Acne is a widespread skin condition that affects millions of Americans, both male and female. It is estimated that nearly 80% of young adults aged 18-24 have experienced at least one outbreak in the last year, or suffer from chronic acne. Even among adults aged 25 and older, acne can still be a persistent problem.
Most people end up turning to harsh chemical-based facial creams, or prescription drugs that can cause very serious side effects. Sometimes these work, but sometimes they don’t. Usually acne will return as soon as these treatments are stopped, but at that point you’ve already done damage to your skin by putting toxic chemical-based creams on your face or damaged your body by ingesting whatever the latest, overhyped concoction of the pharmaceutical industry happens to be.
But here’s the truth that drug companies and acne infomercials don’t want you to know: there is already a perfectly safe, extremely effective, zero-side-effect treatment for acne. It’s all natural, healing, and gentle on the skin: essential oils. Using essential oils as an acne treatment targets the root cause, and stops acne for good.
A major study done in 2014 concluded that tea tree oil was nearly 7 times more effective than a placebo, and twice as effective as the next-best prescription drug. Below we will cover the four best essential oils for treating acne. All of them are gentle and nourishing, while helping to heal and protect your skin from future irritation, damage, and of course acne.
Why Should You Use Essential Oils For Acne?
Chronic acne can be very detrimental for people of all ages, and even the occasional breakout can be a real nuisance. It can be unsightly anywhere on your body whether it’s your face, chest, back, or even your arms. Left untreated, acne will eventually lead to scarring and lowered self-esteem.
First, it’s important to address the root causes of acne. These include bacteria, clogged pores, excess oil on the skin, and dead skin. There are several other factors that can have a significant effect: diet, stress, some medications, hormonal balance, corticosteroids, and even birth control can cause or worsen acne. Acne is extremely prevalent especially among teenagers since it’s a time in life where the body goes through significant hormonal changes and can encounter high levels of stress.
What you need to know is that most popular chemical, over-the-counter, and prescription acne medications can actually cause even more irritation to your skin and make the problem worse. On the other hand, using essential oils is very effective and safe because they have the ability to kill bacteria naturally and are completely safe and beneficial for your skin.
For example, lavender oil soothes and protects your skin from irritants and stress. Tea tree oil has been studied countless times for it’s acne-fighting ability, and is very well known for being the single best way to treat acne. In fact, many prescription medications are designed to mimic the way tea tree oil works on your skin. Why use a chemical concoction from the pharmaceutical industry when you can use the real thing?
1. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca)
Some of the main benefits of tea tree oil are its anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties. There are many over the counter medications containing tea tree oil that have surfaced in recent years, and the scientific community has fully embraced tea tree oil as an effective acne-fighting ingredient. However, many of those medications that contain tea tree oil also contain other chemicals — so they are not necessarily the best solution (later in this article we will cover some homemade remedies you can use that are all-natural with zero chemicals).
In 2007, a study was conducted to examine whether or not tea tree essential oil could help curb acne. The results were overwhelmingly positive. The study included sixty subjects whom all had mild to moderate acne. They were split into two separate groups. For a period of 45 days, the first group received a placebo, while the second group was put on a tea tree oil treatment. At the conclusion of 45 days, subjects were evaluated based on the number of total acne lesions as well as the acne severity index (ASI).
The group who received the tea tree oil gel had experienced significant improvements in the reported outcome measures, and nearly every subject in the tea tree oil group ended up with fewer total acne lesions and a reduced ASI. The placebo group did not experience any significant difference in their acne during the treatment period. It was found that tea tree oil was 3.6 times more effective in reducing lesion count, and 5.8 times more effect for reducing overall acne severity. This supports the fact that tea tree oil is an effective way to treat mild to moderate acne.
Here’s one way you can start using tea tree oil today for your acne: simply place a few drops in a cotton ball and then use the cotton ball to apply the oil to your face or affected area on a daily basis. If you have a normal face wash that you use in the shower, you can also place 3-5 drops of tea tree oil directly into your bottle of face wash (make sure to stir it afterwards).
2. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender oil is known for being extremely soothing and gentle on the skin. Like tea tree oil, it also has anti-microbial properties but additionally it has plenty of antioxidants which work to reduce free radicals that are harmful to your skin health. Not only does it work well for stopping and preventing acne, but it keeps your skin moisturized, and can reduce (or in some cases, completely eliminate) dark spots and scarring caused from acne. Regularly using lavender oil can help support a radiant and healthy skin.
Lavender also has some indirect benefits that aid in getting rid of acne. Stress can play a significant role in causing acne, and lavender oil is known for being a wonderful stress reducer and sleep aid. A longer, more restful sleep gives your body more time to repair damaged skin cells and further reduces stress by keeping you well rested and helping to balance your hormone levels.
The Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand published a study concluding that lavender oil has a profound relaxing effect, both physically and emotionally. The study included twenty subjects and examined the interaction between lavender oil, the central nervous system, mood, and the body’s physical response to lavender. It was determined that by simply inhaling lavender essential oil, there was a decrease in blood pressure, lowered heart rate, and slightly lowered skin surface temperature. All of the subjects self reported their mood as “more relaxed” and “more refreshed” after inhaling lavender. These lower levels of stress could greatly reduce the amount of stress hormone in your body, which is amazing news because stress hormone is a proven cause of acne.
Numerous studies have linked up stress as being a leading cause of acne. During times of increased stress and anxiety (it could be work related, relationship strains, injury related, or anything that causes a feeling of stress), it is not uncommon for adults to experience breakouts on the face or body. Here’s why:
Whenever you feel stressed out, your body is actually releasing a hormone into your blood stream called cortisol (which is commonly referred to as “stress hormone”). The cells in your body that produce sebum have receptors for this stress hormone, and sebum production in your skin is increased as a result. Sebum is an oily substance you’ve probably felt on your skin before, and when its mixed with bacteria and dead skin cells it can clog your pores. This is the mechanism by which high levels of stress can lead to acne. Since lavender essential oil is a powerful relaxant, it can help manage levels of stress hormone in your body and prevent this chain reaction that eventually leads to acne breakouts.
Using lavender oil to manage acne is easy. You can use several drops in a standard essential oil diffuser, or apply it topically to your face. Diluting lavender oil with coconut oil makes a great massage oil that you can rub on your face, back, neck, wrists, or feet.
3. Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage oil is very effective in controlling acne because it contains an ester called linalyl acetate, which plays an important role in reducing skin inflammation and irritation. The second property of clary sage which makes it a great natural acne remedy is that it helps to keep skin oil levels balanced and under control. Other benefits include it’s ability to kill acne-causing bacteria, helps to alleviate stress and anxiety, and keeps hormone levels balanced inside our body.
Just like lavender oil, clary sage has been shown to decrease the stress hormone called cortisol. Especially among adult women, stress levels have been strongly linked with acne breakouts which make clary sage a particularly effective treatment. In 2014, the Journal of Phytotherapy Research published a study that studied the effect of inhaling clary sage oil. The results showed that the inhalation of clary sage significantly reduced cortisol levels in study participants by 40 percent. The researchers also found it to have a direct antidepressant effect, improved mood, and reduced feelings of anxiety.
Even more recently, a study conducted by Advanced Dermatology and Allergology concluded that clary sage essential oil had a profound antimicrobial effect, and was especially effective in killing common bacteria known to cause acne and skin irritation in most people. It was tested on several drug-resistant strains of these types of bacteria and was found to be effective in killing and stopping the spread of each strain.
In order to take advantage of clary sage oil’s ability to treat acne, you can use it either topically or aromatically. The simplest way is to just diffuse it over night while you sleep, using a standard essential oil diffuser. To kill the acne-causing bacteria in your pores, place 2-3 drops of clary sage oil directly on the affected skin areas. You can apply it by dabbing your skin with a cotton ball, or diluting it with a carrier oil and then massaging it into your skin. The massage method works particularly well for widespread acne such as on your chest or back.
4. Juniper Berry Essential Oil
Juniper berry oil is a popular natural remedy for treating acne, skin irritations, and skin infections because of its strong anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. It helps protect the skin, and when used regularly it will result in beautiful, glowing, radiant looking skin. It doubles as a detoxifying agent and stress reducer, both when the aroma is inhaled as well as when it’s used topically and absorbed by the skin.
A study performed in 2006 was published in the journal of Pharmaceutical Development and Technology, which examined the efficacy of using juniper berry oil as a topical acne solution. In particular, the study focused on the interaction between juniper berry and bacteria found on the skin. It was proven to be effective in significantly reducing the measurable amount of acne-causing bacteria, and resulted in a reduced number of acne skin lesions in all study participants. It was demonstrated to be equally effective in reducing acne, whether the juniper berry oil was used undiluted directly on the acne (this is called neat application), or whether it was first diluted with jojoba oil.
Other studies over time have supported the same conclusion: juniper berry essential oil has significant antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which make it a great natural acne treatment. This is likely due to the fact that juniper berry contains the compounds alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, and p-cymene.
Juniper berry oil is best used as a topical acne treatment versus using it aromatically. You can either place 1-2 drops directly on your acne, or dilute it with a carrier oil. If you tend to have sensitive skin, it would be best to dilute it before applying to your skin.
How to Use Essential Oils To Treat Acne
All of the essential oils mentioned above (tea tree, lavender, clary sage, and juniper berry) are going to be most effective when they are used topically. They can all be used the same way: place 2-3 drops directly on your acne, or dilute the oils in a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil.
Both methods (diluting as well as direct application) will be equally effective. Before applying any of these to your skin directly, perform a patch test by placing a single drop of essential oil on the inside of your arm and monitor for any adverse skin reactions for 1-2 minutes. If you do experience some sensitivity, then it would be best to use a diluted solution (and still perform a second patch test with the diluted essential oil).
The reason that diluting these oils remains as effective as using them directly is because common carrier oils like jojoba oil and coconut oil are very healthy and beneficial for your skin.
Coconut oil is extremely hydrating, and it is capable of penetrating the outer layer of your skin and working on a deeper level. Jojoba oil is another great choice as a carrier oil, and it has been found to be a great skin protectorate against irritation and helps keep skin oil under control. Jojoba also contains iodine, which has many wonderful healing benefits for the skin. It plays a direct role in treating acne, speeds up the healing process, and can reduce the formation of new scars as well as reduce the appearance of existing acne scars.
Here are a few recipes for natural acne treatments using the above mentioned essential oils:
Essential Oil Face Wash Blend
- 1 tablespoon of jojoba or coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 15 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 1 dash of live probiotic (optional)
To use this facial wash, mix the ingredients into a small jar and use just like you would any other face wash. This is an invigorating, hydrating wash that will kill bacteria, get rid of acne, and kickstart the skin healing process.
Acne Scar Healing Solution
- 3-4 drops of lavender essential oil
- 3-4 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 3-4 drops of juniper berry essential oil
- 2 teaspoons of honey
To use this recipe, mix these together in a small dish or jar. First wash your face throughly and wait until your skin is completely dry. Apply the paste directly to your face like a mask, and let it sit for an hour. Rinse off afterwards and then try not to touch your face afterwards to keep your skin free of bacteria and boost the healing process.