Does Tea Tree Oil Help With Acne? 3 Doctors Explain Its Effectiveness

Getty / Nadija Pavlovic

No matter what stage of life you’re at when you experience acne, 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. There are a variety of different types of acne that all respond differently to different treatments. For example, tea tree oil for acne is a common natural remedy that you can often find people waxing poetic about.

This essential oil has been touted for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properities, but let’s be real: not everything you read (or see) on the internet is true. So, does tea tree oil help with acne? We consulted three skin-care experts to find out what all the fuss is about. And, more importantly, to find out if you should try it for yourself.

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,” Rekha Tailor, a medical director at Health & Aesthetics in in London, tells PS. It has been used in herbal and alternative medicine for years. Boasting antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it remains popular in skin care today, sold as a pure oil or incorporated into products like moisturizer and face cream.

Tea Tree Oil’s Benefits For Skin

According to Ross Perry, MD, a medical director at London’s Cosmedics Skin Clinics, 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.” This makes 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 Good For Acne?

While NYC-based board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, favors 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 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 says, adding, “It would be generally recommended to help keep skin clean and aid the healing process of acne alongside other treatments and products.”

How to Use Tea Tree Oil For Acne

“Depending on the severity of the acne, I’d recommend using it after a double cleanse,” says Dr. Perry. “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.

Tea Tree Oil Side Effect

The main downside of using tea tree oil for acne 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,” Dr. Tailor says. 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 says the 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.

Additional reporting by Jessica Harrington

Jessica Harrington is the senior beauty editor at PS, where she writes about hair, makeup, skin care, piercings, tattoos, and more. As a New York City-based writer and editor with a degree in journalism and over eight years of industry experience, she loves to interview industry experts, keep up with the latest trends, and test new products.

Phoebe McRae is a former PS contributor.

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