Patients often approach an ND for support with their acne when it trails into adulthood, defies conventional over the counter treatment, or when they are looking for a more natural (less drying) approach to their skin care. Our approach to acne is multifaceted in order to target the multiple underlying causes. Acne is triggered by an increase in sebum production, by the proliferation of p. acnes (acne causing bacteria), and by underlying inflammation and hormonal imbalance (such as elevated DHT)(1,2).

It’s common for patients to think their diet doesn’t have an effect on their skin because they don’t see an immediate breakout after eating any particular foods. The mechanism food helps or harms acne is a slow, hormone-driven process that may take days or weeks to show up in the skin.

Multiple dietary triggers have been studied in acne that increases the cellular pathways of sebum production. When we treat acne, if less sebum is produced, then there is a reduction in both the bacterial colonies in the skin and overall inflammation. Dairy, and leucine containing animal products (including protein powder) push on the pathways that increase sebum production, and also contribute to hormone imbalances right in the skin, that worsen the development of acne lesions(3).

By contrast, bioflavonoids and isoflavones in the diet can block inflammation, p. acnes and sebum production, and may be a possible treatment option for patients with acne. Green tea specifically has been studied for treating acne in adults and youth by targeting all of these pathways better than other topical treatments such as zinc, or drying alcohols(4).

We prescribe topical green tea from compounding pharmacies similar to the findings in the research that shows with a 1-5% EGCG cream (the flavonoid most prominent in green tea) sebum production, lesion count and inflammation can be reduced in the check, oral area and nose with as little as 30-60 days of application(4–6). Oral green tea has also been studied for ‘adult acne’ with reduction of new lesions and improved sebum production, with very few side effects reported in the research(7).

Although we recommend green tea drinking for many health benefits (including cancer risk reduction!) to gain the benefit from green tea for acne it needs to be supplemented in fairly high doses, and compounded by a pharmacy (by prescription from your ND) for the appropriate concentration and carrier cream.

Although the focus of acne is often on the offending “spot”, a treatment approach that treats the underlying triggers for acne prevents new spots from forming, and offers a safe, natural solution that can be used in place of, or in conjunction with conventional treatment.


  1. Aizawa H, Niimura M. Adrenal androgen abnormalities in women with late onset and persistent acne. Arch Dermatol Res. 1993;284(8):451–5.
  2. Bakry OA, El Shazly RMA, El Farargy SM, Kotb D. Role of hormones and blood lipids in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris in non-obese, non-hirsute females. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2014 Nov;5(Suppl 1):S9–16.
  3. Melnik B. Dietary intervention in acne. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jan 1;4(1):20–32.
  4. Sharquie KE, Noaimi AA, Al-Salih MM. Topical therapy of acne vulgaris using 2% tea lotion in comparison with 5% zinc sulphate solution. Saudi Med J. 2008 Dec;29(12):1757–61.
  5. Saric S, Notay M, Sivamani RK. Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris. Antioxid Basel Switz. 2016 Dec 29;6(1).
  6. Yoon JY, Kwon HH, Min SU, Thiboutot DM, Suh DH. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate improves acne in humans by modulating intracellular molecular targets and inhibiting P. acnes. J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Feb;133(2):429–40.
  7. Lu PH, Hsu CH. Does supplementation with green tea extract improve acne in post-adolescent women? A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Apr;25:159–63.