Tea Tree Oil can be an effective treatment for speeding up healing of pimples and breakouts. But, you need to know how to use Tea Tree Oil for acne properly, and what not to do.
Even though it’s natural, it’s very strong. Especially for the face.
In recent years, there’s been studies showing promising results using it to clear up pimples and acne breakouts.
Benefits of Tea Tree Oil for acne:
- Anti-inflammatory (it will help reduce redness, irritation, and swelling – which will help shrink pimples faster)
- Anti-bacterial / antiseptic (prevents infection)
- It can work as a solvent (which can breakup the buildup of oil, dirt or debris clogging your pores)
There’s one study that shows Tea Tree Oil to be as effective in treating acne as benzoyl peroxide.
Seeing these studies are exciting, and everyone wants to start using it.
BUT, as I said, Tea Tree Oil is strong.
When used incorrectly, or too much; people have had bad reactions, even burning their skin.
If you look deeper into the studies, the participants weren’t going to health food stores buying bottles of it and sprinkling it in their moisturizers or toners. They weren’t making DIY face recipes they pulled off Pinterest.
These studies were very controlled. They were only using a face wash or gel that contained a standardize percentage of Tea Tree Oil. The participants weren’t using any other skincare products. No medications or any other active ingredients. They probably weren’t even wearing makeup.
In the real world, when you hear about these studies, the common reaction is “How can I add it to my skincare routine?” Or, you might take it one step further “What if I put it in a bunch of skincare products, will I get faster results?”
And what if you don’t have acne but get pimples once in a while, could using it all over your face to prevent future breakouts?
We see popular brands like The Body Shop, they have Tea Tree for Skin Range for acne prone skin. There’s 16 products for the face in this range. They’re selling face wipes, cleansers, toners, face masks, face scrub, lotion, moisturizer, and blemish stick. All together, that’s A LOT of Tea Tree Oil (a lot more than what they were using in the trials/studies!). Is that even safe for you skin?
And then there’s Pinterest and it’s millions of DIY skincare recipes. Many of these recipes use a combination of essential oils, botanicals, and natural ingredients. Could combining Tea Tree Essential Oil with other active botanicals and essential oils be therapeutic, or a complete disaster?
Be careful using it on your face
The skin on your face is one of the most delicate areas of skin on your body.
It’s the only part of your body that is constantly exposed to the elements.
The skin under and around your eyes is very thin (and gets thinner as you age).
Tea Tree Oil is a concentrate. It’s an essential oil that comes from steam distilling massive quantities of Tea Tree leaves.
When you open a bottle, you can smell the distinctive strong camphor-like odour. It’s so strong, it can make your eyes water! And if ingested, it’s a poison.
If you are going to put something this strong and concentrated on your face, especially on irritated breakouts, you’ve got to be careful.
Especially if it’s the first time you ever use it.
Can it really work for acne?
Tea Tree Oil can be a very effective remedy for pimples and acne.
It’s anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. It will help shrink pimples and speed up healing.
But, I recommend ONLY using it as a spot treatment on pimples, and not all over your face.
Tea Tree Oil can be drying.
If overused, it can cause redness and severe irritation. Like all essential oils, it can make your skin more susceptible to photosensitivity and sun damage.
Because it can be drying, oily skin types tolerate it the best.
If you have dry skin, it’s important to dilute it and use very small quantities to prevent further drying, irritation, scaling or cracking.
Because it’s strong, don’t mix it with other essential oils or active ingredients. This is your face, you don’t want to be doing experiments that could potentially burn or damage your skin.
For best results, only use it as a spot treatment on pimples, and not all over your face
The safest way to use Tea Tree Oil is just using it on pimples as a spot treatment.
There’s absolutely no benefit using it on clear skin. And in fact, doing so can potentially irritate, damage or dry out your healthy skin.
For this reason, I don’t recommend using moisturizers and toners containing Tea Tree Oil. You don’t want this ingredient anywhere near the delicate skin around your eyes, or near your mouth.
Rinse-off commercial cleansers and masks are a safer because they aren’t sitting on your face for hours. But even so, I would exercise caution. In most cases they are better tolerated by oily skin types, and shouldn’t be used on dry, maturing, or sensitive skin types.
When used properly, Tea Tree Oil can be a fantastic spot treatment that clears up blemishes and pimples. I encourage you to try it (just don’t use it all over your face!).
Check out today’s video above for a demo on how to use Tea Tree Oil on pimples, and the mistakes to avoid. Plus, below I’ve put together written instructions, and answered a bunch of questions.
How to dilute Tea Tree Oil:
If you’re using Tea Tree Oil for the very first time, or you have dry or sensitive skin – it’s best to dilute it with a carrier oil.
Instructions for normal, dry, or sensitive skin types:
In a small bowl mix 1 drop of pure Tea Tree Essential Oil with 10-12 drops of a carrier oil.
Instructions for oily skin types:
In a small bowl mix 1 drop of pure Tea Tree Essential Oil with 6-8 drops of a carrier oil.
If you have oily skin and your skin tolerates it well (you’ve been using it regularly for a while), you can even try using it undiluted as a spot treatment.
Recommended carrier oils to dilute Tea Tree Oil:
- Jojoba Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Hempseed Oil
- Squalane Oil
Do a patch test first
Some people have allergies to essential oils. So it’s important to do a patch test on your arm first, before applying it to your face.
Instructions for patch test:
- At night, mix 10 drops of a carrier oil with 1 drop of Tea Tree Essential Oil.
- Using your clean ring finger, dip your finger in the dilution and apply it to the inside of your arm (the patch test should cover a 2-inch area on the inside of your arm)
- Leave it on overnight, for at least 6 hours.
- If you have any redness, burning, swelling, tingling, rashes, or itching – you probably have a sensitivity or allergy.
- As soon as you notice an adverse reaction, best to immediately rinse it off with COLD water.
- If you don’t have any bad reaction, you can go ahead and use it to treat pimples and breakouts.
How to use Tea Tree Oil for pimples and acne
- At night, wash your face with a mild cleanser, followed by using the rest of the products in your routine (serum, moisturizer, etc).
- Allow the products to absorb and dry down (I would give it a minute or two to absorb before applying it).
- Dilute the Tea Tree Essential Oil with a carrier oil (instructions above).
- Using your clean ring finger, dip your finger in the dilution and gently dab a small amount on your pimples.
- Don’t rub it in, just lightly coat the pimples. It shouldn’t be applied to the skin surrounding the pimples.
- After applying, allow it to absorb.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Don’t apply more layers. One thin layer is sufficient (if you put too much you risk burning or damaging your skin).
- Don’t put any other products on top of it. The Tea Tree spot treatment should be the very last step in your skin care routine.
- The following morning, wash your face and if needed use moisturizer and sunscreen. Don’t use it during the day, only at night.
- In the beginning, use it every other night or every two nights. As you get used to it, you can increase frequency to every night.
How not to use Tea Tree Oil
- Only use it as a spot treatment, never put it all over your face.
- Don’t add it to your moisturizer, facial oil, serum, face mask or toner that you’re going to apply all over your face.
- Apply it at the very end of your routine after you’ve cleansed and moisturized (this will prevent spreading it to other parts of your face).
- After dabbing it on a pimple, never cover it with anything like a bandage or plastic.
- Don’t mix Tea Tree Oil with other active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, retinols, retinoids, tretinoin, Retin-A, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, vitamin c, etc. Best to use one or the other, not both!
- Never use it more than once a day – less is more!
- Don’t use it on open wounds, or skin that is flaking, scaly, broken, or irritated.
- If it burns, dries out your skin, or makes it red – stop using it.
- Don’t ever use it right after exercising. Wait until your body has cooled down before using it (I would wait at least an hour after exercising).
- Don’t use it after steaming your face, or sitting in a sauna (wait 60 minutes until your body has completely cooled down to normal before applying it).
- Don’t use it during the day, it could make your skin photosensitive or susceptible to sun damage.
- Take a break from using it while you’re spending a lot of time out doors in the sun (like going on a beach vacation).
- Dilute it with oil, not water.
What about commercial or mainstream skincare products containing Tea Tree Oil, are they safe to use?
In general I find commercial skincare products to be a little more safer than the DIY recipes floating around. They tend to use less Tea Tree Oil in their formulas than what you see being sprinkled into homemade products.
If you want to buy a commercial product that contains Tea Tree Oil, to be on the safe side, I would only use a product that washes off like a mask or cleanser. And, I would only use it once in a while (like once or twice a week). If you have leave-on products like a moisturizer, serum, or toner that contains Tea Tree Oil, I would be very cautious using it. Personally, I would probably only use it as a spot treatment in the evening, and not all over your face.
Should I apply Tea Tree Oil before or after moisturizer?
Always apply it at the very last step of your skincare routine.
Meaning, apply it after moisturizer, never before.
The reason why is because you don’t want other products to move it around. For example, if you apply it on pimples on your chin, you don’t want to put moisturizer on top which could move it up to your mouth, cheeks, or even eye area.
Applying it at the very last step of your skincare routine ensures it stays put, and it’s only applied where it needs to be.
How often should I use it?
Best to start with using it every other night. After a week or two, you can increase frequency to every night.
Can I apply it with a Q-Tip or cotton bud, instead of my fingers?
If you want, you can go ahead and use a Q-Tip or cotton bud to apply the Tea Tree Oil as a spot treatment. But, I will warn you that the cotton bud absorbs a lot of the product. Because it absorbs so much, many times you end up pressing the cotton bud on pimples with too much pressure. With any spot treatment, you want the application to very light and gentle. You want to lightly dab it on, not pressing it in which can cause increased irritation.
What to do if I’m having a bad reaction?
If you are having a bad reaction (your skin is red, swollen, itchy, has a rash, or burning); you need to rinse it off with cold water immediately.
Never rinse irritating products off with warm or hot water (the heat will drive the product into your skin more causing increased sensitivity).
Also, don’t use soap or a cleanser to remove it, and no wash cloth or flannel. Too much product or rubbing of your skin can make it worse. Instead, splash plenty of cold water to gently rinse it off.
After rinsing your face with cold water, I would avoid moisturizers, facial oils, or any other products or makeup. You don’t want to coat your skin with anything that could seal in residues. Instead, after rinsing it off, leave your skin be. I would even be careful with how you dry your face. Best to use a very soft micro fiber cloth and gently dab off any excess water left on your face.
For the next 8-12 hours I recommend avoiding any heat near your skin. Don’t take hot showers or hot baths, and don’t exercise. You need to let your skin settle after it’s had a bad reaction to a product.
Can you use Tea Tree Oil for back acne?
Yes. And the skin on your back is a lot more resilient than the skin on your face, so you can be slightly more aggressive with treatment.
- After taking a shower and thoroughly cleansing your back, dry your back with a clean towel.
- Mix 2-3 drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil with 10-12 drops of a carrier oil (Jojoba Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, or Squalane Oil).
- Apply the mixture to the affected area on your back. Allow a few minutes for the product to absorb and dry before putting on your clothes.
- Start with applying it every other night, and if your skin tolerates it well, after a few days, you can apply it every night.
- If after 3-4 weeks you see absolutely no improvements in your skin, stop using it. If you do see improvements, continue until your back completely clears up.
- Don’t use it on your back if you are going sun bathing or exposing your bare back to the sun. For the duration of treatment, you should avoid exposing your back to the sun (always wear protective clothing when out in the sun).
- If you have acne on your chest, this protocol for your back is too strong for the skin on your chest. For your chest, best to only use Tea Tree Oil dilution as a spot treatment just on pimples, and not all over your chest (similar to your face, the skin on your chest is also fragile. You don’t want to risk damaging or burning your skin).
Will it work for everyone?
Many people get fabulous results using Tea Tree Oil as a spot treatment, other people notice absolutely no difference at all.
If you’ve been using it regularly for at least a month, and it’s done absolutely nothing for your pimples and breakouts, stop using it.
If it hasn’t worked up until now, it’ll probably never work.
I don’t believe in giving up on anything too soon, but I also don’t believe in needlessly putting something on your skin unless it’s really helping.
Buying Tea Tree Oil, what you need to know.
So what’s the best Tea Tree Oil for acne, and aren’t they all the same?
Unfortunately there’s no rules and regulations for essential oils. Some are a lot more pure and well made than others.
It’s very important you buy it from a reputable source.
Tea Tree Oil that is old, or exposed to light and air can change in chemical composition and become harmful to your skin.
Some are diluted with other oils or alcohol.
You don’t want to use anything that is oxidized or unknowingly mixed with other ingredients on your face.
I recommend buying Tea Tree Oil only from reputable brands that are committed to sourcing the best quality ingredients. These brands must have high standards in the freshness, sustainability, quality distillation of the product, and protective packaging.
I’ve had subscribers tell me they’ve noticed a huge difference in Tea Tree Oils they buy from different brands, and how effective they are. Not all essential oils are the same. A lot of it has to do with the purity, quality, and freshness of the product.
I always buy my essential oils from Living Libations. They’ve been around for over 20 years, and have a strong reputation for sourcing the highest quality materials. I’ve been using their products for over a decade and trust the integrity of their products.
To ensure freshness of the product, I recommend always buying it in small 5ml vials. This way, once you open the bottle, you can go through it within a few months, as opposed to buying a large bottle that sits around for years and goes bad.
Always check the ingredients label to make sure it’s 100% pure, and has no added ingredients.
Tea Tree Oil should always be packaged in dark or opaque glass like dark amber, brown, black, or miron violet glass. Avoid essential oils packaged in clear bottles because light can degrade the product.
You can buy my favourite Tea Tree Oil here.
What about you?
Have you used Tea Tree Oil to heal blemishes or breakouts? Did it work for you? Let us know, please post in the comments below.
More blog posts and videos on essential oils and spot treatments for pimples and acne:
- Essential Oils In Skincare (Don’t Make These Mistakes)
- How To Use A Spot Treatment Properly
- Skincare ingredients I Avoid
This post was originally published on June 15, 2017, and updated January, 2020
References for this article:
Harsimran Kaur Malhi, Jenny Tu, Thomas V Riley, Sujith Prasad Kumarasinghe and Katherine A Hammer, Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study, Australasian Journal of Dermatology (2017) 58, 205–210
Sinha P, Srivastava S, Mishra N, Yadav NP. New perspectives on antiacne plant drugs: contribution to modern therapeutics. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:301304. doi:10.1155/2014/301304
Enshaieh S1, Jooya A, Siadat AH, Iraji F., 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 Jan-Feb;73(1):22-5.
Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50–62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006
Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS, A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. The Medical Journal of Australia, 01 Oct 1990, 153(8):455-458