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Acne and Tea Tree Oil

Written by ColleenO, ritasharma.

Before antibiotics were invented, tea tree oil was used to prevent and treat infections associated with skin wounds. Tea tree oil can kill many bacteria, viruses, and fungi on contact.1,2,12 Thanks to its antiseptic properties, tea tree oil has promise for treating acne. It is recommended as an alternative to benzoyl peroxide for direct application to the skin.

Effect of Tea Tree Oil on Acne

As an antiseptic, tea tree oil helps treat acne by inhibiting the growth of bacteria that are associated with the condition.

Read more details about Tea Tree Oil.

Research Evidence on Tea Tree Oil

The best evidence for benefits with tea tree oil comes from a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of 60 people with mild to moderate acne.21 In this study, participants were divided into two groups and treated with placebo or 5% tea tree oil gel. Over the 45-day study period, researchers evaluated acne severity in two ways: by means of counting the total number of acne lesions (TLC) and also by rating acne severity on a standardized index (ASI).

The results showed that tea tree oil gel was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing both the number of acne lesions and their severity.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree preparations contain various percentages of tea tree oil. For treating acne, the typical strength is 5% to 15%. It is usually applied 2 to 3 times daily, until symptoms resolve. However, tea tree oil can be irritating to the skin, so start with low concentrations until you know your tolerance.

The best tea tree products contain oil from the alternifolia species of Melaleuca only, standardized to contain not more than 10% cineole (an irritant) and at least 30% terpinen-4-ol. Oil from a specially bred variant of tea tree may have increased activity against microorganisms, while irritating the skin less.10

Tea tree oil products created especially for use in treating acne can be found at health food stores and some conventional drug stores.

When used topically, tea tree oil is thought to be safe. However, it can cause allergic inflammation of the skin.11,13 In addition, one report suggests that a combination of lavender oil and tea tree oil applied topically caused gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in three young boys.19 The researchers who published this report also state that testing of tea tree oil revealed estrogenic (estrogen-like) and antiandrogenic (testosterone-blocking) effects. However, a literature search failed to find any other published reports that corroborate this claim.

Like other essential oils, tea tree oil can be toxic if taken orally in excessive doses. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.


  1. Williams LR, Home VN, Zhang X, et al. The composition and bactericidal activity of oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). Int J Aromather. 1988;1:15-17.
  2. May J, Chan CH, King A, et al. Time-kill studies of tea tree oils on clinical isolates. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2000;45:639-643.
  3. May J, Chan CH, King A, et al. Time-kill studies of tea tree oils on clinical isolates. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2000;45:639-643.
  4. Lipper U, Walter A, Hausen B, et al. Increasing incidence of contact dermatitis to tea tree oil. Presented at: 56th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; March, 2000; San Diego, CA.
  5. Carson CF, Ashton L, Dry L, et al. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil gel (6%) for the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2001;48:450-451.
  6. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS, et al. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol. 2002;43:175-178.
  7. Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:479-485.
  8. 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;73:22-5.

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