Tea tree oil

January 03, 2021

How does tea tree oil help acne?

  • I.e. Does it reduce inflammation? Kill bacteria??  Please discuss specific ways in which it reduces acne


  • Tea tree oil has become a common ingredient to find in skincare products. It is derived from the plant Melaleuca alternifolia, found in Australia.  It is known for its antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. It has activity against bacteria, viruses, fungus, mites, etc.  It is often found in scalp products such as shampoos and treatments as well as acne remedies.  Its focus is to address some of the underlying triggers for scalp inflammation that result in scaling and itching such as yeast and bacteria buildup.

    For acne, in particular, Cutibacterium acnes (Propionibacterium acnes) is the bacteria known to play a role in the pathophysiology of acne.  Tea tree oil has been studied for its activity directed against this bacteria in particular.  It has been shown to have effective antibacterial properties for this bacteria in particular.  Another study demonstrated the effectiveness of tea tree oil for mild to moderate acne over a 1 to 3 months period of time. The challenge is that there are only small limited studies available making it difficult to determine how to apply this information to clinical practice. 

    The main caution in using tea tree oil is that it does have about a 1-2% chance of causing contact dermatitis in those that use it. If using a product that has tea tree oil and your itching and flaking is getting worse, it’s important to take a look at your products and make sure they are not making it worse! 



    How to use tea tree oil for acne

  • Give clear guidelines for using tea tree oil for acne.

  • Purchasing tea tree oil : Several acne preparations from topicals to toners may contain tea tree oil.  If using pure tea tree oil, make sure the product purchased is 100% tea tree oil to avoid irritation from other ingredients. 



    Given the risk of contact dermatitis, it is important to perform a test patch on the inner arm prior to using on the face.  


    There are multiple methods to apply tea tree oil to the skin:

    1. Add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to your moisturizer
    2. Apply tea tree oil to a cotton round and dilute with aloe vera, water or a carrier oil such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, etc.  
    3. Apply directly to acne spots with a cotton tip

    Tea tree oil for acne is generally considered a spot treatment. Apply by blotting directly on inflammatory lesions. 

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