Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert)  on 19th Jan 2021

How To Treat Acne Using Tea Tree Oil

How To Treat Acne Using Tea Tree Oil

When pimples start overcrowding on the face, the thoughts of using strong medications inevitably begin playing on your mind. Be it benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or any retinol. These are, after all, scientifically approved and effective. However, they do bring many threats along, owing to their synthetic origin. Severe irritation or dryness is one of the common drawbacks.

You may be wondering about using a green alternative for acne. But wait! Does it exist?

Yes, there are some natural remedies for acne. Out of which, the most researched is the tea tree oil. 

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Basic Facts About Tea Tree Oil 

  • It is extracted from the leaves of the plant Melaleuca Alternifolia, which grows in Australia. Steam distillation is the process used to extract tea tree oil from the leaves.
  • There has been a history associated with its medicinal properties. From the days of yore, the Aborigines have used it while inhaling to cure a cold and cough. It was used to apply topically for skin healing. 
  • Although it is an essential oil, it is non-comedogenic (it doesn't clog the pores or irritates them). It is made of more than a hundred compounds, including alcohols and terpenes, etc. These two play a significant role in stabilizing its active ingredient. 
  • The quality of tea tree oil depends on different factors: the climate of the specific region it is cultivated in, the method of harvesting and processing it undergoes after that. 
  • From being used in household disinfectants and cleaners to hair and skincare products, tea tree oil has a wide range of utilities. 
  • Its contribution to skincare:
    Acne is one very problematic issue that people face. For some people, it gets pretty terrible and recurrent at some point in their lives.

    The small openings on the surface of your skin, called pores, often get blocked by a menacing mass of dead skin cells and excess sebum (oils produced by the sebaceous glands).

    The microbes then worsen the situation. Forming pus (well, in some cases) is how your skin reacts to the infection brought on by the microbes and leads to inflammatory acne (papules, pustules, nodules, etc.).

    Moreover, the non-inflammatory acne is called the comedones, categorized into blackheads and whiteheads.

Tea tree oil has limited research theories. However, many anecdotal tales shoulder their natural germ-fighting abilities and add up to its glory. 

Benefits of Using Tea Tree Oil For Acne: 

1) Antimicrobial resistance

The Medical Journal of Australia featured a study in 2005, which discussed the comparative analysis of the effects of 5% benzoyl peroxide and 5% tea tree oil. The two were effective in clearing up and reducing the severity of acne.

The first difference was that tea tree oil took longer to reach the clearance point as it worked slowly. Secondly, the patients using tea tree oil experienced considerably fewer side effects of irritation and dryness. Dermatologists claimed that the tea tree oil is moisturizing, whereas the topical benzoyl peroxide and retinol have a drying effect. Thus, the fact that tea tree oil was milder on the skin while treating acne got proven.

Yet another study, published in 2016, threw light upon the possibilities of using tea tree oil for acne. The researchers were initially testing the combination of resveratrol and tea tree oil. In the process, they found that the participants had much less oil and bacteria on their skin.

The pores shrunk in size, cutting down the chances of having a breakout.

In 2018, it was found that the green trio of aloe vera, propolis, and tea tree oil could potentially improve the condition of existing lesions.

Therefore, tea tree oil is a valuable natural remedy for curing microbial skin conditions, including acne. 

2) Anti-inflammatory nature 

It reduces the sense of pain and irritation around acne, especially the papules, pustules, nodules, etc.

It helps the skin to turn around the immune response with its anti-histamine effects. It soothes the redness observed around the affected regions of the skin. 

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3) Maintains the oil balance of the skin 

It controls oil production in the sebaceous glands (present beneath the skin) and markedly limits your skin's oil content. It is usually recommended for oily skin.

In acne, the mixture of dead skin cells and excess oils plug the pores, enlarging them. When the acne lesions are cleaned with water, these comedonal plugs repel water.

However, the tea tree oil being an oil, mixes with the plugs and sweeps them out of the pores.

It ensures deep cleansing of the pores and helps them to shrink in size. "Enlarged pores run a risk of inviting acne on your skin," warns Dr. Arwa Bohra.

4) An antiseptic 

It boosts the activity of the white blood cells, playing an instrumental role in skin healing. Open wounds, irritated skin, or acne scars need enhanced activity of the white blood cells.

Bonus: It has antioxidant properties as well. 

5) A moisturizing solvent 

As you already know, the tea tree oil acts as a calming moisturizer to the skin. It doesn't render your skin dry and itchy on its application.

The tea tree oil is also used to cure seborrhoeic dermatitis, dandruff on the scalp, rash, greasy patches formed on the nose, and other skin ailments. 

Precautions That You Should Follow 

1) Dr. Deanne Robinson, a Connecticut-based dermatologist. Says

Just because the tea tree oil comes from a natural source, it can't be irritating. It is a big myth, and many fall for it

The tea tree oil should suit your skin type and needs.

Do a quick patch test on your skin's small area and observe it for the next 1-2 days. If no side effects occur, you are good to go. 

2) The tea tree should never be taken orally or swallowed. It can result in severe confusion and ataxia (uncoordinated movement of the muscles). 

3) Consult your dermatologist before proceeding with the use of tea tree oil, in case, 

  • You are super sensitive to fragrance or have an allergy to them. 
  • You suffer from the symptoms of rosacea, atopic dermatitis, or eczema. 

4) You should not use or apply this oil on open skin, wounded, or injured parts of the body. If you do, you will be calling a disaster upon yourself.

Also, never put it around the eyelids as the skin in those regions are very thin and sensitive.

5) Tea tree oil must be used in the proper concentration. 

  • Always try to dilute it with a carrier oil or any other skincare product. A 100% clear and pure tea tree oil can hugely irritate your skin and may aggravate your acne more.
  • Don't overdo the application.

The tea tree oil oxidizes, and its composition may alter on getting exposed to heat or sunlight. Try to change its products or samples at regular intervals.

6) "Tea tree oil is photosensitive, so make sure to avoid direct sunlight, or only use it at night. As it may lead to sunspots, blisters, burns or rash," advises Julia Rao, founder and director of BAO laboratory. 

IMPORTANT: Methods to Safely Dilute the Tea Tree Oil 

A 100% pure tea tree oil is too potent a composition and can't be applied directly to the skin. If done, loads of irritation and dryness will follow! Especially for people with dry skin, it may get complicated. 

1) Mix it with a carrier oil 

Minimalist's note:

Carrier oils are obtained from plants. They help dilute essential oils and carry them to the skin. They do not interfere with the therapeutic characteristics or properties of the essential oils.

  • Take 1-2 drops of tea tree oil for every 12 drops (or a teaspoon) of the carrier oil you choose.
  • Coconut oil, jojoba oil, sesame oil, or almond oil can be a good pick for the carrier medium. 
  • Blend them well.

    Before applying the diluted tea tree oil, wash your face with a gentle cleanser for acne-prone skin and pat it dry. 
  • Dab the tea tree oil on your blemishes gently, using a cotton swab or q-pin. 
  • Allow it to dry. Put on a moisturizer right after. 

Dr. Robinson states, Says

For some, the mix up of oils can trigger acne. They shouldn't dilute the tea tree oil with any carrier oil. Instead, add it to your cleanser, moisturizer, cream or lotion, etc. If you have facial acne, use it with a hyaluronic acid moisturizer.

Following his words, there are two more ways to escape the oil-oil mix-up. 

  • Dampen a cotton ball with water and squeeze a minimal drop of the tea tree oil onto it. Blot it on the zits. 
  • If you have acne on your back, chest, or other parts of the body, add a few drops of tea tree oil to a bucket or tub of water and pour that on yourself while bathing. You can practice it only once a week as too much tea tree oil can be harmful. 

2) How about a DIY overnight face-mask? 

  • Organic honey and tea tree oil: their mixture can serve as a face mask. Both have anti-bacterial & anti-inflammatory properties.

    You can pat light the mixture on your zits using a cotton ball or mesh that allows it to reach the pores perfectly without causing any irritation. Leave it for 4-5 hours. Then, clean your face with lukewarm water & pat it dry. 
  • • Aloe vera, known for its skin healing and antimicrobial tendencies, can be a great mix with tea tree oil. Especially if the other skincare products you use to render your skin dry.

    Take aloe vera gel, or scoop a little fresh out from the aloe vera plant's leaves. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to it.

    Your hands should be free from dirt and germs. Now using them, rub a small amount onto cleansed skin at night. Rinse with warm water in the morning. 
  • You can also opt for a DIY tea tree oil scrub with ingredients (such as sugar, coconut oil, organic honey, and tea tree oil) most readily available in your kitchen closet.

    A scrub helps you unclog the pores, eventually making them shrink in size. Leave the scrub on for 5 mins or less, and wash right away with warm water. Pat it dry and rub on a moisturizer right on. 

3) Pre-formulated skincare products 

The concentration range for these products comes between 0.5% to 50%.

Various products are available in the market, wherein you get the tea tree oil present as a vital part of their composition. They include face washes, toners, hydration, overnight masks, etc.

The most-talked-about product is the 5% tea tree oil gel, which has an optimum setup and is hugely beneficial. 

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How long does it take for the results to show?

Once you have got the patch test results in your favor, you can use it twice daily. Use it in the morning & at night.
It takes a maximum of 6-8 weeks to realize the first signs of improvement.

After using the tea tree oil for two weeks, some customers point out that their zits remained the same. The tea tree oil was able to make them smaller and visibly less irritated, though.

On the whole, if you wish to obtain the best results, you have to consistently keep using it for at least 12 weeks or so. 

Side Effects That May Affect You 

  • Irritation 
  • Burning 
  • Stinging
  • Itchiness 
  • Redness
  • Swelling (rarely) 
  • For some, it can trigger severe allergic reactions, cause contact dermatitis, or develop painful rashes.

    (1,8-Cineole, one of the components of the tea tree oil, is an active allergen.) 

The Bottom Line 

Tea tree oil significantly treats mild to moderate acne, especially the inflammatory forms of acne. It lessens the number as well as the extremity of blemishes, eventually busting them out.

It may sort out your hypertrophic or raised acne scars. But not much conclusive evidence is available on the same. Since tea tree oil has skin healing properties, it may help in the regeneration of new skin over dried up acne scars

A Word of Advice: 

Don't use it along with the other chemical ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or retinol, etc., to bolster your fight against acne. There are probable chances that it may backfire or aggravate your skin condition.