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Leech Therapy Against Acne – Yay or Nay?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

For those of us who experience long-term acne issues, the stubborn pimples are seemingly-impossible to get rid of. You have probably tried every remedy under the sun, including some underground, not-too-legit-sounding treatments. Still, we are willing to bet you have not yet tried this one kind of therapy, and, to be frank, we would also not necessarily recommend it. We are talking about leech-therapy1.

The reason for the inefficiency of leeches in the battle with acne is that the creatures can only reach down to a certain surface layer of the skin in order to suck out bacteria.

You may be surprised at the lengths that some people go to in order to lose their acne problem. In fact, The Mirror newspaper reports of an unnamed British woman who recently sought out leech therapy for her skin complaints2. She allegedly found out about leeches after researching Chinese treatments for severe acne. Reportedly, the woman in question managed to receive leech therapy from a homeopathic clinic. The specialist conducted the therapy by applying the blood-sucking creatures all over the affected areas of her face. The goal was to allow the leeches to draw out the germs which were causing her breakouts.

So, what are the ways in which these worms could help with combating recurring pimples? Certainly, leeches have been used to treat skin conditions of ranging severity for centuries3. Eastern medicine, in particular, has always used leeches to suck out harmful bodily fluids. But do we consider this treatment beneficial today? Indeed, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner4claims that while these worms may manage to heal severely inflamed areas, they would not be efficient in thoroughly cleaning up acne in the long term5. The reason for the inefficiency of leeches in the battle with acne is that the creatures can only reach down to a certain surface layer of the skin in order to suck out bacteria. Acne is, however, caused by germs which can be found deeply buried within the layers of the skin6 (specifically, in the area of the oil gland). As the worms cannot reach down that deeply within the skin, it is recommended to stick to more widely-accepted remedies.

We therefore recommend that you opt for products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, rather than seeking out this controversial therapy. Although even famous clear-skinned models have been known to make use of leeches in the past, traditional medicine is more likely to help you fully rid yourself of this skin problem7.


  1. Singh SK, Rajoria K. Medical leech therapy in Ayurveda and biomedicine – A review. J Ayurveda Integr Med. January 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jaim.2018.09.003
  2. The Mirror. Published 2019.
  3. Abdualkader AM, Ghawi AM, Alaama M, Awang M, Merzouk A. Leech therapeutic applications. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2013;75(2):127-137.
  4. Joshhua Zeichner. Published 2019.
  5. Allure. Published 2019.
  6. Ayer J. Acne: more than skin deep. Postgrad Med J. 2006;82(970):500-506. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2006.045377
  7. Cao H, Yang G, Wang Y, et al. Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. January 2015. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009436.pub2


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