Is it overly dramatic to call acne the worst? OK, maybe a little. Still, heading into your day knowing any first impressions will be made with blemished, irritated skin would make even the most confident among us want to hide beneath piles of concealer and foundation. And for adults with problem skin, the frustration can be double: pimples and wrinkles, seriously? Fortunately, there are high-quality botanical solutions that can help. If you’re interested in natural products for acne-prone skin, then learning about tea tree benefits for the skin is a great first step.
I’ve seen formulas containing tea tree oil work first hand. In fact, I prefer it to benzoyl peroxide. Read on to find out why — and to see three plant-based products I recommend to clients with acne-prone skin. (I’m offering a special price when you buy all three together!) Note to teens and their parents: Although this post was written with adults in mind, this collection is also great to integrate into a teen acne-care routine.
Introducing: Tea Tree
Before we get too far along, what is a tea tree, and how do we get its oil? Melaleuca alternifolia is indeed a tree. Native to Australia, it has a long history of use as a topical antiseptic with a variety of antimicrobial activities.
The essential oil of tea tree is extracted by steam distilling the leaves, a process that separates the volatile oils from the water and plant matter that make up the bulk of the leaf. Like any essential oil, it takes a lot of plant matter — typically hundreds of pounds — to produce even a small amount of essential oil. This is one reason why it’s important to purchase from ethical, transparent sources and use essential oils sparingly.
Tea Tree Benefits for Skin
Acne is a common reason people turn to tea tree oil. Others include dandruff, athlete’s foot, and lice — all testaments to its antimicrobial reputation. Precisely because it can be abrasive, tea tree might not be the best choice if you have sensitive skin, or conditions like eczema or rosacea. However, as part of a formula there can be exceptions, such as the Facial Recovery Oil I’ll talk about later in this post.
Tea Tree vs. Benzoyl Peroxide
Despite its popularity, I’m not a fan of benzoyl peroxide (BP) in the treatment of acne, in part because I know there are effective botanical solutions with fewer side effects. Dryness, pruritus (itching), and sensitization are all common side effects of BP. And if you have darker skin, UV exposure can cause your skin to hyperpigment when using BP.
In “Essential Oils for Healthy Skin,” a course I completed with renowned aromatherapy educator Robert Tisserand, I learned that tea tree oil is effective on Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes), and Staphylococcus epidermidis. It’s also anti-inflammatory.
Research has supported these claims. In a randomized, single-blind clinical trial comparing 5% tea-tree oil gel to 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion, both solutions significantly reduced the number of lesions for participants with mild to moderate acne. The tea tree oil took a bit longer to begin working, but performed at the same level as its more mainstream counterpart, benzoyl peroxide.
In a separate randomized clinical trial, this one double blind, tea tree oil went up against a placebo. Participants using the tea tree product reported 3.55 times the improvement in number of lesions, and 5.75 times the reduction in severity. Side effects with both groups were similar and tolerable. In short, tea tree was several times more effective than a placebo, without greater side effects. The researchers concluded that topical 5% tea tree oil is an effective treatment for common, mild-to-moderate acne.
Some say more rigorous research is needed before we have a final answer on whether tea tree oil works. Until that research is done, I’ll rely on my experience seeing it work time and time again, especially as part of a well-crafted formula.
How Does it Work?
A lab analysis showed three constituents in tea tree oils — alpha-pinene, alpha-terpineol, and terpinen-4-ol — act against acne-causing microorganisms Staphylococcus aureus, Staph. epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes. In contrast, cineole, used as a control in the analysis, was inactive against these organisms. This study supports the use of tea tree oil in the treatment of acne, and shows that the oil carries multiple active constituents.
These are my top three product picks from Eminence Organics that take advantage of tea tree’s benefits for skin.
This cream-gel cleanser from Eminence Organics soothes, tones, and purifies oily skin with tea tree oil and cucumber, and that’s just the beginning of why it’s won a few awards for best acne cleanser and face wash. Sweet almond milk and yogurt keep skin moist while helping reduce signs of problem skin and breakouts. With naturally occurring lactic acid, the yogurt is also gently exfoliating, helps lighten dark spots, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Astringent willow bark extract works to remove excess oil and tighten pores. Finally, BioComplex: a booster of antioxidants, coenzyme Q10, and alpha lipoic acid help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve the appearance of skin (because it’s not just teenagers who get acne).
To use, dilute a pea-size dollop of cleanser with water in your hands. Gently massage onto your face and neck, moving your fingertips in a circular motion for 1-3 minutes. Remove the cleanser with a damp face cloth and apply toner. (If you’re looking for a toner, Mangosteen Revitalizing Mist is great for microcirculation.)
This mask from Eminence Organics has been winning awards — especially for acne-prone skin care — since 2011. Yogurt brings the probiotic behind this mask’s name. As with the cleanser above, yogurt also offers a gently exfoliating lactic acid. Cucumber tones the skin for a radiant and clear complexion. This formula also contains replenishing shea butter, soothing calendula, and drawing kaolin clay, while taking advantage of tea tree benefits for skin. BioComplex reappears here for a boost of antioxidants, coenzyme Q10, and alpha lipoic acid, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and improving the overall appearance of skin.
To use, blend a small amount of mask in your hand with a few drops of water. Apply evenly over the entire face — include your neck and décolleté if you wish. Allow the mask to dry for 10–20 minutes, then gently scrub it off in a circular motion with a lukewarm face cloth. Rinse thoroughly with clear water and apply your moisturizer.
This toning, hydrating formula calls on clary sage oil to calm irritated skin and balance oil production, and olive oil to hydrate and soothe. Antioxidant-packed sage leaf extract rejuvenates and tones, renewing sensitive and aging skin. Ylang ylang cleanses, calms, and balances. Tea tree here is not a key ingredient, but plays a supporting role in the formula. This means Facial Recovery Oil works for my clients with rosacea and disturbed skin barriers who sometimes get some acne lesions. The oil is made with plants grown at certified biodynamic farms, and is suitable for all skin types. Like the others, it’s offered by Eminence Organics, and I’d be remiss not to mention it’s won its own share of awards.
More importantly, though, everyday people love this oil. As one reviewer wrote, “I have acne-prone, yet dry, skin that’s all over the place, depending on makeup, hormones, etc. This oil (nicknamed ‘My Precious’) corrects my acne!!”
To use, apply 2-3 drops to your face and neck with circular motions, working your way from the center to the sides of the face.
Another way to use this is to practice self massage with a gua sha facial stone.
Quick primer on gua sha: This practice comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and involves “scraping” the skin. It is believed to boost blood circulation and ensure one’s qi is flowing, free of blockage. In the beauty world, the gua sha tool is used less vigorously to avoid marks — but regular gua sha facial massage is believed to promote lymphatic drainage and stimulate circulation, decreasing puffiness and brightening the complexion.
Unsure how to use Gua Sha? Follow along in my 8-minute Gua Sha video tutorial.
This technique can be used several times per week, in the evening, using the Facial Recovery Oil for slip. If you’d like to check with a skin care specialist before trying gua sha massage on acne-prone skin, see the link below to schedule a consultation with me.
As much as it might seem like it, you’re not alone in your struggle with problem skin. And no matter your age, there are plant-based solutions formulated to help you. That includes tea tree benefits for skin — and so many other botanicals reaching out to support you, too.
And if you’d like personalized recommendations from a skin care specialist (the most direct path to your best skin) schedule a consultation with me.