As a topical treatment, tea tree oil works just as well as the common off-the-shelf acne remedy benzoyl peroxide, according to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia. This concentrated plant oil, available at both online and brick-and-mortar beauty supply and essential-oil retailers, may take a bit longer to work than its off-the-shelf contemporaries, but it lends itself to a variety of treatment techniques. It also packs none of the chemical contents present in commercial cosmetics and comes at a fraction of the cost.


Why It Works

Tea tree leaves and the oil they produce contain a substance known as terpinen-4-ol, which serves as an antibacterial agent. Because it’s a solvent, terpinen-4-ol also cuts through oil. Bacteria, oil and other impurities clog the pores to cause zits, making tea tree oil acne’s natural enemy. It is an effective treatment for both inflamed and non-inflamed acne lesions, curbing the production and appearance of both whiteheads and blackheads.

An At-Home Remedy

Add a few drops of tea tree oil to about 20 to 40 drops of witch hazel, an astringent acne remedy. After cleansing and drying, moisten a clean cotton ball with the mixture and gently apply it to your face once or twice daily. Cut back on application if you have naturally dry skin, or if this technique causes dry skin. Although less likely to dehydrate the skin than benzoyl peroxide, too much tea tree oil may cause dryness. To spot treat zits, lightly dip a cotton swap into undiluted tea tree oil and gently dab the affected area.

Face Wash Facts

To increase their acne-reducing potential, add tea tree oil to off-the-shelf products such as face wash or moisturizer, at a maximum ratio of a drop or two of oil per tablespoon of product. Commercial washes and other products that advertise tea tree oil content may not be as effective as a simple application of the oil. In the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s study, a solution of 5-percent tea tree oil was used to treat acne. The cosmetics manufacturers at Paula’s Choice note that even beauty products with a high concentration of tea tree oil rarely contain more than 0.5 percent of the substance.

Masks and More To Know

For a pore-cleansing mask, mix a few drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon each of natural yogurt and raw honey. Apply an opaque layer of the mask to your freshly washed face and let it rest for about 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse it clean with warm water and apply your favorite moisturizer. Be wary of tea tree oil that has been diluted by carrier oil — this reduces its effectiveness against acne. Always request undiluted tea tree oil from your retailer. Despite its anti-inflammatory properties, no major studies find that tea tree oil is an effective treatment for acne scars.

Words of Warning

Like many acne treatments, tea tree oil heightens your UV sensitivity, so limit your sunlight exposure when using the oil in your skincare regimen. Tea tree oil serves only as a topical treatment and should never be ingested. While normal skin types typically take well to moderate amounts of tea tree oil, there is a small chance of an allergic reaction causing a rash, blisters or itching, particularly in those who suffer from eczema. Consult your dermatologist before making changes to your skincare routine.