CAN TEA TREE OIL HELP WITH BREAKOUTS?
Tea tree oil has been studied for decades for its potential benefits in the treatment of various skin complains, including acne.
Tea tree (Melaleuca Alternifolia) is a small bushy tree from Australia, where the native population use it as a poultice to treat cuts and wounds or inhaled for colds and coughs. Its use became mainstream from the beginning of the 19th century when chemists started to realise its powerful antiseptic properties.
Research says that tea tree has anti-inflammatory, antioxidants and antimicrobial properties, with evidence showing some positive improvements in acne prone individuals after 12 weeks of use in mild and moderate acne.
When looking at possible treatments for acne, we should consider hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, gut health, stress (which are usually the most common culprits) but also our skincare routine. The use of unsuitable products can exacerbate acne, hence it is important to understand what we can use to make an informed decision.
Let’s talk about routine: first it is important to recognize that cleanser/wash, toner and moisturiser should be used daily. The cleanser/wash is the first step that removes dirt and pollution; the toner is the second step that contributes to cleanliness, pore tightening and protection; the moisturiser is the last step that nourishes and rebalances. Of course, you can add extra steps like serum and treatments, however these are the golden 3 that will help you maintain healthy skin. I have seen it endless time that when you skip one of those steps the skin can suffer and struggle to stay clear and radiant.
RESEARCH AND TEA TREE OIL
Many skincare products that contain tea tree promise a blemish-free skin due to its antibacterial properties, but is it just a marketing strategy or is it working? Here I take into consideration the most recent research in the topic. A 2020 review that analyses 40 studies, shows that tea tree oil can be beneficial in reducing the number of pimples by decreasing inflammation, although it might take longer than standard treatments to work. Another 2017 study confirmed positive improvements after 12 weeks of tea tree oil use in face wash and topical gel (although this study included only 17 individuals). A 2015 review took into consideration various alternative therapies against acne and found that tea tree can have potential benefits in improving skin lesions and acne severity. Surely more research will appear in this field, but for now the use of tea tree in the treatment of acne can be considered on top of a personalised protocol. For individuals that suffer from severe acne, tea tree oil might not be the most effective choice.
SAFETY OF TEA TREE OIL
Tea tree essential oil can be purchased in many health stores, but make sure to select pure, organic oil to reap all the benefits of this medicinal plant. The oil must be diluted appropriately before applying on the skin, or it could cause irritation: as a rule of thumb 1 drop of essential oil can be mixed with 12 drops of carrier oil (such as sweet almond oil or jojoba oil). Do a patch test in a small area, away from the face, and wait 48 hours to check for potential reactions. Discontinue immediately if you notice any redness, itchiness, swelling or irritation where you applied the oil. Alternatively, you can buy skincare products that already contain tea tree and use them daily (I always advise to do a patch test with any new product). Watch out for synthetic fragrance, other types of essential oils, alcohol and SLS as they can be too harsh and irritating to the skin.
Tea tree oil is not the holy grail/miracle cure, but if you have mild to moderate acne, its use can be an excellent starting point to find out what works for you. It is important to remember that tea tree alone is not likely to treat acne long term, but it can be a good addition to a personalised diet and a clean skincare routine. Also keep in mind that when using natural alternatives, it might take longer to see results.
Cao, H. Yang, G. Wang, Y. et al. (2015). Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. Cochrane library. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009436.pub2.
Deyno, S. Mtewa, A.G. Abebe, A. et al. (2019). Essential oils as topical anti-infective agents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 47:102224. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102224. PMID: 31780027.
Jones, V.A. Patel, P.M. Wilson, C. et al. (2020). Complementary and alternative medicine treatments for common skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAAD international, 2, pp.76–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdin.2020.11.001
Malhi, H.K. Tu, J. Riley, T.V. et al. (2017). Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12-week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. The Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 58(3), pp.205-210. doi: 10.1111/ajd.12465. Epub 2016 Mar 21. PMID: 27000386.