and safer dose, 30 mg daily, may also be helpful.6,19
A large double-blind trial (332 participants) compared 30 mg daily of zinc against a tetracycline-family medication often used for acne (minocycline at 100 mg daily).14 The results showed minocycline is more effective than zinc. Tetracyclinetaken at a dose of 250 mg daily,9appears to be no more effective than zinc, but when taken at 500 mg daily it seems to be considerably more effective.10
Keep in mind that the dosages of zinc used in most of these studies are much higher than daily requirements, and have the potential for causing toxicity. Indeed, case reports indicate that people have made themselves extremely ill by taking zinc in hopes of treating their acne symptoms.15,16
For more information, see the full Zinc article.
Tea tree oil has antiseptic properties and has been suggested as an alternative to benzoyl peroxide for direct application to the skin. The best evidence for benefits with tea tree oil comes from a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of 60 people with mild to moderate acne.21 In this study, participants were divided into two groups and treated with placebo or 5% tea tree oil gel. Over the 45-day study period, researchers evaluated acne severity in two ways: by means of counting the total number of acne lesions (TLC) and also by rating acne severity on a standardized index (ASI). The results showed that tea tree oil gel was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing both the number of acne lesions and their severity.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Tea Tree article.
In a double-blind trial, 76 individuals with moderately severe acne were treated with either 4% niacinamidegel or 1% clindamycin gel (a standard antibiotic treatment).13 Niacinamide proved to be just as effective as the antibiotic over an 8-week trial period. However, because this study lacked a placebo group, its results are unreliable.
Last reviewedSeptember 2014by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.