- Research indicates tea tree oil is about as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid in the treatment of acne.
- While this essential oil can be slower to reduce inflammation, it’s a natural, gentle treatment less inclined to irritate the skin than it’s pharmaceutical counterparts.
- 100% tea tree oil is a natural compound, containing no harsh chemicals or ingredients that could lead to complications.
Can Tea Tree Oil Treat Acne?
Rather than traditional pharmacological remedies, many people prefer to use tea tree oil for acne blemishes because this pure essential oil is an entirely natural product, has been shown to be an effective treatment, and typically comes with no significant side effects.
Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a chronic skin disease that occurs when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells and oil. This causes bacteria to breed and pimples to form, which are often pus-filled.
While research into this essential oil as an acne medication remains fairly limited—both in scope and to a certain extent, quality—the clinical studies on this topic to date have largely concluded there is evidence to suggest this essential oil is indeed a viable alternative treatment for acne.
This oil contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can effectively soothe and reduce inflammatory lesions such as papules and pustules, the two most common types of acne. In one recent study on tea tree oil as an acne treatment, researchers concluded this oil had the ability to significantly improve mild to moderate acne.
Tea tree oil contains a number of properties that aid in reducing the level of acne breakouts, including antimicrobial compounds known as terpenes. Terpenes, a type of volatile oil, work to destroy an acne-causing bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes), which in turn decreases the intensity of flare-ups.
This essential oil also has antiseptic properties which disinfect the skin. The oil’s ability to unblock the sebaceous glands and unclog pores is keenly important as an acne treatment. One study demonstrated that after 45 days of applying this essential oil twice daily, acne sufferers experienced a notable reduction in the severity of their pimples.
Tea tree oil for pimples
Pimples are a symptom of acne but are also another form of acne. Pimples form when pores becomes inflamed, usually as a result of whiteheads or blackheads becoming infected. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties contained in tea tree oil are equally effective in the treatment and prevention of pimples.
Tea tree oil for acne scars
Acne scars form deep within the skin and darken with age and exposure to sunlight. While it’s possible tea tree oil could potentially improve their appearance, the limited research conducted on the subject to date remains inconclusive. While this oil is understood to minimize raised scars (hypertrophic), there’s no evidence to support its ability to treat indented (atrophic) acne scars.
Best Kind of Tea Tree Oil Skin Care for Acne
Skin care products containing tea tree oil are available as oils, gels and creams, with each formation equally beneficial for the treatment of acne. What can differ, however, is the concentration of pure undiluted oil found in the individual products, which varies by manufacturer.
Sometimes, even when a product is labeled as 100% tea tree oil, the actual concentration of the oil may be no more than 3%. Some acne-fighting products with tea tree oil as their main selling point only contain a degree of the actual pure essential oil but are combined with other ingredients, which may or may not boost the overall effectiveness of the product.
Ensure you purchase products with a concentration of at least 5% pure tea tree oil, as anything less than that may not be enough to reap the full acne-fighting benefits of this oil.
While such products may be beneficial in their own right, you can also purchase 100% pure tea tree oil and dilute it yourself. The recommended ratio is two drops of tea tree oil for every 12 drops of a carrier oil such as olive, coconut or almond oil.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Acne
You can apply tea tree oil as part of an overall skin maintenance program to combat acne or as a spot treatment to target specific blemishes or problem areas. Either way, the application process is the same:
- Wash your face thoroughly with a gentle cleanser suitable for acne-prone skin; pat dry
- Apply a leave-on anti-acne treatment containing 2% salicylic acid (optional)
- Moisten a cotton ball with with diluted tea tree oil and apply to the face; for those with sensitive skin you can opt to further dilute the oil with aloe vera or water
- Allow to dry and follow by applying your usual moisturizer over your entire face.
Follow these steps once in the morning and again at nighttime. Before going outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF of 30 or higher to your face – as you should with any good skin care routine.
Another option is to simply blend a few drops of this essential oil into your usual daily moisturizer or serum and apply as you normally would.
When properly diluted and applied topically, this particular essential oil has no serious side effects. It also has no known negative interactions with other medications, essential oils or supplements.
However, tea tree oil can sometimes cause dryness, itching, burning, redness and minor swelling, especially for people with acne-prone skin. To reduce the risk of skin irritation, always conduct a patch test first to determine if you have any sensitivity to this oil.
This essential oil is not safe to consume orally. It’s toxic when swallowed, and in large amounts can cause confusion, rashes, unsteadiness, an inability to walk, and potentially even lead to a coma.
Alternative Acne Treatments
The general consensus among researchers is that the ability of tea tree oil to treat acne is roughly equivalent to benzoyl peroxide. While benzoyl peroxide works more rapidly, it can also be harsher on sensitive skin, whereas an essential oil is a gentler treatment less prone to causing irritation.
Tea tree oil is also considered to be as effective as salicylic acid for the treatment of acne. Some people prefer this essential oil over salicylic acid because it’s a naturally-sourced product that tends to be gentler on the skin than its pharmaceutical counterparts.
Despite the relatively few academic studies devoted to tea tree oil as a natural remedy to treat acne, the bulk of research that has been conducted to date generally confirms that the antimicrobial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties contained in this essential oil does significantly improve mild to moderate acne without any accompanying serious side effects.
While it’s not considered to be more effective than traditional acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, this essential oil has the advantage of being an inexpensive, naturally-sourced product that is gentler on the skin and less likely to cause irritation as a result.
If you’re seeking an acne-fighting solution to include in your skin care regimen, tea tree oil may be an effective solution, particularly if you have sensitive skin that can not tolerate more conventional acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
You can purchase OTC products formulated with tea tree oil or simply use diluted essential oil – two drops of essential oil for every 12 drops of a carrier oil.
- K.A. Hammer. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: A review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, Volume 45, Issue 2, 2015, Pages 106-110, ISSN 0924-8579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2014.10.011
- Cao, H., Yang, G., Wang, Y., Liu, J. P., Smith, C. A., Luo, H., & Liu, Y. (2015). Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 1, CD009436. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009436.pub2
- Malhi HK, Tu J, Riley TV, Kumarasinghe SP, Hammer KA. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. 2017 Aug;58(3):205-210. doi:10.1111/ajd.12465
- Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, Iraji F. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007 Jan-Feb;73(1):22-5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314442
- Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clinical microbiology reviews, 19(1), 50–62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006