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Does Tea Tree Oil Treat Acne?

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Updated March 24, 2010

Question: Does Tea Tree Oil Treat Acne?
Is tea tree oil an effective treatment for acne? Should I look for acne products containing tea tree oil?
Answer:

Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, a woody shrub native to Australia. Historically, this oil has been used for skin infections, fungal infections (such as athlete's foot), ulcerations and other wounds.

Tea tree has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, which is probably why it is a popular remedy for treating acne. It's thought that tea tree helps kill Propioni acnes bacteria, which are responsible for acne breakouts. Unfortunately, only a few small studies have been done, so the actual effect tea tree oil has on acne is still unclear.

One study, comparing tea tree oil with benzoyl peroxide, found tea tree improved both inflamed and non-inflamed acne breakouts. It wasn't quite as effective as benzoyl peroxide, and it did take longer to see improvement. But tea tree didn't cause dryness, peeling, and flaking as the benzoyl peroxide did.

A more recent study found 5% tea tree oil greatly improved acne when compared to a placebo. Although the results of both studies seem promising, much more research needs to be done before tea tree oil can be listed as a proven acne treatment. The National Institutes of Health states there is still "unclear scientific evidence" for such use.

Tea tree oil has a medicinal smell, similar to eucalyptus. Tea tree essential oil can be purchased at any natural food store, but should be diluted before applying to the skin. You may decide it's easier to purchase a skin care product that contains tea tree oil, instead. And you have many choices, including:

  • Burt's Bees Dr. Burt's Blemish Stick
  • Kiss My Face Organics Break Out, Botanical Acne Gel
  • Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel
  • DS Laboratories Trioxil Anti-Acne Gel
  • Dr. Michelle Copeland Skin Care Blemish Corrector

So, if you are committed to using natural products on your skin, tea tree products may be an option. But tea tree products alone will probably not clear a case of stubborn or severe acne. In that case, you'll be better off seeing your dermatologist. And if you're currently using any prescription acne treatments, ask your doctor before you use any tea tree products.

Tea Tree Oil Fact Sheet

Sources:

Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust. (1990) 153 (8): 455-458.

Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, et al. "The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study." Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2007; 73 (1): 22-5.

"Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia [Maiden & Betche] Cheel)" Medline Plus. 01 Feb 2008. National Institutes of Health. Accessed 24 June 2008.

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