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The Role of Essential Oils In Treating Acne

Essential oils are natural. They are usually organic. And while essential oils are great for aromatherapy, they usually are not good for treating acne-prone or blemished skin.

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Apply pure tea tree oil directly on blemishes to help fight acne.


  • Essential oils are natural. They are often produced without the use of chemicals. But most essential oils are poor choices for treating acne.
  • Camphor, which appears in skin care products such as calamine lotion and Noxzema, stops itching by causing irritation of the skin, canceling out the sensation of itching. The irritation can make acne worse.
  • Menthol, which appears in countless acne care products, makes the skin “jumpy,” more likely to become inflamed when it is stressed or when you experience stress.
  • Some plant oils are helpful in cleansing and disinfecting the skin. Olive oil and coconut oil can be used to cleanse the skin. In small amounts, they can even be used on oily skin.
  • The essential oil of a South American plant called peperina can make the skin less sensitive to chemicals, including benzoyl peroxide.
  • The most useful essential oil in acne care is tea tree oil, but most products don’t contain enough to do any good. Apply pure tea tree oil with a clean cotton ball directly on pimples.

What Is An Essential Oil?

An essential oil is a water-insoluble liquid containing the aromatic compounds of a plant that give it its distinctive odor. These liquids are also known as ethereal oils, aetherolea, and volatile oils. Most essential oils evaporate below the boiling point of water, so they are not present in herbal teas.

Most kinds of essential oils are distilled from finely ground plant matter. Some essential oils are refined by treatment with hexane or alcohol, the chemical solvent boiling off the essential oil at low temperature leaving the pure essential oil behind. Many of the essential oils used in mass production of skin treatments are not “organic” because they are manufactured with the use of hexane or acetone solvents. Essential oils of bitter orange, sweet orange, and lemon, however, are almost always organic because they are cold-pressed from enormous volumes of citrus peels.

Do Essential Oils Heal Acne?

There is good evidence that specific essential oils have specific effects on the brain. Essential oils of bergamot and sweet orange, for instance, help you relax after you work out at the gym. Essential oil of cypress, on the other hand, is a pick-me-up after physical exercise.

Common mint increases vigilance and tend to make you jumpy, as does essential oil of juniper. Peppermint, orange, lime, and geranium help you unwind after doing mental work, while basil and juniper help you continue to focus after long hours at a mental task.

There is also good evidence that certain essential oils have specific healing effects elsewhere in the body. Menthol is a counterirritant. It relieves itching by causing stinging. Camphor irritates the skin, but because it is also an anesthetic, it relieves itching. Lavender can stop a headache, and it can anesthetize burned skin. It accelerates irritation so the skin can get rid of burned cells quickly. Capsaicin is distilled from chile peppers. It burns the skin enough that other kinds of pain sensations from deeper in the body are ignored.

Menthol, camphor, lavender, and capsaicin are used in countless skin care products, but they are not helpful in treating acne, because they cause irritation of the skin. When the skin senses irritation, it releases its own stress hormones. These hormones trigger allergies in the skin to destroy potentially infected skin cells. The pores make extra skin oil to carry these potentially infected or toxic skin cells to the surface.

Both actions actually make acne worse. If a product makes your skin tingle, it likely will actually make your skin break out.

If The Most Common Essential Oils Don’t Heal Acne, What Does?

Even though essential oils are never a good idea in acne care, there are many other plant oils that are beneficial. Jojoba oil, for example, is often beneficial for treating acne on oily skin. It contains a wax that is chemically almost identical to the oil produced by the sebaceous glands under the skin. Like dissolves like, so applying jojoba oil (usually in the form of jojoba oil beads) to whiteheads and blackheads helps unclog pores without causing any kind of irritation; there are compounds in jojoba oil that actually stimulate the growth of collagen in the skin.

Rose hip oil is a good moisturizer for dry skin. Fresh rose hip oil contains large amounts of vitamin C in a form that the skin can absorb and use. If you opened the vial of rose hip oil more than 3 months ago, however, the vitamin C has been destroyed by oxygen from the atmosphere. The oil is still a good emollient for dry skin. It helps open pores so they can drain, without provoking irritation that can cause pimples to break out.

Coriander oil kills staph infections of the skin. Staphylococcus aureus can cause a skin infection that starts out like a pimple, but that grows redder and larger. It may be sensitive to the touch or hurt all the time, and it fills with yellow pus in a circle in the center. Don’t squeeze this kind of pimple. You will infect surrounding skin and everywhere you touch before you wash your hand. A dot of coriander oil applied to the infected area with a clean cotton swab used just once, however, will help fight the infection. Coriander oil has even been used to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.

Peperina oil, extracted from a shrub belonging to the Mint Family that grows in the Andes, makes the skin less sensitive to inflammation. It reduces redness of pimples, and also lowers the sensitivity of the skin to cleansers and chemicals. It can make sensitive skin “calm” enough for treatment with benzoyl peroxide.

Coconut oil can be either helpful or harmful for blemish-prone skin. Refined coconut oil is never good for the skin. Virgin coconut oil, on the other hand, contains lauric acid that can kill acne bacteria as well as staph bacteria on the skin. A dab of virgin coconut oil is a good way to treat dry skin around the eyes or on the temples, although you should never slather thick coconut oil over oily skin.

Most food oils in their virgin form can be used to cleanse the skin. Virgin olive oil, for instance, was used for centuries for skin treatment with soap made with wood ash and lye would be too harsh. Olive oil can be used even on oily skin to remove stubborn makeup that you don’t want to try to scrub away. Be sure to pour a tiny amount of olive oil into a dish you use to hold the oil you use in cleansing; you don’t want to dip your fingers in the whole bottle of oil.

The one essential oil that is almost always helpful in controlling blemishes, however, is tea tree oil. This Australian herbal product kills acne bacteria. Unlike benzoyl peroxide, it reduces inflammation and relieves redness at the same time. Tea tree oil can also fight staph infections.

The problem with using tea tree oil is that it takes at least 10% strength to kill acne bacteria on contact, and almost none of the products that advertise tea tree oil has enough of the main ingredient to work. The best way to use this essential oil in the fight against acne is to buy 100% tea tree oil, which you apply directly to pimples with a clean cotton ball, just after you cleanse the skin. Keep the essential oil out of reach of children, and do not use the product to treat any one under the age of 12.

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June Reply

Sorry to undermine your' expertise', but my son's acne was cleared up pronto with nothing more than a spray bottle containing roughly half and half distilled water and apple cider vinegar (with 0.5% preservative - Liquid Germall Plus), a few drops of lavender essential oil and a titch of mixed tocopherols 95%. As part of the process, he stopped washing his face with soap and any other products, instead just splashing his face with plain warm water, after which he'd pat it dry with a disposable paper towel (more hygenic than a normal towel) then spray with the mixture and leave his skin to 'air dry'. So when his friends noticed his acne was clearing up 'out of the blue', they wanted to know what he was doing, so he told them. Their mothers approached and asked me if I could make up the same mixture for their sons, so I did. The end result was that all 3 boys experiended the same healing result. Was it the lavender essential oil (lavendula augustifolia in this instance)? Was it the apple cider vinegar? Or was it only that he'd stopped washing his face with anything more than plain warm water? I really don't know, but I'd like to think it was Lavender's ability to heal even third degree burns together with it's natural anti-microbial, anti-fungal and antibiotic properties, the vitamin E and the acid balancing effects of the apple cider vinegar/water blend that worked together in harmony to create a healing balance. As an aside, whenever I burn myself cooking (which I invariably do), I immediate pour a few drops of either lavender or peppermint essential oil (whichever is closest to the kitchen at the time) over the affected area and receive instant - and permanent - relief, with no resulting blisters. You might find researching the French Chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé and his experiences with lavender essential oil - used neat - on burns he received in a lab explosion, to be of interest. He later used lavender e.o. on hospitalized soldiers who had been burned during WWI. It's funny how the fact that Gattefossé healed himself of third degree burns with Lavender E.O. is no longer mentioned in any publications today - that poignant bit of fact has been iinsidiously and rigorously removed and replaced with with merely, "he received burn in a lab accident"'.

October 19, 2014 at 1:52 am Reply
Jess Reply

Essentials CAN have a great benefit for acne if combined with the right carrier oils. I have never had any luck using jojoba or virgin coconut oil. Organic and cold pressed doesn't matter. I have found great success in argan oil and passion fruit seed oil.

November 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm Reply

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