Tea tree oil has been clinically proven to reduce bacteria, lessen inflammation and improve symptoms of mild to moderate acne. Tea tree oil, obtained from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), is a natural antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and antiseptic agent believed to work as well as benzoyl peroxide for clearing acne breakouts without the harsh, drying effects. It is also one of the most popular home acne remedies in existence today, and for good reason.
Although only a handful of scientific studies exist to substantiate the use of tea tree oil for acne, hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence strengthens the claims. The results of the studies that have been performed are promising, and every one so far has proven what natural healers have known for centuries – tea tree oil acne treatments really work.
What Does Science Say?
One study, a randomized, double-blind trial published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology in 2007, examined the effectiveness of a gel containing 5 percent tea tree oil on patients suffering from mild to moderate acne vulgaris. In the study, 60 people were divided into two groups and given the tea tree oil acne treatment or a placebo for 45 days. At the end of the study, patients using tea tree oil had fewer lesions, reduced swelling, and overall improvement in symptoms. In fact, researchers noted that tea tree oil was about 3.55 to 5.75 more effective than placebo in reducing lesions and severity of symptoms. (Source: Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology)
Another study, a single-blind, randomized clinical trial published in 1990 in the Medical Journal of Australia, compared the effectiveness of a gel containing 5 percent tea tree oil with a lotion containing benzoyl peroxide. In the study, 124 people suffering from mild to moderate acne were given either the tea tree oil acne treatment or the benzoyl peroxide lotion. The results showed that both substances significantly reduced the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions, although tea tree oil took longer to begin working. However, fewer side effects were experienced by patients taking the tea tree oil. (Source: Medical Journal of Australia)
Using Tea Tree Oil for Acne
There are numerous ways to use tea tree oil on acne, although the easiest way is to simply dab two or three drops of the undiluted oil directly onto affected areas twice daily. Make sure your face is clean and dry first, however. In her book Australian Tea Tree Oil First Aid Handbook, Cynthia B. Olsen recommends first cleansing your face (or any other affected area) using a gentle soapless cleanser, as soap dries the skin and clogs pores, which contributes to pimples and blackheads. After cleansing the skin, use a natural toner such as witch hazel extract, and then apply the tea tree oil. If you find the oil is too strong to use undiluted, try one of these methods for application:
Add 5 to 10 drops tea tree oil to your toner or witch hazel extract, and smooth onto the face twice a day just after washing with a soapless cleanser.
- Add 50 to 60 drops tea tree oil to a natural moisturizing cream and apply to the face twice daily, just after cleansing.
- Add 15 drops tea tree oil to 1/2 oz. natural face wash or cleanser, and use as directed twice daily.
- Add 15 drops oil to 1 to 2 tbsp. spring or distilled water, dip a cotton ball in the mixture, and rub over the affected area twice a day.
For moderate to severe cases, try the following remedy from Amy Rost’s classic herbal, Natural Healing Wisdom & Know How: Useful Practices, Recipes and Formulas For a Lifetime of Health:
Intensive Treatment for Acne
I’ve used this treatment several times when battling acne caused by PMS and it has always worked wonders. It contains powdered goldenseal root, which is also one of the most powerful natural remedies for skin infections. Combine with tea tree oil and acne doesn’t stand a chance.
- 12 drops tea tree oil
- ½ tsp. powdered goldenseal root
- Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, adding enough water to make a thick paste.
- Apply directly onto the acne affected areas of skin.
- Let dry and allow the mixture to remain on for at least 20 minutes.
- Rinse with tepid water.
- Repeat the treatment once daily as needed.
Precautions and Side Effects
In rare cases, individuals have reported contact dermatitis (irritation) of the skin, usually when applying tea tree oil undiluted. To avoid this problem, dilute the oil before using and perform a spot test using any formulation you make before slathering it on. Make your tea tree acne treatment according to one of the recipes above, and then apply a small amount to the back of your arm. Wait 24 hours, and if no irritation occurs, it’s safe to continue using.
Tea tree oil should not be used internally under any circumstances, as this could cause serious illness. Used externally, the oil is generally considered safe, but always perform a spot test as described above to make sure. Remember, it takes several weeks or even months of continuous use to heal acne, regardless of the medicine you use. Tea tree oil is no different. Continue daily applications and you’ll begin to see results in time. If you don’t see results after two months or your symptoms become worse, consult a dermatologist for further treatment, as you may have a more serious skin condition.