Want to fight acne naturally? Meet tea tree oil. It’s an unassuming acne fighter that’s been used for centuries by Australian aborigines, and yet the Western World is only now starting to discover its powerful anti-bacterial properties. If you’ve been using tried and tested acne treatments like Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid to reduce breakouts, but are fed up with the dryness and irritations they leave behind, and you’re ready to try something natural and gentler, tea tree oil could be the solution to all your acne woes.
Studies show that tea tree oil can fight acne – but only when used the right way. Chances are you may have already used a spot treatment with a few drops of tea tree oil without seeing results… So should you use the pure oil straight from the bottle? That’s not a good idea either… Here’s all you need to know about tea tree oil for acne, including the best way to use it to get results without side effects:
- What The Heck Is Tea Tree Oil?
- Is Tea Tree Oil Good For Acne?
- Tea Tree Oil VS Benzoyl Peroxide: Which One Is Better For Acne?
- How To Use It
- Tea Tree Oil Side Effects
- What Are The Best Acne Treatments With Tea Tree Oil?
- The Bottom Line
What The Heck Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea Tree Oil is a slightly yellow liquid derived from the leaves of the Australian plant melaleuca alternifolia. The Aborigines have been using it for millennia to treat skin conditions and coughs thanks to its antiseptic and anti fungal properties. Now, it seems scientists are waking up to the fact it’s an effective acne treatment, too. There are almost 100 components in tree tea oil. The most important one is Terpinen-4-ol, which gives the oil its strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Is Tea Tree Oil Good For Acne?
Yes, tea tree oil is an effective treatment for acne. It works in two different ways:
1. It Has Antibacterial Properties
Tea Tree Oil is an effective acne treatment due to its powerful antimicrobial properties. New York-based dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD explains: “It helps with acne because the oil has been found to have antimicrobial effects against Cutibacterium acnes, a type of bacteria that is found in healthy normal skin, but one that’s also known to be involved in the formation of acne.” And yes, it also kills P. Acnes, the bacteria that actively causes acne.
A 2020 study published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences shows that “Terpinene-4-ol is the active ingredient in the tea tree oil that destabilizes the cell of the bacteria, essentially killing it,” explains Chicago-based celebrity dermatologist Jordan Carqueville.
Research has shown that tea tree oil reduces acne, especially the inflamed red bumps. But, it also treats non-inflammatory acne, including whiteheads and blackheads. “Research also shows tea tree oil triggers the activity of white blood cells, which are key in the healing process,” explains dermatologist Deanne Robinson.
2. It Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Acne is an anti-inflammatory disease. Anything that can reduce the inflammation can, in turn, reduce acne, too. Tea tree oils works by decreasing the inflammatory cascades that stimulate inflammation and redness, soothing skin.
3. Other Skin Benefits
This post may focus on acne, but tea tree oil has other benefits for skin (and hair):
- It has anti-fungal properties: It reduces fungus on the surface of your skin, helping to treat fungal acne, dandruff, and Athlete’s Foot.
- It heals wounds: It kills MRSA, a type of bacteria that can cause infection in open wounds Plus, it. increases white blood cell activity, which speeds up healing.
Tea Tree Oil VS Benzoyl Peroxide: Which One Is Better For Acne?
A 1990 study compared a 5% Tea Tree Oil gel and a 5% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion for the treatment of acne. The results? Both worked but:
- Tea Tree Oil was slower than BP at treating acne
- Tea Tree Oil had fewer side effects than BP
Benzoyl Peroxide does the job so well because it’s harsh. I get it that acne is an awful disease that makes you feel ugly and robs you of your self esteem. You want something that works, and FAST, too.
But if it’s leaving you with dry, red, peeling patches of skin, don’t you think it’s worth it to try something that cures your acne more slowly but is gentler? I personally think it’s a good trade off. 🙂
Related: The Complete Guide To Benzoyl Peroxide For Acne Treatment
How To Use It
Tea tree oil is an essential oil. Essential oils are drying and irritating when you use them undiluted. Usually, you get around this by mixing tea tree oil with a carrier oil, like almond or olive oil. Problem is, they can all aggravate acne. The best oils to mix tea tree oil with are jojoba oil and rosehip oil, as they’re very lightweight. Rosehip oil also helps to treat mini pimples. Another trick is to mix a few drops of your fave moisturiser or hyaluronic acid serum and apply the mixture onto acne-prone areas.
How Much Tea Tree Oil Do You Need?
So far, studies that show tea tree oil is effective at treating acne use a concentration of 5%. Yet, most skincare products only contain around 0.5% tea tree oil – way below what you need! When I was writing this post, I really struggle to find skincare products with tea tree oil that contain enough of it and don’t dilute with oils that can aggravate acne!
The options I picked below for you all work great for acne. Another option is to look for tea tree oil in health food stores. Often, these oils are undiluted, but you can dilute them at home by adding them to your serums or moisturisers.
Can You Use It With Other Acne-Fighters, Like Benzoyl Peroxide?
I don’t recommend you use tea tree oil with other acne-fighters, like Benzoyl Peroxide and Sulfur. I understand that, when you’re dealing with a bad bout of acne, you want to get rid of it ASAP. But throwing too many anti-acne treatments won’t make acne disappear faster. It’ll only irritate and inflame your skin. Guess what acne is? An inflammatory disease!
Dr. Garshick agrees: “Unless already formulated with another acne-fighting ingredient or discussed with your doctor, it is best to avoid using at the same time as other acne-fighting ingredients such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid, given the potential risk of sensitivity or irritation.”
How Often Should You Use It?
Like most anti-acne treatments, you need to use it every day to see results. Most studies are done on a period of 12 weeks, so make sure you use it for that long because discarding it because “it doesn’t work.” Healing acne takes time.
Who Should Use It?
You should use tea tree oil if you’re looking for a natural treatment for acne, fungal acne, and fungal skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis. But do a patch test first to make sure you’re not allergic to it.
Tea Tree Oil Side Effects
Like all essential oils, Tea Tree Oil is harsh and irritating when used undiluted. Even when diluted with other oils, Tea Tree Oil can cause side effects in sensitive skin. “While it is well tolerated by most skin types; if you have sensitive or eczema-prone skin, you should avoid tea tree oil as it can cause irritation or true allergic eczema,” says Dr. Robinson. You know what’s worse than acne? Acne and a rash.
Said that, tea tree oil can be a gentler alternative to Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid. If BP is too harsh for you or you want to try a natural alternative first, Tea Tree Oil is the way to go.
Can Tea Tree Oil Make Acne Worse?
Tea tree oil can make acne worse, “as a result of the other ingredients in the product formulation,” explains Dr. Garshick. “For this reason, it is important to make sure to use a product that won’t clog the pores or worsen breakouts.” Be careful of products that include comedogenic oils – they dilute tea tree oil to make it gentler but they totally defy the purpose of using it by aggravating breakouts.
Is Tea Tree Oil Safe During Pregnancy?
Topical application of diluted tea tree oil is safe during pregnancy. This is good news. Most acne treatments aren’t recommended during this time, so if you’re looking for something natural and gentler, this is a good option to try. Just avoid using the pure, undiluted version. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, you should never ingest tea tree oil, especially during pregnancy.
What Are The Best Acne Treatments With Tea Tree Oil?
- Briogeo B. Well Organic + Australian 100% Tea Tree Skin & Scalp Oil ($42.00): A 100% pure tea tree oil to treat acne and other skin and air conditions, like a dry and itchy scalp. Dilute it before putting it onto your skin and scalp. Available at Dermstore and Sephora.
- Dr Jart+ CTRL-A Teatreement™ Moisturiser ($35.00): This moisturiser contains both the leaf extract and oil from tea tree, plus 2% niacinamide, another powerful acne fighter that also hydrates skin and soothes irritations. Available at Boots, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, and Stylevana.
- The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil ($12.00): Enriched with Community Fair Trade tea tree oil from Kenya, it helps to reduce acne and breakout. There are a few drops of lemon oil that may irritate sensitive skin, but if your skin is fine with that, this is an affordable and natural acne treatment. Available at The Body Shop and Ulta.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a natural anti acne treatment, turn to Tea Tree Oil. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation, treat acne, and get rid of whiteheads and blackheads. Just make sure you’re using enough of it to do the trick!
Nice review. And I like how you made it clear that “natural” doesn’t make something safer. Lead is natural, and maybe one might consider it organic (depending upon the definitions), but it certainly isn’t safe.
Eleanor, thanks. I’m so tired of this “natural is better and safer” nonsense. You are absolutely right. There are good natural ingredients and bad natural ingredients just like there are good synthetic ingredients and bad synthetic ingredients. But just because something is natural, it doesn’t automatically mean it is also safe.
Io ne uso di Neumond, lo recensirò prima o poi. Per i brufoli mai usato, ma per le afte fa miracoli.
LaDamaBianca, non vedo l’ora di leggere la tua recensione. 🙂 E buono a sapersi che funziona bene anche per le afte.
Yep! I love tea tree oil for spot blemishes and dandruff! I put a couple drops of tea tree oil in my shampoo and bam..no more flakes!
ooh, I should try that in my shampoo!
Fabuless Beauty, I haven’t tried Tea Tree Oil for dandruff yet but I will now, thanks!
i do use tea-tree essential oil for acne sometimes, it soothes the angry volcano a lot 😀 but tea tree facial wash tends to dry my skin out
Xin, that’s too bad that it dries out your skin. But it does work well for acne. 🙂
I’ve always wondered about this! The percentage information is very useful, thanks for this post gio!
Makeup Morsels, you’re welcome. I’m glad this post was useful for you.
Very educational! I’ve been experiencing some breakouts; probably from my new moisturizer or sunscreen; I’ll try this on the acne.
Kuri, that’s too bad that you’re having some breakouts. But a product with at least 5% of Tea Tree Oil should take care of that and fix it. 🙂
I use the Burt’s Bees blemish stick. It has tea tree oil in it and I absolutely love on it. It burns slightly when you first put it on, but it quickly stops and there is a noticeable reduction in redness and size. I swear by it! It’s cheap and you can buy it anywhere!
Elizabeth, thanks for your suggestion. It sounds wonderful and it’s great that it is affordable too.
hi thanks for your information.
I want to ask if this oil is suitable for white comedones. I barely have red blemishes but I have lots of comedones on my forhead and chin
Nilou, yes, it is. 🙂
Help! I have scalp dermatitis…never had this before now…Will Tea Tree Oil help, or will it have a side effect making scalp dermatitis worse. ? Has anyone had ? Not going to Dermatologist…Any helpful ideas please?
Sarah, 5% tea tree oil has been shown to help in scientific studies. But some people are allergic to it. I’d first do a patch test to see how your skin reacts and, if that goes well, then you can use it on your scalp.
Just a slightly fastidious comment from an Australian botanist 😉 – the tea tree’s botanical name is Melaleuca alternifolia (i.e. not Malaleuca, and the species name is not capitalised). And Australian indigenous peoples have likely been utilising this tree for MILLENNIA (!!), not centuries – there’s been ongoing habitation here for at least 40,000 years, possibly more than 60,000, before European colonisation a couple hundred years ago. Good to note! Thanks so much for all your wonderfully informed and informative writing 🙂
Rosie, thanks for pointing that out. I’ve just edited the post. Glad you’re enjoying my blog. 🙂
How would you go about diluting it? I have made the mistake of putting pure 100% TTO on my skin and it became so red and itchy!!! Now I’m too scared to use anything that has TTO in it!
Vanessa, oh no! Sorry to hear that. The easiest way is to mix a few drops with your fave moisturizer/facial oil every time you apply it. Or you can dilute with water. 5% of the solution would be olive oil and the other 95% water.
When in my skincare regime (acne and aging) should I use tea tree? Thanks for the info!!
Sarah, as a spot treatment on clean skin once or twice a day.