Tea tree oil for acne works for three main reasons: it is a solvent, meaning it can break up tough clogs in the pores, it is anti-inflammatory and helps prevent the inflammation that causes acne, and it is antibacterial, meaning it can kill the bacteria involved in pimples and cysts. These properties make tea tree oil one of the best natural acne treatments.
What is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is an essential oil derived from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. The indigenous Bundjalung people of Australia have used it as an essential healing ingredient for centuries, and over the last hundred years or so, Western medicine has adopted it into many of its own practices, including acne treatment. Exposed Skin Care has seen the effectiveness of tea tree oil for acne, which is why we include it in several of our products, such as our staple Acne Treatment Serum and our acne-fighting Body Wash.
The best way to get rid of acne is to reduce inflammation. Although doctors used to believe that acne was caused primarily by bacteria, they have recently discovered that bacteria only cause a problem when the skin is inflamed.
When bacteria get trapped in a pore, they multiply and create an infection, but how do they get trapped in a pore? Inflammation. If the skin were never inflamed, bacteria would rarely make their way beneath the skin’s surface, and pimples would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, everything from stress to genetics can cause inflammation. It’s unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce it. One reason tea tree oil for acne works is because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
When diluted and applied to the skin, tea tree oil can help reduce current inflammation and prevent inflammation in the future. Once acne has formed, the body sees it as a wound or infection, and tries to kill the bacteria and heal the wound. The inflammation response is one way the body keeps wounds safe from further infection: the skin swells slightly around the infected area, keeping any additional irritants or bacteria out. This is why pimples often become enlarged and painful.
Tea tree oil stimulates the immune system to promote wound healing. Once the wound is healed, the inflammation response is no longer necessary and the skin returns to normal. This helps get rid of pimples fast, and applying it consistently can help prevent them as well. Keeping the skin healthy and non-inflamed can keep bacteria from getting trapped in the pores so pimples never have a chance to form.
A specific kind of bacteria called p. acnes is one of the biggest causes of acne. These bacteria always live on the surface of the skin, and sometimes they even benefit the skin. P. acnes use the oils naturally produced by the skin as a food source, so a healthy amount of p. acnes bacteria could actually help prevent oil buildup and clogged pores. The problem is, sometimes they can get trapped in the pores. When this happens, they multiply rapidly and cause a minor infection, leading to pimples, or even cysts.
Although inflammation and other factors play a major role in pimple formation, reducing p. acnes bacteria is still a good way to help prevent pimples. If the skin becomes inflamed but there are limited bacteria to get trapped, any resulting infection will likely be much milder. Tea tree oil helps prevent inflammation, but it also kills p. acnes, so if and when the skin does become inflamed, there are fewer bacteria to generate pimples.
Unlike antibiotics, which can only be used for 3 months to avoid antibiotic resistance (the creation of bacteria that can’t be killed by antibiotics), tea tree oil can be used indefinitely, and it kills 99% of p. acnes bacteria. This means it doesn’t just fight pimples that are already there, it reduces the overall amount of bacteria to actively prevent pimples.
Because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil is especially effective in treating pimples and cysts. But what about tea tree oil and blackheads?
Blackheads form when oil produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands combines with dead skin cells to clog a pore. Contrary to popular myth, blackheads are not caused by dirt. They are actually the same as whiteheads, except whiteheads are closed pores while blackheads are open pores. This openness is what causes a blackhead’s dark color. The air oxidizes the oil and dead skin cells, similar to how an apple browns after cutting into it and leaving it on the counter. Even the cleanest people have blackheads, and scrubbing does not remove them; if anything, scrubbing the skin may cause further issues since it can irritate the skin and lead to inflammation.
Tea tree oil is a better way to remove blackheads. Because it is a solvent, it can break up the oil and dead skin cells that clog pores. Solvents are substances that help dissolve something; for example, water is a solvent that dissolves everything from sugar to carbon dioxide. Tea tree oil isn’t quite as versatile, but it works well for breaking apart the clogs that cause blackheads.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Acne
There are three main approaches for how to use tea tree oil for acne: pure diluted tea tree oil, products containing tea tree oil, or do-it-yourself tea tree oil solutions. Each of these methods can be used as a spot treatment applied only to problem areas, or in a more diluted form, they can be used as all-over or overnight treatments.
Many tea tree oil products contain anywhere from 5% to 20% tea tree oil. Many studies have shown that a 5% concentration is effective for reducing acne, but there are typically no significant adverse effects associated with using higher concentrations up to 20%. If you have dry or sensitive skin, these concentrations may be too harsh, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use tea tree oil for acne. Research shows that bacteria growth can be halted with a 0.25% concentration of tea tree oil, and bacteria can be killed using only a 0.5% concentration.
Treating Acne With Pure Diluted Tea Tree Oil
One of the most popular ways to use tea tree oil for acne is to buy it as an essential oil. This is an all-natural option, without any lab-made chemicals. Although chemicals are not a bad thing, many people feel overly dependent on them, and look to natural remedies for non-life-threatening health conditions, like acne.
To treat acne using pure diluted tea tree oil, all that is required is a trip to a health foods store, a drugstore, or even Amazon.com. Most tea tree oil is sold as pure, 100% tea tree oil, but that cannot be applied to the skin. Undiluted tea tree oil, or any undiluted essential oil, is far too harsh for the skin, and will not help get rid of acne. Instead, it will cause severe irritation and will almost certainly make acne worse.
It’s easy to prevent these negative effects by simply diluting the tea tree oil with what is known as a “carrier oil.” These oils are gentle with the skin, and when mixed with small amounts of other, harsher oils, they evenly distribute it throughout the mixture. Common carrier oils that don’t clog pores are jojoba oil, coconut oil, and tamanu oil.
Acne Products Containing Tea Tree Oil
Although tea tree oil addresses all three of the major causes of acne, it can be even more effective when combined with other acne-fighting ingredients in gentle skin care products. At Exposed Skin Care, we developed our Acne Treatment Serum to keep skin clear of both acne and irritation. It is an integral step in getting rid of acne, and it combines powerful acne-fighting ingredients like tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide with green tea extract, which is known for reducing redness and inflammation.
Our acne-fighting Body Wash combines the power of tea tree oil with salicylic acid, witch hazel, and peppermint oil, a perfect combination for treating body acne specifically. Facial acne requires gentle treatment to avoid irritation, but body acne typically improves with the use of a more powerful formula, to get through the thicker layer of skin cells.
3 DIY Recipes: Tea Tree Oil for Acne
- Tea Tree, Lemon, Jasmine, and Lavender Essential Oil Spot Treatment
- Tea Tree Oil and Honey Treatment
- Tea Tree Oil and Aloe Vera Overnight Facemask
Tea Tree, Lemon, Jasmine, and Lavender Essential Oil Spot Treatment
This is the perfect recipe for sudden breakouts that come at the worst possible time. To get rid of acne fast, try this essential oil spot treatment.
- 1 oz. jojoba oil (or your choice of carrier oil)
- 6 drops of tea tree oil
- 6 drops jasmine oil
- 2 drops lemon oil
- 2 drops lavender oil
Combine the listed ingredients in a non-clear container that can be sealed—essential oils remain most potent when sealed off from the air and kept away from sunlight. Mix the oils together, then dip a cotton ball into the mixture. Dab the cotton ball to the affected area, then allow the mixture to set for 15-20 minutes. Finally, rinse with cool water and pat dry with a soft towel.
Tea Tree Oil and Honey Treatment
Honey has a lot in common with tea tree oil: it is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and it speeds the wound healing process. Unlike tea tree oil, honey is considered very gentle so this mixture is the best way to use tea tree oil for acne if you have sensitive skin. However, it’s important to make sure that it’s pure honey. To check if honey is pure, just look at the ingredient list. The only ingredient should be honey. If fructose, water, or other ingredients have been added, it will not be very effective in treating acne.
- ½ teaspoon of jojoba oil (or your choice of carrier oil)
- 2 tablespoons of pure honey
- 12 drops of tea tree oil
Combine the listed ingredients in a non-clear container that can be sealed. Once mixed thoroughly, use a cotton ball or your fingertips to apply to the skin. This mixture is gentle enough to be used as an all-over treatment, but it can also be used as a spot treatment. Allow the mixture to set for at least 30 minutes. Because the honey is so gentle, it can stay on the skin for as long as desired, although it is not recommended as an overnight treatment due to the stickiness. When ready to remove, rinse with cool water and pat dry.
Tea Tree Oil and Aloe Vera Overnight Facemask
Let your skin heal while you sleep with a gentle aloe vera overnight facemask. The aloe vera keeps skin hydrated, and the tea tree oil kills bacteria and clears clogged pores.
- ½ teaspoon of jojoba oil (or your choice of carrier oil)
- 2 tablespoons of aloe vera
- 12 drops of tea tree oil
Combine the listed ingredients in a non-clear container that can be sealed. Once it has been mixed thoroughly, apply the mixture to the skin with a cotton ball or fingertips. Spread the mixture thinly and give it 10-15 minutes to dry before going to bed. In the morning, rinse the skin with cool water and pat dry.