How to Build A Natural Skin Care Routine for Acne

When you’re dealing with acne, it can be hard to find natural skin products that actually work.  Thankfully, the amount of natural skincare products is increasing every year, as is the research showing which ones are effective.  

This guide will help you build a natural skincare routine for acne with active ingredients that are backed by research. As a bonus, many natural products are inexpensive and can be found at your local grocery store.

Here are the steps to a natural skincare routine for acne:

  1. Gently cleanse your skin
  2. Balance skin with toner
  3. Use moisturizer (even oily skin types)
  4. Apply sunscreen every day
  5. Exfoliate as needed
  6. Dab on a spot treatment
Natural Skincare Ingredients

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Use a Gentle Cleanser

The first, and probably most important, step in any skincare routine is to cleanse your skin. You want to clean out all the built-up dirt and excess oil in your pores and hair follicles without stripping your skin of its natural oils.  Those blocked hair follicles that are clogged with sebum and dead skin will quickly cause breakouts. 

Your skin should never feel dry or tight after you wash it. That’s a sign of a harsh cleanser that will damage your natural skin barrier over time. Your skin naturally produces sebum and that’s not a bad thing. What can cause acne and a shiny-faced look is when your skin goes into hyperdrive and produces way too much. 

A good cleanser will remove excess sebum, makeup, and all of the invisible dirt and pollution that settled on our skin throughout the day. 

There are two main ways to wash your face. One is to double cleanse, first with an oil and then a traditional cleanser. The second is to remove makeup with micellar water or makeup remover and then to use a face wash.

Top Pick for Natural Cleanser

Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Facial Cleansing Oil is available at Amazon and local drugstores. It’s the very first oil cleanser I used and I keep going back to it since it’s inexpensive and works well.

How to Double Cleanse Your Face

Double cleansing your face is a technique that is very popular in Asia and has become increasingly common in the West.  Asian skincare has become more mainstream in Europe and the United States and I think that’s a positive development, as there are some amazing natural skincare ingredients I’ve found from Asian skincare (green tea being one of my favorites- read all about it here).

I recommend this method if you are a heavy makeup user or have very oily skin. It’s also great if you use sunscreen for sports or the beach that can be hard to remove.

There’s no specific way you have to double cleanse, like everything in skincare, you can adjust to do it how it works best for you. The most common way is to use an oil cleanser for your first cleanse. Oil cleansers are super effective at removing makeup and sunscreen without drying skin. Then follow up with a gentle cleanser that will remove the debris from your pores.

infographic showing causes of acne

How to Single Cleanse Your Face

With this method, you wash your face once with a cleanser that can be either oil or one that uses surfactants (cleaning agents). If you don’t use heavy makeup you usually don’t even have to remove it separately. Many natural cleaners are effective enough to take it all off in one step.

If you do tend to wear heavier makeup or a tenacious sunscreen, you may want to remove it before cleansing. I love micellar water for this, but a dedicated makeup remover also works well. An oil-based makeup remover is a great natural choice.

After you cleanse your skin should feel soft and not at all dry. If your face feels at all tight switch to a more hydrating cleanser.  I recommend an oil cleanser for all skin types, yes even for those with oily skin! 

Using facial oil or an oil cleanser on skin that is acne-prone can seem counterintuitive, but it can be very helpful. Facial oils assist in regulating sebum production, which is often high in people with oily skin.  If you use moisturizing fats and oils your face will be hydrated and your skin should produce less sebum. 

Additionally, oil cleansers are very effective without artificial fragrances or dyes, or harsh chemicals that can be irritating for sensitive skin or those with skin conditions.

Balance Skin With Toner

Toners are lightweight and you can find ones that work great for a variety of skin concerns. These are not the alcohol-based toners you may remember from years ago that were extremely drying. 

For a natural toner that helps in controlling acne, I recommend looking for one with witch hazel or green tea.

Witch hazel has antibacterial properties, helps control sebum, and is anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce redness. It can be a little drying, so I recommend making sure your toner also has natural moisturizers such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid.

Green tea is one of the best antioxidants for your skin, which means it helps prevent and repair skin damage.  Green tea is similar to witch hazel in that it’s antibacterial and antiinflammatory. However, it’s not drying, so it may be a better choice for those with normal to dry skin, while those with oily skin types may prefer witch hazel.

You can apply toner with your hands, cotton ball, or reusable cotton pad (reusable ones are convenient and better for the environment). I personally just use my hands so I can rub any extra toner into my neck and chest and don’t waste a drop.

Top Pick for Toner

Andalou Naturals Willow Bark Toner is hydrating while also gently exfoliating. It’s super reasonably priced and is available on Amazon and at Whole Foods.

infographic showing causes of acne

Moisturize Your Skin

Moisturizing helps keep your skin barrier strong, which keeps hydration in and potential irritants out. Your skin type, as well as the time of year and climate where you live, will help you pick the best moisturizer for you. 

Natural ingredients to look for in a daily moisturizer include glycerin, aloe vera, and essential fatty acids such as those found in plant butter (shea, mango) and facial oils (rosehip, jojoba). 

For oily skin or those who live in more humid clients, a light moisturizer with glycerin and hyaluronic acid may be fine all year long. It should be enough to keep your skin hydrated, which will help prevent your skin from overproducing sebum.  

If you have dry skin you’ll want a richer moisturizer, one with essential fatty acids that moisturize and calm skin. Facial oils and plant butter are great choices. Rosehip and jojoba oils are non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores and cause breakouts.  For plant butter, shea and mango butter are good choices. Stay away from cocoa butter on your face, as it is very comedogenic.

Top Pick for Moisturizers

Mad Hippie Antioxidant Facial Oil is my all-time favorite. It’s a mix of different oils and includes sea buckthorn, which makes it smell amazing. You can grab this at your local Ulta or on Amazon.

chart showing how green tea reduces acne

Use Sunscreen Everyday

For your morning skincare routine, you should include sunscreen every day. Sunscreen is the number one anti-aging skincare ingredient that we have. UV exposure breaks down the collagen in our skin, leading to wrinkles and sagging. It also causes dark spots and uneven skin tone.

The natural options in sunscreens are zinc and titanium dioxide. Zinc has the added benefit of also fighting acne.  They both can be whitening, but titanium dioxide is more so than zinc. If you have a medium or darker skin tone, look for a tinted option.

I recommend 20% zinc content for a high protection level, particularly if I’m going to be out in the soon a lot. If I am indoors most of the day, I do have some that are as low as 13% zinc I will use.

Top Pick for Sunscreen

Thinksport Everyday Face Sunscreen SPF 30 is my everyday sunscreen. It has 20% zinc and has a tint so it doesn’t make me look like a ghost. The tint is still pretty light but will work for light or medium skin tones.

If you have a darker skin tone I recommend MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield SPF 50 because it actually comes in multiple tints, including one suitable for darker skin. It’s also 20% zinc and super effective. I only use the ThinkSport over this because this is a little bit more expensive.

Exfoliate as Needed

Exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin cells from your face. This not only leaves your skin looking younger and glowing, it also clears out the debris clogging your pores and hair follicles. 

Keep in mind exfoliation isn’t something you need to do every day, it’s also a step you can skin if you use an exfoliating toner. I personally use an exfoliating toner about 2 to 3 times a week at night, and a moisturizing toner the other days. If you haven’t exfoliated before, I would start with just once a week in the evening before bed.

You can exfoliate your face physically, such as with scrubs that contain small particles, or by using gentle acids. I highly recommend using acids, as scrubs can be harsh and leave small tears in your skin.

Gentle fruit acids are a good option, pumpkin, turmeric, and honey all are very gentle exfoliants. Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring compound that is one of the best exfoliants for acne because it can penetrate oil, including the sebum that is often clogging pores in acne-prone skin. It’s able to penetrate the oil and clear out the debris blocking the pores.  Salicylic acid is naturally found in willow bark, which makes a willow bark toner a great choice.

Top Pick for Exfoliant

Raw honey like this one makes a great exfoliant and is easily available at your local grocery store. Do not buy pasteurized honey as it will not have the same benefit. Manuka honey has been shown to be the most effective.

Dripping Jar of Raw Honey

Dab On Spot Treatment

For active breakouts, it can be helpful to dab on a small amount of spot treatment once or twice a day. These can be drying, so it’s not something I’d use all over your face, although these natural alternatives are nowhere near as drying as harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide.

 It’s also not something that you will need every day. For me, I normally have hormonal breakouts once a month, and that’s where a spot treatment comes in handy.

Salicylic acid is very effective at fighting acne and is a natural ingredient.  If it’s not already in your toner, it can make a good spot treatment at concentrations up to 2%. However, many skincare lines combine it with harsh chemical ingredients. Burt’s Bees is a good choice for a natural product using naturally derived salicylic acid. 

Tea tree oil also makes a good spot treatment. Tea tree oil is extremely strong, so, like essential oils, it must be diluted before applying. Just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it can’t irritate your skin.  I would look for a product specifically designed for acne (recommendations below) or dilute tea tree oil in your moisturizer.

Alba Botanica Acnedote Spot Treatment has 2% Salicylic Acid and is available at Amazon and Whole Foods. I dab this on my hormonal breakouts and it works well.

Top Natural Skincare Ingredients for Acne

Natural IngredientBenefits
Tea Tree OilAntibacterial, anti-inflammatory
Raw HoneyAntibacterial, gentle exfoliant
TurmericAntibacterial, anti-inflammatory
Willow BarkPenetrates pores, gentle exfoliant
Green TeaAntibacterial, anti-inflammatory
Witch HazelAntibacterial, astringent (reduces oil)
Clay Face MaskDraws debris out of pores, provides nutrients
ZincAnti-inflammatory protects from UV rays
Top Natural Skincare Ingredients for Acne

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Honey Good for Acne?

Raw, unprocessed honey can be used for acne. Honey is naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, so it will reduce the redness of pimples. Honey can also be used as a gentle exfoliant. Manuka honey is noted to be particularly effective for skin.

Is Rosehip Oil Good For Acne?

Rosehip Oil is an effective moisturizer even if you have acne-prone skin. It has a low comedogenic rating, meaning it won’t clog your pores. The linoleic acids in rosehip oil reduce inflammation and can help moderate sebum production in your skin. On the whole, this makes rosehip oil a great choice for acne.

Is Turmeric Good for Acne?

Turmeric is good for fighting acne because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It will help reduce redness and the inflammation of active pimples in addition to killing acne bacteria.  Turmeric is a plant native to Asia that is ground down to a fine powder and used in cooking and medicine, in addition to skincare.

Is It OK to Use Face Oils on Oily Skin?

Using oil on skin that is oily or acne-prone is OK and can be very helpful. Facial oils contain essential fatty acids that moisturize and protect your natural skin barrier.  They don’t necessarily clog your pores. Essential fatty acids help regulate sebum production by keeping skin moisturized, this prevents your skin from overproducing sebum in order to stay hydrated.

Final Thoughts on Natural Skin Care Routine For Acne

I hope this guide has been helpful to you in developing your own natural skincare and helping you on your way to clear skin.  With the choices available today in natural skincare everyone can find products that work for their skin.

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