- Tea tree oil may fight acne by killing acne-causing bacteria and decreasing inflammation.
- You can use tea tree oil on your skin by adding a few drops of the oil to your moisturiser.
- You can also mix the oil with a carrier oil, like olive oil, before applying it to acne.
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There are plenty of acne-fighting products on the market, but if you want to improve your acne in a more natural way, you can try tea tree oil, which is an essential oil derived from the Australian tea tree's leaves. Due to certain properties of this oil, it may improve your acne.
Tea tree oil fights acne-causing bacteria
Tea tree oil is known for its antimicrobial properties, meaning it can fight microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungus, says Erum Ilyas, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology.
And that's useful since bacteria is one of the causes for acne, says Ilyas. In fact, research indicates that tea tree oil is effective at fighting one of the most common acne-causing bacteria: cutibacterium acnes.
Tea tree oil is an anti-inflammatory
Tea tree oil acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, which can help prevent small pimples from becoming larger, inflamed acne lesions like pustules, papules, and nodules, says Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist in private practice and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
What the research says
A small 2017 study found that using a tea tree oil gel and face wash twice daily over the course of 12 weeks can significantly improve mild to moderate acne. There were no major side effects, although some participants experienced some dryness and peeling, which eventually resolved.
Moreover, a small 2018 study found that a mixture of tea tree oil, propolis, and aloe vera was more effective than antibiotic erythromycin cream (a prescription acne medication) at reducing the severity of acne over the course of 30 days.
However, these studies are small, and more research is needed. "The data for tea tree oil is significantly more limited compared to other acne-fighting ingredients. We really need more data to establish the efficacy," says King.
How to use tea tree oil for acne
If you'd like to use tea tree oil for acne, you have a couple of choices. Your first option is to buy topical products pre-made with tea tree oil as an ingredient, such as a toner or cream, says Ilyas.
Alternatively, you can go the DIY route by diluting tea tree oil and applying it to your skin. "If using pure tea tree oil, make sure the product purchased is 100% tea tree oil to avoid irritation from other ingredients," says Ilyas.
Diluting the tea tree oil is crucial to using it safely. Ilyas recommends the following if you're DIY-ing it:
- Add a few drops of the oil to your moisturiser.
- Or mix the oil with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil, or olive oil.
Start with a 1:10 ratio (one drop of tea tree oil with 10 drops of carrier oil) to avoid experiencing irritation. You can work your way up to a 1:5 ratio if your skin tolerates the more diluted mixture.
Whether you're DIY-ing it or using a topical product from the store, you can typically expect to see results in one month to 12 weeks, based on the findings of the aforementioned studies.
Additionally, King says that tea tree oil may irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction. Because of this, you should try doing a test patch on the inside of your arm first.
Tea tree oil's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it a potential treatment for acne. Although large scale studies are lacking surrounding the efficacy of tea tree oil, it is relatively safe to try.