middle aged woman with stubborn blemishes on her cheeks

You may imagine, as many people do, that most teenagers have acne and that they grow out of it. In actuality, many adults struggle with acne. Is it possible to use a peculiar remedy, like the mouthwash Listerine, to treat adult acne?

Using Listerine to Treat Adult Acne:

Q. I have been fighting acne since high school. Now I’m 44 years old and still have acne. When I read in the newspaper that Listerine can clear up blemishes and acne, I decided to give it a try. I have been using it for the last three weeks and my skin is clearer. 

A. Acne appears to result from a complex interaction among the hair follicles, the microbes that live on the skin, the oil glands, the immune system and the diet. Dermatologists have treated acne with antibiotics for decades, but many microbes are developing resistance (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, June, 2019). Treatment with oral antibiotics reduces the abundance of Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) and the severity of breakouts (Journal of Clinical Medicine, Jan. 8, 2020). On the other hand, doxycycline pills have potential side effects, including alterations in the balance of microbes in the digestive tract.

How Listerine Might Help:

The essential oils in Listerine, such as thymol, eucalyptol and menthol, have antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity. Thymol is found not only in thyme, but also in oregano (Molecules, Aug.28, 2018). Research suggests that oregano oil can evade microbial resistance to antibiotics and help treat acne.

When you apply eucalyptol to the skin, you interfere with C. acnes and the associated inflammation (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, July 17, 2019). As a result, fewer pimples develop and they are less inflamed.

The other essential oils in Listerine, methyl salicylate and menthol, provide its distinctive odor and flavor. However, they don’t appear to have any impact on skin microbes. Perhaps thymol, eucalyptol or their combination explains why you have found it helpful to try Listerine to treat adult acne.

Previous Testimonials:

We have heard before from other readers who endorse the use of Listerine to treat adult acne. Here’s one reader’s experience:

Q. After trying lots of medications my personal physician prescribed for adult acne, I read a comment in the People’s Pharmacy column about using Listerine on the face. I tried it cautiously, being skeptical at first. Within a short time of starting to use it daily, my face cleared up for the first time in years! I used the original amber Listerine with a cotton ball dabbing gently on the areas needed. Thank you.

And another reader chimes in:

Q. I thought I’d share my experience using Listerine as an acne treatment after reading about it in your column. I have tried all types of antibiotics and topical prescriptions on the market. Nothing has worked as well as applying Listerine morning and night. Who knew it could be that simple?

A. Listerine was first brought out as a surgical antiseptic sold to doctors starting in 1879. By the early 20th century, it was being promoted to consumers as a mouthwash. It was also touted for dandruff and “bad skin.”

The herbal oils and alcohol in Listerine have antimicrobial properties, and many readers have reported success using it for fungal infections such as jock itch, dandruff and nail fungus. Other readers have also found, as you did, that it helps clear blemishes.

One reader commented:

“I chuckled when I read this article about Listerine. As a teen I remember my mother telling me to use Listerine to help the little bit of acne I had. I was blessed with very good skin and the Listerine did wonders. As an adult I have used Witch Hazel to remove makeup and clean my skin. I tend to have oily skin even as a senior citizen (thanks to my Italian heritage and olive oil consumption since birth) and this helps me a lot. I had actually forgotten about the Listerine. Thanks for jogging my memory.”

LER opined:

“The success of Listerine to treat ‘adult acne’ makes sense if it is really caused by inflammation due to fungal growth on the skin.”

Whether the offending organisms are fungal (such as Malassezia yeast like those that cause dandruff) or bacterial (such as C. acnes, previously known as Propionibacterium acnes), Listerine seems to have some activity against them.

Learn More:

To learn more about home remedies as well as medications to treat this skin condition you may want to read our eGuide to Acne Solutions. In addition, you might appreciate our interview with Dr. Crystal Aguh, a dermatologist discussing acne treatment. It is Show 1223: How to Care for Summer-Stressed Skin.

Please let us know about your experience with Listerine or other remedies for skin blemishes. Also, if you found this article helpful, you can share it using the icons at the top of the page.

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  1. Cherry

    Every person I’ve known to suffer from acne managed to clear their skin up instantly when they removed dairy from their diet. Just saying.

  2. Sita

    I picked up a staph infection a year ago, which causes recurrent boils on my thighs. Will applying Listerine nightly on the inner thighs help in preventing this?

    • Terry Graedon

      I’m sorry we don’t know. It should not do damage, so you. might try it.

  3. Lea

    My son and I discovered hydrogen peroxide for blemishes when he was a young teen. It works very well and is inexpensive. It cleared up his skin trouble like a charm, nearly overnight. I had him using it on a cotton ball in the morning and at night, and as long as he did, he had no breakouts. These days I use it every night before bed, and it helps with sebhorreic keratosis, keeping the few growths on my face small. And it doesn’t dry out my older skin as much as plain water does!

  4. "Sinclair"

    Half a life ago, when I was 40, I suffered from adult acne as well as itchiness, especially genital itch “treated” by prescription ointments that made it worse. I decided to not use soap on my face, just hot water and a terrycloth washrag; the acne went away and has never returned. Then I decided to avoid soap on my body, and I’ve never had another itch. People are appalled when I mention this so I avoid the topic. I’ve never used skin lotions or cosmetics. I use soap on my hands of course.

  5. Todd

    Instead of listerine, would thyme or oregano oil do the same?

    • Terry Graedon

      They might well. You should not apply undiluted essential oil to the skin, however, as it could be quite irritating.

  6. Ann

    Listerine works. After reading one of your articles on toenail fungus using Listerine, white vinegar, and Vicks Vapor Rub, I tried it, and it worked! No more fungus!
    Thank you, People’s Pharmacy

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