Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Source from: Byrdie
IN THIS ARTICLE
When it comes to acne-fighters, it's usually the heavy-hitting, more medicinal ingredients of the world that get all the attention. (You know, the salicylic acids and benzoyl peroxides of the world.) But those aren't the only options. There's no denying that natural ingredients are having a major beauty moment, with more options out there than ever before that have the ability to do anything and everything, from hydrating to smoothing out wrinkles. It's important to take all these claims with a grain of salt—check for scientific studies and proven findings—but there are a lot of great options.
In fact, you can also add beating blemishes to that list, as it turns out that tea tree oil is a natural ingredient that has been scientifically proven to help treat all kinds of pimples. Here, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Y. Claire Chang, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, Chicago-based celebrity dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, MD, and dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City weigh in on exactly what makes this superstar such a good pick in the battle against blemishes, explain how it works, and share some of their favorite tea tree products.
Get ready to say hello to a clearer complexion.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Essential oil
MAIN BENEFITS: Kills bacteria, fungus, and eases inflammation
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Those with acne-prone skin and fungal skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: According to Chang, tea tree oil should be applied twice daily for six to 12 weeks to start seeing a benefit. However, do not apply it directly to the skin—it should be diluted with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil.
WORKS WELL WITH: Non-comedogenic carrier oils
DON'T USE WITH: Any other active product (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinol, etc.)
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
"Tea tree oil is an essential oil derived mainly from a plant native to Australia known as Melaleuca alternifolia," says Chang. Like so many other natural and plant-based ingredients, it has a long history. It's been a traditional medicine used by native Aborigines for centuries, who inhaled tea tree oil to treat coughs and, you guessed it, applied it topically for skin healing. There are almost 100 components in the oil, one of the major ones being a compound known as Terpinene-4-ol. Without getting too complicated, the takeaway here is that this compound has all the good stuff, namely strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, points out Chang.
And it's those properties that are precisely what make tea tree oil such a good pick for acne-prone skin.1 (Not to mention that, unlike many other essential oils, it's non-comedogenic and won't clog pores, adds Nazarian.) As if all of that weren't enough, tea tree oil also offers some antioxidant properties, too.
Tea Tree Oil for Acne
Kills bacteria: True acne is caused in part due to the presence of p.acnes bacteria on the skin. Tea tree oil has a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity, notes Chang, including being effective against even staphylococcus aureus (AKA staph), and, yep, p.acnes, too. This was even scientifically proven in a study published in 2020 in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. "Terpinene-4-ol is the active ingredient in the tea tree oil that destabilizes the cell of the bacteria, essentially killing it," explains Carqueville.
Anti-inflammatory: At the same time, it decreases the inflammatory cascades that stimulate inflammation and redness, a major benefit for acne-plagued skin. The science is there to back all of this up as well; in a study, a five percent concentration of tea tree oil was shown to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne.3
It treats a wide range of acne: Here's the other nice thing: It can work on both comedonal acne (blackheads, whiteheads, smaller blemishes) and inflammatory acne (big, red, angry pimples). While the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects make it a slightly better option for the latter, "tea tree oil improves both comedonal and mild to moderate inflammatory acne, reducing the number of acne lesions as well as the severity of these lesions," says Carqueville. So much so, that it's even been compared head-to-head with another antibacterial acne-fighter, benzoyl peroxide. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia looked at the direct effects of a five percent concentration of tea tree oil versus five percent benzoyl peroxide. The results? Both treatments effectively addressed comedonal and inflammatory acne. Tea tree oil was a bit slower to work, but, it did win out when it came to having less irksome side effects associated with it, says Nazarian. Why do you ask? "Tea tree oil is moisturizing, which differentiates it from topical benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, which are usually drying. In this comparative study, those patients using the tea tree oil had significantly fewer side effects of dryness and irritation," Carqueville explains.
Other Skin Benefits
It's anti-viral and anti-fungal: Tea tree oil is not only effective against bacteria but also helps decrease funguses and viruses on the surface of the skin, adds Nazarian. This makes it a strong contender as a weapon against Athlete's Foot (fungal) and cold sores (viral).
Reduces dandruff: "Given its anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal potential, it's been suggested for use in dealing with dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis," explains Chang.
Heals minor cuts and scrapes: Accord to a 2006 study, tea tree oil helps kill S. aureus, a type of bacteria that can cause infection in open wounds. It also increases white blood cell activity, helping to reduce healing time.
How to Apply Tea Tree Oil
"Tea tree oil can be found in multiple formulations, including toner, moisturizer, washes, and spot treatment, though it should be used twice daily for six to 12 weeks to start seeing a benefit," says Chang. You can pick up one of those products (keep reading for some of the derm's favorites), or you can use straight-up tea tree oil. In this case, you can either apply it directly onto blemishes with a cotton swab or mix a few drops in with a moisturizer to spread it onto wider areas, Carqueville suggests. You also don't have to use it on its own, but rather as an accompaniment to any other acne treatments you may already be using. "Tea tree oil can be used with other topical and oral acne medications for increased efficacy. Given the increased rate of antimicrobial resistance in p. acnes, there's been a push to use non-antibiotic products, like tea tree oil, as well as a combination of acne-fighting products together," says Chang. Carqueville agrees calling it, "a great, non-antibiotic approach to treating acne." Either way, once your skin does clear up, Nazarian suggests continuing to use it in order to both maintain results and prevent future breakouts.
It's also worth pointing out that tea tree oil shouldn't be reserved solely for your skincare routine; it can be beneficial for your scalp and hair, too. "Given its anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal potential, it's been suggested for use in dealing with dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis," explains Chang.
While tea tree oil is generally well-tolerated by most, Carqueville points out that it can trigger a true allergic reaction for some. She suggests taking it for a test patch run if you're allergy-prone or have super sensitive skin, and discontinue use if any irritation, redness, swelling, or itching develop. Another good bet? Stick with diluted forms or products that are pre-formulated with a small amount if you're concerned about your skin reacting, advises Nazarian.
The Best Products With Tea Tree Oil
The light and non-greasy Calming & Purifying Fluid is specially formulated for combination to oily skin which tends to have a shiny T-zone. The Calming & Purifying Fluid brightens the skin while regulating sebum to minimize pores to create an even complexion. Its gentle cooling effect calms and soothes sensitive skin instantly.
Intensive Purifying Cream is an extra-light face cream for oily, stressed skin. Purifying Cream helps to reduce skin impurities and prevent reoccurrence. This cream calms the skin and aids in combating irritation-related skin aging. This also acts as a pimple cream.