Here’s What Skin Experts Really Think About Using Tea Tree Oil For Acne

Getty / Carol Yepes

While I’m a big advocate for the skin acceptance movement, I think we can all agree that acne sucks. No matter what stage of life you’re at when you’re experiencing it, it’s never that easy to manage, and often the only way to get rid of it (or reduce its appearance) is to do a lot of trial and error. If you’re anything like me, this usually means making your way through Dr. Google’s list of recommendations for treatment. The solution most often found at the top of the list? Tea tree oil.

So on behalf of acne sufferers everywhere, I’ve consulted NYC board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King , Dr. Ross Perry, medical director of London’s Cosmedics Skin Clinics, and Dr. Rekha Tailor, medical director of Health & Aesthetics, who’s also based in London, to find out what all the fuss is about. And, more importantly, if it actually works for acne.

What is Tea Tree Oil?

“Tea tree oil is an essential oil that comes from the leaves of the melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Queensland and New South Wales in Australia,” Dr. Tailor tells POPSUGAR. It has been used in herbal and alternative medicine for years. Boasting antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it remains popular in skincare today, sold as a pure oil or incorporated into products like moisturiser and face cream.

Why Should I Incorporate Tea Tree Oil Into My Skin-Care Routine?

According to Dr. Perry, tea tree oil is a natural astringent. “It works to remove excess oil from the skin and lessen bacteria growth on the skin while speeding up the healing of scars, scabs, and infection due to antiseptic properties,” making it perfect for oily and acne-prone skin, as well as a quick-fix treatment for breakouts. Basically, tea tree oil kills bacteria to ensure your skin is squeaky clean (in a good way).

Is Tea Tree Oil Really An Effective Treatment For Acne?

While Dr. King favours ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids, dapsone, and sodium sulfacetamide for treating acne, she believes that tea tree oil is a great natural alternative. In addition to being antibacterial and having anti-inflammatory properties, she claims that tea tree oil also boasts antifungal and antiviral properties.

Pointing to a study featured in The Medical Journal of Australia, which compares tea tree oil to benzoyl peroxide, Dr. King also notes that the two work to combat acne similarly; however, though tea tree oil is less irritating, it doesn’t work as quickly.

Dr. Perry, on the other hand, believes the effectiveness of tea tree oil all comes down to the severity of the acne. “Tea tree oil alone isn’t going to get rid of severe acne,” he admits, adding, “It would be generally recommended to help keep skin clean and aid the healing process of acne alongside other treatments and products.”

How Do I Use Tea Tree Oil For Acne?

“Depending on the severity of the acne, I’d recommend using it after a double cleanse,” advises Dr Perry. He continues, “You can mix a few drops of tea tree oil with witch hazel and apply using a cotton swab, and let it sink in before applying a light non-greasy moisturizer. Or you can mix a few drops in with your normal moisturizer and apply that way.” In other words, try to avoid using it on your face in pure form.

Are There Any Downsides to Using Tea Tree Oil For Acne?

The main downside of tea tree oil is that it’s an irritant. “Tea tree oil can be incredibly drying on some people’s skin, especially if used undiluted or if you have sensitive skin,” warns Dr Tailor. Dr Perry agrees, advising that you patch test on first use to see how your skin reacts to it. If there’s any sort of irritation or burning, it’s not for you.

Beyond this, Dr. King tells POPSUGAR that the only other downside is that data regarding the efficacy of tea tree oil is quite limited. While it’s definitely worth trialling, you may be better off opting for an alternative that’s been scientifically and medically proven to fight acne.

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