Top 10 Questions and Answers About Essential Oils for Acne

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

If you’re thinking about trying essential oils for acne, you might have a few questions, like, do they really work? Is there any hard science behind essential oils for acne? Can essential oils make acne worse? We will answer all these questions and more, but first, let us assure you: essential oils really can help with acne. Although they might seem like a New Age fad, there is considerable science demonstrating that essential oils can serve as a serious treatment for an array of conditions, from chronic pain to acne. If your current acne treatment just isn’t doing enough, you might want to consider using essential oils for acne.

essential oils for acne
Lavender oil one of the essential oils for acne that can be applied directly to the skin or used in aromatherapy.

1. Is there any proof that essential oils for acne really work?

Overwhelmingly, yes. Even though essential oils have the lingering stereotype of New Age nonsense, the medical community has largely accepted them as a reliable treatment for a variety of conditions.

Many patients with chronic pain or autoimmune disorders have serious reactions to mainstream medications, but doctors have found that essential oils can help treat certain symptoms without causing other symptoms to flare up. Acne patients can also see great benefits from essential oils. Publications such as the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, and the Clinical Dermatology Research Journal have done rigorous research on various essential oils for acne treatment, and found that essential oils can make a significant difference. Studies show a clear correlation between certain essential oils and reduced acne because they have been proven to address all three of the main causes of acne.

2.What causes acne, and how can essential oils help?

Acne has many causes, from hormones to genetics, but at its most basic level, acne is caused by three main factors: inflammation, bacteria, and oil production.

First and foremost, acne is an inflammatory condition. Without inflammation, bacteria and oil production might still cause acne, but to a much lesser degree. When the skin is inflamed, it swells slightly and this causes the pores to constrict, trapping oil and dead skin cells under the surface of the skin. This can easily clog pores, leading to whiteheads and blackheads, but it can also lead to pimples or even cystic acne, if bacteria also get trapped in the pore.

Although bacteria play a role in acne, they aren’t all bad. P. acnes, the type of bacteria primarily associated with acne, consume the oil our skin produces as their main food source. This means they can actually help reduce clogged pores by preventing oil buildup. However, once bacteria are trapped under the surface of the skin, they can definitely create a problem. Stuck in a pore with excess oil, they have an abundance of their food source and nowhere to go, so their numbers grow rapidly until they’ve created a minor infection, AKA, a pimple.

Oil production contributes to all kinds of acne. If the skin produces too much oil, it can build up in the pores, causing clogs which form blackheads and whiteheads, but an excess of oil also means an excess of food for p. acnes bacteria, which increases the likelihood of pimples as well.

The best way to get rid of acne completely is not to focus on any one of these issues, but to address all three.

3. Are essential oils better for acne than traditional acne treatments?

There is no single acne treatment that can magically cure all acne for everyone, but many people see better results with essential oils than with some traditional acne treatments This is because many traditional products try to be that magical cure-all, and end up being far too harsh.

Unlike some of the most popular acne-fighting ingredients, essential oils are very gentle with the skin. This is the secret key to good skin care that really shouldn’t be such a secret. If your skin is being damaged or treated harshly, you will notice negative effects, including acne. Unfortunately, many traditional acne products ignore this fact in favor of immediate results. This means that once acne has initially cleared up, it comes right back because the skin is being irritated and damaged.

Essential oils, when used in responsible amounts, are very different. They can nourish the skin and keep it healthy while treating acne, so that once you have clear skin, it stays clear. At Exposed Skin Care, we recognize the importance of natural ingredients like essential oils, which is why we include them in all of our products. The Exposed 3-step system available in our Basic Kit won’t clear your acne in 3 days, but it will keep your skin clear for good. If you want a delicate balance of scientific and natural ingredients to treat your acne, Exposed is the best option. No other skin care company utilizes all kinds of ingredients to develop the best possible formula for treating acne.

Exposed skincare products
Essential oils and traditional acne products don’t have to be on opposite sides; at Exposed, we offer the best of both worlds.

4. Can essential oils make acne worse?

Nope! This is a common question because we know that excess oil definitely contributes to acne. But essential oils are a different kind of oil from the sort that your skin produces. The only way essential oils might make acne worse is if you combine them with the wrong carrier oil, but more on that in the next section.

5. What are the best essential oils for acne?

The best essential oil for your acne may be different from the best essential oil for someone else’s, and many people see the best results from a combination of essential oils, but generally, there are four essential oils that the professionals swear by:

  1. Tea tree oil
  2. Lavender oil
  3. Lemon oil
  4. Clary sage oil

Each of these oils can be applied directly to the skin, but they should never be used undiluted. To dilute an essential oil, all you have to do is mix it in with what is known as a carrier oil. There are a wide variety of carrier oils, but you want to be careful to use one that won’t clog pores. We recommend jojoba oil, but if you want to consider other options, make sure you check the comedogenicity index before buying.

In addition to topical application, lavender oil and clary sage oil can also be used via aromatherapy to reduce acne. Although lemon oil and tea tree oil could potentially offer acne-fighting benefits through aromatherapy, lavender and clary sage provide more significant benefits through this method.

6. How does tea tree oil for acne work?

Tea tree oil for acne is one of the most heavily researched essential oils for acne, and studies show that it can be incredibly effective. It is available in several pre-made products, such as gels, creams, and face washes, but you can also make your own essential oil treatment by purchasing pure tea tree oil and diluting it yourself.

Essential oils are so great for acne because they produce positive results even when they’re extremely diluted. Studies show that tea tree oil can kill up to 99% of p. acnes bacteria with a 0.5% concentration. This is one reason you may want to make your own essential oil acne treatments; many tea tree oil products contain anywhere from 5% to 20% tea tree oil, which is far too high.

When used at a low concentration, tea tree oil can also reduce inflammation, which is a big deal. Everything can irritate our skin, from stress to allergens in the air, so our skin is almost always inflamed just a little. Applying a gentle tea tree oil treatment can reduce that inflammation, which can prevent the formation of blackheads and whiteheads and keep pimples from becoming big and painful.

Finally, tea tree oil is a solvent, meaning that if any blackheads do form, it can get rid of them. Solvents are substances that can dissolve other substances. In this case, tea tree oil can dissolve the oil and dead skin cells that clump together and clog pores to create blackheads. Because it addresses all three of the main causes of acne, tea tree oil is one of the most popular essential oils for acne.

7. How does lavender oil for acne work?

Lavender is another powerful essential oil for acne treatment. Lavender oil can fight bacteria, just like tea tree oil, but its biggest strength is preventing inflammation. It does this through its antioxidant properties and anti-stress properties.

Antioxidants are great for acne because they fight free radicals, molecules that damage cells and cause inflammation. Lavender oil is a great antioxidant that protects cells and keeps them healthy so that the skin doesn’t become inflamed, but many people have heard of lavender oil because of its relaxing properties.

Studies show that aromatherapy with lavender oil can significantly reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and overall anxiety. This is important for acne because the research shows that stress is directly linked to acne. When we’re stressed, our bodies react as though there is a real, physical threat and they go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This triggers the inflammation response throughout our whole body, including our skin, which causes increased acne. People have found that lavender aromatherapy can help reduce acne in the process of reducing stress and anxiety.

8. How does lemon oil for acne work?

You may have tried using lemon juice to reduce acne in the past, and you may have thought it was working because it tingled or stung. Unfortunately, that’s a very common skin care myth. Tingling and stinging sensations are signals from your skin saying that it is being damaged, which is never good for acne. That’s not to say lemon can’t be beneficial for acne, but you will likely see better results with lemon oil than with lemon juice.

Citrus can help with acne because it is acidic. It may sound counterintuitive to apply something acidic to our skin, because surely that would damage it, but in reality, our skin is also slightly acidic. Acidic products can help keep our skin pH balanced, but too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Too much acidity can dry out our skin, leading to irritation and inflammation, which is often the case when using pure lemon juice. Diluted lemon oil, on the other hand provides the acidic pH without damaging skin cells.

9. How does Clary sage oil for acne work?

Clary sage oil has many acne-fighting properties: it’s antibacterial, it reduces oil production, and it can relieve stress. If you have particularly oily skin or if you think anxiety might be affecting your acne, clary sage oil is probably the best option for you.

Clary sage oil is not as good at fighting bacteria as tea tree oil, and it isn’t as relaxing as lavender, but it can do both those things at once, plus reduce oil production. If you are treating acne on a budget and can’t afford to mix and match essential oils, clary sage is a great solution because it works in so many different ways. Like the previous oils, it should always be diluted before being applied directly to the skin, and like lavender oil, it can be used as aromatherapy to reduce stress (and thus reduce inflammation).

10. Are there any good essential oils for acne scars?

One of the worst parts of acne is the scarring that comes afterward. It’s hard to celebrate clear skin when you still have severe discoloration or scarring. Luckily, there are several essential oils that significantly reduce scarring, including cedar wood oil, frankincense oil, and lavender oil.

Cedar wood oil is an especially helpful essential oil for acne scars that are still slightly painful because it has some pain-relieving properties in addition to reducing inflammation associated with scarring. Frankincense oil can also reduce inflammation, but it is especially helpful because it promotes the production of new skin cells to replace the scar tissue cells. Lavender oil can help reduce acne scars at any point in the healing process, but studies show that it is particularly effective if used as soon as you notice a scar appearing. It can speed up the wound healing process and encourage new cell growth, and some people have seen positive results in just one week.

woman applying oil to face
Lavender, cedar wood, and frankincense can all be used as essential oils for acne scars.