Acne can be extremely frustrating. At times, it may feel like you've tried everything and it just won't go away. There are creams, supplements and medications that promise to get rid of it, but most fall short of their claims. If you're turning to peppermint oil for acne, there's good news and bad.
While peppermint oil does have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties — two things that can help reduce acne and approve its appearance in theory — there's no solid research on whether peppermint oil actually helps. There is research on how peppermint oil can help a variety of other conditions though.
What Is Acne?
It may not give you much solace, but if you're struggling with acne, you're not alone. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that around 40 to 50 million Americans have acne at any given time, making it the most common skin problem in the United States. And it's not just a condition that affects teenagers; the number of adults with acne is also steadily growing, and people are starting to see it pop up in their 30s, 40s and even 50s.
But what causes acne? The short answer is bacteria, but there are a lot of other factors involved too. Your skin is constantly regenerating. In a perfect world, dead skin cells rise to the surface of the pore, your body gets rid of the cells (exfoliation helps!) and everything is fine. But sometimes, these dead skin cells combine with the oil, or sebum, in your pores and get trapped, clogging the pore.
Bacteria that naturally live on the skin, called P__. acnes, also get trapped. When the bacteria get trapped, they start to multiply and, eventually, grow out of control. When that happens, the pore gets red, swollen and inflamed — the characteristic signs of acne.
While the development of acne seems like a simple process, getting rid of it can be pretty complex, especially since everyone's skin is different. Some topical acne treatments reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin, while others help reduce the amount of oil your skin produces. Of course, not everything works for everyone.
Read more: Pimples on the Upper Arms That Won't Go Away
Peppermint Oil for Acne
Essential oils are becoming a go-to for many common ailments, but there's really no evidence that peppermint oil can help with acne. And according to a report that was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in May 2017, the P. acnes bacteria (and S. epidermidis and P. granulosum — two other bacteria implicated in the development of acne) have been largely neglected in scientific studies, in general.
There is some research that says peppermint oil may help with itchy skin, though. One study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology in October 2016 tested peppermint oil on almost 100 people with chronically itchy skin (a condition called pruritus) and found that all participants experienced relief within two weeks. So, if your acne itches, there may be a little promise there, although it might be a bit of a stretch.
But, while peppermint oil may not be the most promising essential oil for acne, it does help with a variety of other things. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that peppermint oil is often used to relieve:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (and other digestive problems)
- Muscle aches
- The common cold
Read more: 10 Ways Your Face Reveals Health Problems
Tea Tree Oil for Acne
There are also other oils you can try to help clear up your skin that have a little more scientific backing. A review published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents in February 2015 points out that tea tree oil is both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and, because of this, was found to significantly reduce acne lesions in those with mild to moderate acne.
An older review that was published in the _Research Journal of Medicinal Plan_t in 2011 dug a little deeper and found that tea tree oil could kill 27 of the 32 different types of P. acnes strains of bacteria on your skin. The study noted that treatment with tea tree oil may take a little longer than other treatments (even with other essential oils), but it's also considered the most effective for the long-term and comes with far fewer side effects than other choices.
But there's more good news: You have other options, too. The May 2017 report in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine points out that there are actually 49 essential oils that may help target acne specifically. Some of these are:
- Holy basil
However, it's important to keep in mind that applying undiluted essential oils directly to your skin can cause irritation, burns and even allergic reactions. Rather than using pure essential oils, look for natural skincare products that contain them as active ingredients. That way, they're already properly diluted for you and you have less of a risk of experiencing adverse reactions.
Peppermint Oil Warnings
If you do decide to use peppermint oil for acne, there are some things that you should know before getting started. First: don't ever apply peppermint oil directly to the skin without diluting it. This can increase the risk of irritation and potential allergic reactions. But, even when peppermint oil is properly diluted, there's a chance it can still cause skin rashes and contact dermatitis, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.
If you're using the peppermint oil for the skin around your eyes, be extra cautious. Even without getting it in your eyes, the strong menthol can cause burning, stinging and other eye irritation. It's best to keep it as far away from your eyes as possible.
Peppermint oil may also interact with certain medications, making them less effective or more bioavailable. If you're on medication — and even if you're healthy — it's a good idea to talk with your dermatologist or a doctor about the best way to use peppermint oil for acne before jumping right in on your own.
- International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents: "Treatment of Acne With Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca) Products: A Review of Efficacy, Tolerability and Potential Modes of Action"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Acne"
- Research Journal of Medicinal Plant: "Topical Herbal Therapies an Alternative and Complementary Choice to Combat Acne"
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: "Peppermint Safety Info"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Peppermint Oil"
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases"
- Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology: "Effectiveness of Topical Peppermint Oil on Symptomatic Treatment of Chronic Pruritus"
- Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine: "Essential Oils Used in Aromatherapy: A Systemic Review"
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist with a Bachelor's degree in food and nutrition and a certificate in holistic nutrition consulting. She has a background in functional nutrition and 8 published books, including The Everything Guide to Gut Health, The Everything Guide to the Ketogenic Diet, and The Everything Guide to Intermittent Fasting.