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Does Tea Tree Oil for Acne Really Work?

Tea tree oil is commonly used both by itself and in products to treat acne, but is it actually effective?

Tea tree oil is a powerful tool for preventing, managing, and treating acne of all sorts, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and cleansing properties. This natural ingredient works best in just a small amount and in conjunction with others and can help support long-term skin health.

If you're interested in learning more about tea tree oil, how it works, and what it can do, continue reading, as we break down the basics of tea tree oil so that you can find the most effective acne treatment regimen.

A tea tree.

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil is a type of essential oil that's made by steaming the leaves of the Australian Melaleuca plant, or "tea tree."

The indigenous Bundjalung people of Australia have used the Melaleuca plant for centuries for its medicinal properties. Gradually, Western medicine has adopted it into many of its own practices, including using it on acne-prone skin.

Exposed Skin Care includes tea tree oil in several of our products, such as our powerful Acne Treatment Serum and our acne-fighting Body Wash.

Does Tea Tree Oil Help Acne?

Though there is still room for more research into what tea tree oil can do for the skin, we do know that it often has the ability to improve the appearance of acne for those who experience it.

In fact, one 2016 study showed that 12 weeks of consistent tea tree oil use improved mild-to-moderate acne symptoms without irritating the skin or causing other adverse side effects.

Tea tree oil works to fight acne for these reasons:

  • It is an anti-inflammatory agent that also helps prevent acne-causing inflammation

  • It is antibacterial, meaning it can reduce acne-causing bacteria

A woman looks in a mirror.

Reducing Inflammation

One of the best ways to address acne is by reducing the associated inflammation caused by an overgrowth of bacteria. When too much P.acnes is present and metabolizes sebum, the byproducts of this breakdown irritate the pores. When bacteria get trapped in a pore, it multiplies and creates an infection.

Due to the inflammatory response, the skin swells around the infected area to keep other irritants out. This is why pimples often become enlarged and painful.

One major component of tea tree oil is Terpinen‐4‐ol, an isomer that, research has shown, can suppress the production of pro-inflammatory reactions in the body.

Fighting Bacteria

Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, are bacteria that always live on the surface of the skin. They likely help maintain the skin's oil balance, as oil is their main food source. A healthy amount of this bacteria helps prevent oil buildup and clogged pores in the skin.

However, when these bacteria multiply rapidly, they can cause a minor infection, leading to pimples or even cysts.

Tea tree oil has been widely studied for its anti-microbial activity. In higher concentrations, it even kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So, it should come as no surprise that it also reduces P. acnes and can help restore the balance of the skin.

The Exposed Acne Treatment Serum makes use of this powerful ingredient for these many reasons and its diverse ability to strengthen a skincare routine and prevent breakouts.

Cleansing Pores

Because tea tree oil has antiseptic abilities, it can fight against the overgrowth of bacteria. It's a great tool to use to fully rid the skin of those triggers for breakouts.

That's why the Exposed Body Acne Kit utilizes tea tree oil in its formula to ensure that pores are fully clean and prepared for the rest of your skincare routine.

Can Tea Tree Oil Worsen Acne?

As far as we know now, there aren't any serious or significant side effects associated with tea tree oil that make acne worse. It is noncomedogenic, which means the oil itself won't clog up your pores.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Acne

When using plain tea tree oil for acne, it's important to remember to start small. Skin irritation can occur if the concentration of the oil you're using is too high.

One summary of an extensive review into the efficacy and safety of tea tree oil use notes that the growth of most micro-organisms, including the bacteria that cause acne, could be halted with a very low concentration of tea tree oil.

Since it can be too intense on its own and isn't necessarily enough to completely treat acne alone, tea tree oil is best paired with other known acne-fighting ingredients, including those found in specialized acne skincare products (like the salicylic acid found in the Exposed facial cleanser).

Exposed facial cleanser.
The Exposed Facial Cleanser

At Exposed Skin Care, we developed our products to be gentle and anti-inflammatory while still containing powerful acne-busters like tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide. Try our Basic Kit to see what tree tea oil can do for you and your skin.

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