Does Tea Tree Oil Treat Acne?

Tea tree oil
Photo: Spike Mafford / Getty Images

If you're at all interested in aromatherapy, alternative medicine, or even naturally-based skin and hair care products, you're probably familiar with tea tree oil. 

Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, a woody shrub that's native to Australia. Historically, this oil has been used for skin infections, fungal infections (such as athlete's foot), ulcerations and other wounds.

Today, it's also a common ingredient in soaps, body washes, bath products, and shampoos.

Many source say it's an effective acne treatment -- but is it really?

Tea tree oil does have antimicrobial properties. 

Tea tree has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, which is probably why it is a popular natural remedy for treating acne. It's thought that tea tree helps kill Propioni acnes bacteria, which are responsible for acne breakouts.

More studies need to be done on the effects tea tree oil has on acne.

Unfortunately, only a few small studies have been done, so the actual effect tea tree oil has on acne is still unclear.

One study, comparing tea tree oil with benzoyl peroxide, found tea tree improved both inflamed and non-inflamed acne breakouts. It wasn't quite as effective as benzoyl peroxide, and it did take longer to see improvement. But tea tree didn't cause dryness, peeling, and flaking as the benzoyl peroxide did.

A more recent study found 5% tea tree oil greatly improved acne when compared to a placebo. Although the results of both studies seem promising, much more research needs to be done before tea tree oil can be listed as a proven acne treatment.

If you're committed to natural treatments, tea tree oil may be helpful.

Committed to using only natural treatments on your skin?

Then tea tree oil is probably your best choice for a natural, alternative acne treatment remedy. 

Tea tree essential oil can be purchased at any natural food store, but should be diluted before applying to the skin. Most aromatherapist recommend diluting tea tree oil in a carrier like coconut oil or sweet almond oil, but beware! These oils can clog your pores and make acne worse.

You may decide it's easier to purchase a skin care product that contains tea tree oil, instead. If you go this routine, read the ingredient listing and choose one that has tea tree oil as the active ingredient.

Tea tree products are best used as spot treatments for the occasional pimple. 

Proven acne treatments are still your best option. 

If you have more than just the occasional blemish, and your acne is more persistent, tea tree oil isn't the most effective option. You'll be better off using a proven OTC acne product like benzoyl peroxide, or getting a prescription medication from your dermatologist. This is especially true for stubborn or severe acne.

Already using prescription acne treatments? Make sure you ask your doctor before you incorporate tea tree oil products into your routine.

Next Steps:

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View Article Sources
  • Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust. (1990) 153 (8): 455-458.
  • Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, et al. "The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study." Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2007; 73 (1): 22-5.
  • "Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia [Maiden & Betche] Cheel)" Medline Plus. 01 Feb 2008. National Institutes of Health.