Tea Tree Oil for Acne

Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca plant. It's often credited as being a natural treatment for acne. Although a few small studies show that tea tree oil may have some acne-fighting abilities, the true effect tea tree oil has on acne is unclear. And, as with conventional acne treatments, tea tree oil can cause side effects of its own and should be used with care.

tea tree oil
 Verywell / Gary Ferster

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

If you're at all interested in aromatherapy, alternative medicine, or even naturally-based personal care products, you're probably familiar with tea tree oil. It's a common and inexpensive essential oil and is a frequent addition to skin care and hair care products.

Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, a woody shrub that's native to Australia. Its oil is thin, clear to yellow in color, with a striking camphorous, medicinal odor. It's sometimes called melaleuca oil, or ti tree oil.

Historically, tea tree 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.

Possible Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

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

As a 2015 Cochrane review of studies found, only a few small studies have been done, so the actual effect tea tree oil has on acne is still unclear. It found only one worthy of inclusion. That was a 2007 study that found 5% tea tree oil improved acne when compared to a placebo.

Much more research needs to be done before tea tree oil can be listed as a proven acne treatment.

Drawbacks and Side Effects

As exciting as some of the initial information may seem, tea tree oil isn't a magic cure for acne. It's biggest drawback is that it's simply not as effective as some of the other acne treatment medications available today.

Although tea tree oil shows promise as an antimicrobial, acne isn't caused solely by bacteria. There are many factors that cause acne breakouts. One is the abnormal desquamation process that occurs in acne-prone skin. Another is the over-active sebaceous glands. Tea tree oil doesn't do anything to treat these factors.

Also, remember that natural treatments aren't completely benign. Tea tree oil can cause side effects of its own.

Tea tree oil can irritate the skin, especially the delicate skin on the face. For some people, it can cause contact dermatitis, a raised, itchy rash. You can develop a sensitivity to tea tree oil over time.

Tips for Using Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil isn't the most effective acne treatment available. But if you're committed to using only natural treatments on your skin, 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 aromatherapists 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 skincare product that contains tea tree oil, instead. If you go to this routine, read the ingredient listing and choose one that has tea tree oil as the active ingredient.

Tea tree products are probably best used as spot treatments for the occasional pimple, rather than as a sole treatment for the prevention of acne.

A Word from Verywell

More studies need to be done on the effects tea tree oil has on acne. Proven acne treatments are still your best option, not only because they have a well-studied track record but because they treat all of the different acne-causing triggers, not just bacteria.

If you have more than just the occasional blemish, and your acne is persistent, tea tree oil simply 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 healthcare provider before you incorporate tea tree oil products into your routine.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cao H, Yang G, Wang Y, et al. Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;1:CD009436. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009436.pub2

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Tea tree oil.

  3. Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, Iraji F. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. 2007;73(1):22-5. doi:10.4103/0378-6323.30646

  4. De groot AC, Schmidt E. Tea tree oil: contact allergy and chemical composition. Contact Derm. 2016;75(3):129-43. doi:10.1111/cod.12591

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.