There's never a good time for pimples to show up. Whether you've got a big date planned or just want to be selfie-ready, somehow those skin eruptions have a way of bursting on the scene at the worst moments. But rather than resorting to the same old products with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, you might be looking for something different.
That's where tea tree oil comes in. Just one stroll through your local drugstore — or one scroll through your Instagram feed — and you'll see that tea tree is having a major moment.
Touted for its natural antiseptic properties, tea tree oil is added to countless body care products from soap, shampoo, and face cleanser to toothpaste, lip balm, and mouthwash. But what about tea tree oil for acne? Can it really help banish breakouts once and for all?
In this guide, you'll learn what exactly tea tree oil is and where it comes from. Plus, you'll discover some of the top benefits of tea tree oil for acne as well as other skin issues. It's time to figure out if adding tea tree oil to your skincare routine is right for you.
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia evergreen tree, which is native to the warmer regions of Australia. Tea tree oil has been a go-to in traditional herbal medicine for more than a hundred years — most notably by the indigenous Bundjalung people — to treat everything from coughs and sore throats to wounds, cuts, and insect bites.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of tea tree oil is its pungent camphor-like smell, which is somewhat similar to the cooling menthol fragrance of peppermint oil. This nose-tingling aroma comes from terpinen-4-ol, which is the main compound found in tea tree oil and also the source of its antimicrobial properties.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Skin
With so many tea tree oil products out there (including pure tea tree essential oil), it can be a little confusing to know how to use it on your skin. For starters, keep in mind that like other essential oils, tea tree oil is highly concentrated. As such, follow these general guidelines:
- Always use a carrier oil like almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil to dilute it first. Think of it as the “dozen drop rule” — for every 12 drops of carrier oil, add one or two drops of tea tree oil. This rule applies even if you're just using it as an acne spot treatment.
- You can add a drop or two of tea tree oil to your natural moisturizer, face mask, or sunscreen.
- Don't apply tea tree oil to your eye area as it can cause irritation and a burning sensation.
- If you're using tea tree oil for steam inhalation or a diffuser, just two or three drops is enough.
5 Potential Benefits of Tea Tree Oil for Acne and Other Skin Problems
Since not all tea tree oils are created equal, be sure to choose 100% organic pure tea tree oil whenever possible. Likewise, when shopping for products that have tea tree oil as an ingredient, avoid any synthetic additives that could be bad news for any skin type. Also, buy from a trusted brand that's transparent about ingredients. Here are just a handful of reasons you may want to use tea tree oil for acne-prone skin.
1. Regulates Oily Skin That Can Lead to Acne
When your sebaceous glands are working overtime, tea tree oil might help balance oil production. A 30-day study found that tea tree oil added to sunscreen reduced oily skin and acne breakouts. Meanwhile, a 12-week study concluded that tea tree oil gel and face wash significantly improved mild to moderate acne.
Try: Primal Life Organics Banished Blemish Serum made with certified organic ingredients, including tea tree oil and jojoba oil, which balance skin and banish breakouts.
2. Fights Bacteria That Can Cause Acne
Acne happens when bacteria, oil, or dead skin cells get trapped in your pores. As a result, you end up with zits that can be anything from small whiteheads and blackheads to bigger (and sometimes painful) pustules. Thanks to tea tree oil's antimicrobial qualities, it can help kill the bacteria that causes acne.
In one study, researchers discovered that tea tree oil was as effective as benzoyl peroxide in improving acne, although the effects of tea tree oil did take longer. That said, patients who used tea tree oil had fewer side effects than those who used benzoyl peroxide.
Try: Primal Life Organics Banished Face Toner, which is excellent for congested skin to help it look and feel toned, taut, and clear.
3. Soothes Inflammation and Scars Caused by Acne
Because of its known anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil can soothe red, inflamed, and irritated red bumps that are often associated with acne. In 2018, two double-blind studies conducted with 60 people determined that a mixture of propolis, tea tree oil, and aloe vera was more effective at reducing inflammation and acne scars than erythromycin cream (an antibiotic that's commonly prescribed to treat acne).
While more studies are needed, scientists noted that synthetic drugs are starting to become less effective (due to antibiotic resistance) and natural remedies such as tea tree oil may be the way of the future.
Try: Primal Life Organics pocket-sized skin repair stick with tea tree oil can alleviate small cuts, scrapes, and wounds.
4. Fights Fungus
Since tea tree oil has strong antifungal properties, it can be an effective treatment for athlete's foot. One small study found that an herbal powder made from arrowroot, baking soda, basil oil, tea tree oil, sage oil, and clove oil inhibited the "overgrowth of aerobic bacteria and yeast-fungi-mold immediately, and continued to limit microbial proliferation for 8 hours."
Try: Primal Life Organics foot repair balm infused with tea tree oil to combat bacteria and fungi.
5. Soothes Bug Bites
Along with being a potent acne fighter, tea tree is also an excellent bug repellent that can ward off insects before they bite or sting. If those pesky bugs do get you, tea tree oil can help reduce the skin irritation.
Try: Mix a few drops of tea tree oil with aloe vera to soothe irritated skin or get yourself a bottle of Boot-a-Pest natural bug repellant.
Potential Side Effects of Tea Tree Oil
Even though tea tree oil has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various skin conditions and other ailments, you should never take it orally. Tea tree oil is toxic when ingested and can even be fatal. Here are some potential side effects and how to avoid them.
- When applied topically: Contact dermatitis (rash), itchiness, redness, stinging sensation, peeling or dry skin. To make sure you don't have an allergic reaction, do a small patch test with a cotton swab before applying tea tree oil to a larger area.
- When inhaled: Headaches, nausea, wheezing, or vertigo. To avoid inhaling too much tea tree oil or breathing it in for too long, only use it in small, short doses.
Consider Tea Tree Oil for a Clearer Complexion
Pimples often seem to have a mind of their own, and it can be exhausting trying to get a break from breakouts. Fortunately, the growing interest in natural remedies and synthetic-free skincare products has brought renewed attention to some of nature's best-kept secrets.
Tea tree oil has been around for many years and it's clear that this skin clarifier is only going to get more popular. From taming acne flare-ups and soothing redness and scars to helping with other skin conditions, this powerful oil just might be the antidote you've been seeking.
Always talk to your dermatologist when starting a new skincare regimen and be sure to check out the Primal Life Organics blog for more must-have information on keeping a glowing, healthy complexion.