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Clear up acne with botanicals.
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Clear up acne with botanicals.

Natural healing says that acne is fundamentally the result of the body attempting to eliminate wastes through the skin. In Ayurveda, the condition translates as “that which comes out from the inner part to the outer part.” Herbal medicine treats acne by reducing skin inflammation, healing skin tissue if necessary, and eliminating the source of irritating wastes (sometimes called “toxins”) through the liver, kidneys, and large intestine. For a glowing, clear complexion, herbal medicine can come to the rescue.

Undesirable substances, whether from outside (pesticides, pollution, etc.) or inside the body (retained cellular wastes), aggravate the skin, leading to persistent inflammation. Herbal detoxifiers, called “alteratives,” assist the body in performing its normal elimination processes. Many classic alteratives turn out to be powerful antioxidants, too.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola works to heal a variety of skin conditions, including acne. This herb promotes the tensile integrity of the skin, and increases keratinization in the skin, so it can actually regrow new skin, helping to heal even long-standing lesions. A 2013 review concluded that gotu kola was effective for healing skin and reducing inflammation.


Several studies show striking results in the treatment of even dramatically damaged skin. Research demonstrates that gotu kola compounds promote rapid skin healing. Some of the active compounds are thought to be triterpenes, which have a balancing effect on connective tissues, improving the basic “glue” that holds our cells together. Gotu kola is a rich source of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant quercetin, which explains some of the benefits.

Alcohol and water preparations of gotu kola have been found to be beneficial, confirming its traditional use as tea and skin cream. For acute acne, use capsules (follow dosages instructions), or take one ounce of dry herb, by weight, as a tea, per day.

Chinese Licorice Root

Chinese licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), also called licorice root, has a history of use for treating skin diseases in East Asia. It has been shown to lessen skin inflammation, and this use is supported by a study published in The British Journal of Dermatology.

Chinese licorice root contains steroid-like substances that can be taken internally or applied in a cream. Licorice has long been used topically. Recently, scientists found that a moisturizing cream containing extracts of licorice, holy basil, andrographis, and green tea controlled acne-causing bacteria (Staphylococcus epidermis and Propionibacterium) with no skin irritation.

Look for licorice root as a powder and in capsules; follow label instructions for use.

Chinese Violet

For an effective acne remedy, seek out Chinese violet (Viola yedoensis) and use the whole plant, including leaf and root (available in capsules). It often goes by the name Zi Hua Di Ding in Chinese formulas.

In Ayurveda, Chinese violet is considered “bitter and cold,” so it is used to cool inflammation. It is thought to work by dispersing heat that is “stuck” in the skin. In terms of cooling skin, detoxifying, and reducing swelling, it is equivalent to dandelion herb, another classic herb for skin inflammation, with which it is often combined. Chinese violet also has some antibacterial action. Scientists confirmed the cooling, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial value of Chinese violet in a 2014 study.

Take Chinese violet leaf in capsules alone or in combination formulas (follow dosage instructions), or as a tea, which you can find in Asian markets. If drinking as a tea, start with a teaspoon of the dried herb, brewed, and work up to as much as an ounce of the dry weight of the herb, brewed, per day, as necessary.

The Western herb, wild pansy (Viola tricolor), is very similar, and can be substituted. In 2013, scientists tested a gel made from this Western violet leaf, and found that it successfully treated skin inflammation.

Gotu kola works to heal a variety of skin conditions, including acne.

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