How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Acne, According to Dermatologists
Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, so it's been used for years as a natural way to treat aliments... and yes, acne.

January 30, 2019

tea tree oil bottle on a blue background with leaves

Although there are a ton of ways to treat acne (i.e. quitting dairy), most dermatologists still suggest proven over-the-counter ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

But what if you want to go the all-natural route? Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, so it’s been used for years as a natural way to treat lice in hair, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, and yes, acne.

How tea tree oil fights acne

“Tea tree oil works by lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and reducing inflammation,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “But most of my patients come into the office with skin irritation after applying tea tree oil to their acne.”

READ MORE: This Healthy Food Might Actually Be Causing Your Acne

The truth about natural ingredients

Tea tree oil might be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always less irritating than traditional acne treatments. “Just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it’s more effective or even more gentle than a less natural product,” says Zeichner. “In fact, tea tree oil can be very irritating to the skin, in some cases even more so than traditional acne treatments, and can cause contact dermatitis.” This oil in its pure state can cause dryness, burning, stinging, and even peeling.

READ MORE: What You Need To Know About Using Essential Oils To Treat Your Acne

The right way to use tea tree oil

If you aren’t typically reactive to skincare products, using tea tree oil on your acne might be beneficial. “My patients typically use the oil as a spot treatment, although it certainly can be applied to the entire face to treat current breakouts and prevent new pimples from popping up,” says Zeichner.

The key to applying tea tree oil to acne is to always dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil (like jojoba oil, safflower oil, or argan oil). “In a dark glass bottle, mix two teaspoons of carrier oil with 15 drops of tea tree oil to get a five percent concentration,” says Joanne DeLeon, Skin Therapist and Trainer at Heyday LA. “This is the appropriate dilution for your face.”

If you’re using tea tree oil as a spot treatment for acne, dip a cotton bud into water, then pour a drop of tea tree oil onto it and apply it directly to your pimple.

Although straight tea tree oil can be irritating for reactive skin types, that doesn’t mean all sensitive-skin folks need to miss out on the healing benefits of tea tree oil. If you know you have sensitive skin (or if you’ve done a patch test with tea tree oil and discovered your skin’s sensitivity to it), look for skincare products with tea tree oil built in. They contain tea tree oil in their formulas but will often use other, less-irritating oils or liquids to dilute any unwanted effects of tea tree oil.

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But be patient. “Although you may see improvement after the first use, it can take a month or more of regular use to see measurable changes,” says DeLeon.

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