Tea Tree Oil can be an awesome spot treatment for speeding up healing of pimples and breakouts. One study showed it can be as effective as benzoyl peroxide for treating acne.
Very promising, especially for a natural ingredient.
But, Tea Tree Oil is very strong. Based on my personal experience, if misused or overused, you can really hurt and damage your skin.
Even though it’s natural, you still need to be careful. It’s a concentrate.
It’s the kind of product you only want to use on pimples as a spot treatment, never all over your face.
I cringe when I see diy recipes floating around telling people to sprinkle tea tree oil into their moisturizer or toner. Don’t do that. Using Tea Tree Oil all over your face, day after day, can lead to redness, and raw irritate skin.
To safely use Tea Tree Oil, best to dilute it, dab a tiny amount just on pimples, and only use it where you need it.
When used properly, Tea Tree Oil can be a fantastic spot treatment that can help speed up healing of blemishes and pimples. For full instructions how to use Tea Tree Oil for acne, and get all the pimple vanishing benefits; check out the rest of this article and video demo.
IN THIS BLOG POST
Benefits of Tea Tree Oil, and how it can help acne
- It’s anti-inflammatory (it can help reduce redness, irritation, and swelling – which can help shrink pimples faster)
- It’s anti-bacterial / antiseptic (prevents infection)
- It can work as a solvent (which can help breakup buildup of oil, dirt or debris clogging your pores)
How to use Tea Tree Oil for pimples and acne
IMPORTANT: If it’s your first time using Tea Tree Oil, do a patch test first on your arm to make sure you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy.
- At night, wash your face with a mild cleanser, followed by using the rest of the products in your routine (serum, moisturizer, etc).
- Dilute the Tea Tree Essential Oil with a carrier oil.
- 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. Overtime you can slowly increase frequency to every night.
How NOT to use Tea Tree Oil for acne
- Only use it as a spot treatment, never use 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, retinol, 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 outdoors in the sun (like going on a beach vacation).
- Dilute it with oil, not water.
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 dilute Tea Tree Oil
If you are just starting to use Tea Tree Oil, or you have dry or sensitive skin – it’s best to dilute it with a carrier oil.
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.
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
Tea Tree Oil FAQ
Why can't I put Tea Tree Oil all over my 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, you’ve got to be strategic and careful.
The first few times using it might not cause a bad reaction, but longterm daily use all over your face can cause dryness, redness and irritation.
There’s no benefit applying it on areas of your face that are already clear and healthy. It’s much safer to use as a spot treatment just on pimples and breakouts, and avoid applying it anywhere that doesn’t need treatment.
What about skincare products containing Tea Tree Oil, are they safe to use?
In general I find commercial skincare products to be safer than the DIY recipes floating around. They tend to use a lot 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 use a product that washes off like a mask or cleanser. If you have leave-on products like a moisturizer, serum, or toner that contains Tea Tree Oil, be cautious using it. You may just want to use it on areas of your face that have breakouts, and not all over your face.
What about a Tea Tree Oil skincare range, or multiple products containing it?
Some brands have a Tea Tree Oil skincare range which includes a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, mask, spot treatment, makeup wipes, etc., all containing Tea Tree Oil.
This can add up to a lot of tea tree oil, especially for daily or twice daily use.
Remember, acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Your skin is sensitive and irritated. You don’t want to be using layer after layer of products containing strong ingredients like Tea Tree Oil.
It may be a natural ingredient, but it’s still very strong.
If you are going to use a commercial skincare product containing Tea Tree Oil, just use one product like a cleanser or spot treatment.
Can I use Tea Tree Oil with retinol or tretinoin?
If you are just starting to use retinol, tretinoin, adapalene in your skin care routine, I don’t recommend using Tea Tree Oil until your skin has completely adjusted to it.
It’s common to become sensitive to essential oils when using retinol, retinoids, retinoic acid.
I would wait until at least 6 months of regular use of retinol or tretinoin before trying Tea Tree Oil (and only use it as a spot treatment, and make sure you dilute it with a carrier oil).
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 we end up pressing the cotton bud on pimples with too much pressure which can cause added redness and irritation. So make sure your application is light and gentle.
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.
Tea Tree Oil for back acne
You can also use Tea Tree Oil for back acne. 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.
- 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 Tea Tree Oil work for everyone?
Many people get fabulous results using Tea Tree Oil for acne, 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?
This is actually a really important detail.
Not all Tea Tree Oils are pure or processed the same way. Some are much better than others.
If the product you are using isn’t 100% pure or it’s old; it’s not going to work.
I’ve had subscribers tell me they’ve noticed a huge difference between Tea Tree Oils from different brands. Not all essential oils are made the same. Unfortunately some are diluted or made with low quality ingredients.
There’s no set standards or regulations how essential oils are made or packaged. Some are purer, fresher, and made better than others.
It’s very important you buy it from a reputable source.
If Tea Tree Oil is old, or exposed to light or air, it can change in chemical composition and become harmful to your skin.
Some essential oils are diluted with oils and 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, purity, and protective packaging.
To ensure freshness of the product, buy small vials (5-10ml) and discard 6 months after opening.
Always check the ingredients label to make sure it’s 100% pure. Essential oils should NOT have added ingredients.
Tea Tree Oil should always be packaged in dark or opaque glass vials that are dark amber, brown, black, or miron violet glass. Avoid essential oils packaged in clear bottles because light can degrade the product.
Shop my favourite Tea Tree Oil here.
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