Garlic is a plant belonging to the onion, or allium, family. For centuries, different cultures have used garlic to treat and prevent a range of ailments.

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that can have a bacterial cause. Studies show that garlic possesses potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. In theory, these properties should help treat acne. However, no research has directly investigated garlic’s potential as an acne treatment.

This article outlines research into the broader anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of garlic. We also discuss some risks of using garlic, both topically and internally.

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Garlic has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, but research into its effectiveness at treating acne is limited.

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition. It occurs when excess oil and skin debris accumulate inside the skin’s hair follicles, trapping bacteria beneath the skin’s surface. Some of these bacteria produce chemicals that promote inflammation and associated acne lesions.

No studies have directly investigated the use of garlic as a treatment for acne. However, some studies have highlighted its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties could help manage and treat acne.

Antimicrobial effects of garlic

According to a 2014 review, garlic contains compounds that inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and fungi. As such, the authors suggest that garlic may help treat certain skin conditions. However, they do not mention whether garlic is a viable treatment option for acne.

The authors of the 2014 review attributed garlic’s antimicrobial properties to a chemical called “allicin.”

A 2015 laboratory study investigated the antimicrobial effects of allicin and two different garlic extracts against the bacteria Streptococcus epidermidis. S. epidermidis is one of several bacteria that can contribute to acne.

The study showed that allicin inhibited the growth of S. epidermidis. However, the two garlic extracts demonstrated the most significant antimicrobial activity overall. The researchers concluded that the garlic extracts contain additional chemicals that boost their antimicrobial effects.

Importantly, the authors did not mention whether allicin or garlic extracts could help to treat acne.

Anti-inflammatory effects of garlic

Proinflammatory cytokines are molecules that promote inflammation. Experts believe that they may play a role in the development of acne.

A 2013 study found that allicin reduced the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in a laboratory setting. The study also showed that heating garlic reduces its allicin concentration, thereby reducing its anti-inflammatory effects.

The researchers concluded that allicin might be useful in the treatment of inflammatory diseases. However, they did not state whether it would help in the treatment of acne, specifically.

Other beneficial effects of garlic

A 2011 review investigated the potential dermatological uses of garlic. The review included a combination of laboratory studies, animal studies, and clinical trials.

According to the review, applying garlic extract to the skin appears to have both antimicrobial and wound-healing effects. The review also noted that garlic might help to treat the following skin conditions:

Garlic’s ability to promote wound-healing suggests that it may help to heal acne breakouts and prevent scarring. However, the authors did not indicate whether garlic would be useful in treating acne or acne scars.

People should take caution when applying garlic to the skin. Garlic can cause adverse reactions at the site of application. Such reactions may include:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: Localized skin rash and redness that develops in response to an irritant.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: Widespread skin rash and redness that develops in response to an allergen.
  • Contact urticaria: Localized swelling and redness of the skin, in response to an irritating substance.
  • Pemphigus: An immune system reaction that causes painful sores and blisters on the skin.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that garlic will be effective at treating acne. Nonetheless, some people may want to try garlic as a potential acne treatment.

Below are some tips on how to use garlic safely.

Applying garlic topically

People should take caution when applying garlic to the skin. The topical application of garlic can result in reactions at the site of application. Mixing a small amount of garlic with a carrier oil may help to reduce or prevent such reactions. Some examples of carrier oils include:

A person should test a small amount of the mixture on a small patch of skin before considering applying it to a larger area. If a reaction occurs, a person should avoid using garlic on their skin.

Ideally, a person should consult a dermatologist before applying garlic to the skin. Garlic may not be suitable for people with sensitive skin types.

Taking garlic supplements

Garlic is also available as a supplement. Though garlic supplements may provide some health benefits, they are unlikely to help treat or prevent acne.

Herbal supplements can cause side effects and may interact with other medications. As such, a person should talk to their doctor before taking garlic supplements.

An article in Dermatology Reports suggested that garlic may help to promote wound healing and reduce the appearance of scars. However, scientists have yet to investigate whether garlic improves the appearance of acne scars, specifically.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggest that the following home care tips may help to manage acne breakouts:

  • avoiding touching the acne
  • avoiding picking at or popping the acne
  • washing acne-prone areas twice a day, and immediately after sweating
  • avoiding cosmetics that clog pores
  • thoroughly washing or cleansing cosmetics from the skin before going to sleep
  • avoiding exfoliating or scrubbing acne
  • shampooing oily hair daily
  • staying out of the sun, and avoiding using tanning beds

People can also try over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments. Creams and ointments containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may be particularly effective at managing acne.

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that may have a bacterial cause. Research shows that garlic has both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. However, scientists have yet to investigate whether garlic is a viable treatment option for acne.

Applying garlic to the skin can cause skin irritation. People should talk to a dermatologist to find out whether garlic is suitable for their skin type. A dermatologist may also provide tips on how to apply garlic safely.

Some people may want to try garlic supplements. Herbal supplements can cause side effects and may interact with other medications. People should consult with their doctor before taking any type of herbal supplement.