Is Tea Tree Oil a Natural Acne Cure?

tea tree nursery baby plants
Photo and Co/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Derived from the Australian tree Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil is an essential oil commonly used topically in alternative medicine for skin infections such as athlete’s foot, dandruff, and ringworm, and as an antiseptic for minor cuts and insect bites and stings. Some people use tea tree oil as a spot treatment for acne. In aromatherapy, tea tree oil is used as a bath additive to relieve coughs and nasal congestion.

Why Is Tea Tree Oil Sometimes Used for Acne?

Tea tree oil contains a variety of constituents (such as alpha-terpineol), with terpinen-4-ol being the purported main active ingredient. A preliminary study published in Letters in Applied Microbiology found that tea tree oil components terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, and alpha-pinene had antimicrobial activity against Propionibacterium acnes, the skin-dwelling bacteria that is involved in the development of acne.

Research on Tea Tree Oil for Acne

While research on the effects of tea tree oil is limited, there’s some evidence that tea tree oil may help to treat acne. For instance, a study  by the Department of Dermatology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia (published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1990) compared the effectiveness and tolerance of a 5% tea tree oil gel with a 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion in 124 people with mild to moderate acne.

The results of the study found that both the tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide had a significant effect in reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed acne lesions (open and closed comedones) over the three month period. Tea tree oil took longer to work initially, but was associated with fewer side effects.

In the benzoyl peroxide group, 79% of people had side effects including itching, stinging, burning, and dryness.

A smaller study published in the Indian Journal of Dsite:aermatology, Venereology and Leprology in 2007 involved 60 people with mild to moderate acne who were treated with either a gel containing 5% tea tree oil or a placebo for 45 days. Researchers found that the tea tree oil was more effective than the placebo in reducing the severity of acne and the total number of acne lesions.

Large double-blind, randomized controlled trials are needed before we can determine the effectiveness of tea tree oil for acne.

Should It Be Applied Undiluted to Acne?

Pure, undiluted tea tree oil is found in health food stores and online, but when it is applied topically, it can cause skin irritation, redness, itchiness, blistering, and it can be drying to the skin. Like other essential oils, tea tree oil can be absorbed through skin (resulting in toxicity).

To learn about some of the possible safety concerns of tea tree oil, please read my Tea Tree Oil article (for instance, tea tree oil should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women and people undergoing cancer treatment).

If you're considering using tea tree oil for acne, talk with your doctor first.

In studies, a 5% gel has been applied daily for up to three months or a 5% gel has been applied to acne twice a day for 20 minutes then rinsed off with water (for 45 days). An example of a 5% tea tree oil solution is 5 parts tea tree oil mixed into 95 parts water (e.g. 5 mL tea tree oil and 95 mL water).

Other Remedies for Acne

If you’re interested in natural solutions for acne, meditation, exercise, and massage therapy have been found to decrease stress, which is sometimes associated with acne. Some people may find that changing their diet can help to decrease acne. For example, consuming less milk, cheese, and other dairy products (said to be a source of hormones) and avoiding high-glycemic foods such as white bread, pasta, and sugar may help.

A number of other remedies may help keep your skin clear. For instance, a 2010 review of natural products used in dermatology published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology named Saccharomyces boulardii and the herb oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) as other natural products with potential to become standard acne treatments.

Related:Natural Remedies for Acne


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

Enshaieh S, 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) 73 (1): 22-25.

Raman A1, Weir U, Bloomfield SF. Antimicrobial effects of tea-tree oil and its major components on Staphylococcus aureus, Staph. epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes. Lett Appl Microbiol. 1995 Oct;21(4):242-5.

Reuter J1, Merfort I, Schempp CM. Botanicals in dermatology: an evidence-based review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2010;11(4):247-67. doi: 10.2165/11533220-000000000-00000.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading