Acne is an eruptive skin condition that affects nearly 90 percent of people during their adolescent years. Owing to a hormone surge in the teens, the skin becomes oily, pores get blocked to form blackheads and infection sets in to cause painful, red, pus-filled pimples.
As it is such a common affliction, everyone has their own favourite home remedies for acne. Most such remedies have their roots in authentic Ayurveda, but with time the origins have become blurred and the remedies diluted by baseless myths, so that it's confusing for the lay person to decide what is worth doing and what is useless and likely to damage the skin.
Here are a few common home remedies for acne:
- Channa dal flour (split chickpea flourm, also known as besan): This is the most common ingredient in nearly all prescribed home remedies for acne. It has great de-greasing properties and is excellent for keeping skin oil-free, thereby helping to dry up acne without having to expose the skin to too much soap. Coarsely ground, it works well as an exfoliating scrub to open out the pores and decrease blackheads. Use it as a paste in combination with turmeric and honey to soften the skin. It can be used daily as a cleanser.
- Turmeric (haldi): It is a well-known disinfectant and kills the bacteria responsible for acne. Fresh roots pounded to a paste are preferable to using dry powdered turmeric. Its contact period to the skin should not exceed 10 minutes, as turmeric may cause irritation. The downside -- an unappealing yellow hue to the skin and allergic reactions occasionally.
- Curd: Lactic acid in curd, like besan, is also a good exfoliator. It hydrates the skin well, helping to ease the dryness caused by strong anti-acne medications. Caution: High fat curd can actually increase the oiliness of skin and be a counter-productive, so use the skimmed milk variety.
- Sandalwood (chandan): My own grandmother never quit extolling the virtues of this magical skin medicine. She claimed the best way to use it was by rubbing a block of the wood itself on a stone slab, for half an hour with a few drops of water, till you got a muddy paste. You had to apply this fragrant pack on your face till it dried, then wash it off with rosewater. Since my grandmother had perfect skin till she died at 85, I cannot argue with her remedy! But a simpler option may be buying sandalwood powder or reconstitutable face packs from the market.
- Fuller's earth (multani mitti): Also great for decreasing oil secretion and closing skin pores, it's best used in combination with rose water and sandalwood paste. Do not use too frequently -- about twice a week is enough -- as it is an astringent and causes a burning sensation on sensitive skin.
In the course of my practice, I've come across people using every possible kitchen ingredient on their faces to control acne and it's sad to see many a pretty face ruined by using the wrong remedies. I want to caution people against using things like garlic, onion juice or caustic soda that cause more harm than good. Also, do not torture yourselves with highly acidic substances like lemon juice, tamarind, vinegar or orange peel. Milk, cream, ghee etc are to be absolutely avoided on acne-prone skin. Do try to consult your dermatologist before using any home remedies, to discuss whether it is suitable for your skin and compatible with your ongoing acne treatment.
Though the best treatment for acne remains an individualised, planned regimen of oral medicines, topical gels for application, medical clean-ups and newer chemical peels -- all properly planned and executed by a dermatologist -- home remedies, if used wisely, can be good adjuvants to this therapy. They serve as efficient skin-cleansers and a cheap and easily available method of treatment in the early stages of acne.
Dr Parul S Kolhe is an MBBS and holds a DDV & DNB in dermatology.