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Tea Tree Oil: An Easy Acne Remedy

Tea tree oil is the natural alternative to benzoyl peroxide for treating problem pimples. This essential oil is distilled from the bark and twigs of the same Australian plant whose blossoms feed Manuka honeybees. It kills acne bacteria just as completely as benzoyl peroxide, and it does a better job of getting rid of redness and inflammation. Not every product that contains tea tree oil, however, is useful for treating your skin.

tea tree oil for acne
Tea tree oil kills acne bacteria, and can help reduce redness and inflammation.


  • Tea tree oil kills acne bacteria as completely as benzoyl peroxide.
  • Tea tree oil does a better job of getting rid of inflammation than almost any other acne treatment (except steroid injections, which have serious side effects).
  • Not every product that contains tea tree oil, however, is useful for treating acne.
  • An acne treatment needs to contain at least 10% tea tree oil to fight acne infection.
  • Just smelling like tea tree oil does not mean a product actually fights acne infection.
  • Small amounts of tea tree oil that aren’t enough to fight infection may still be enough to remove inflammation.
  • This article lists products that don’t work and the one product made from tea tree oil that always does.

A Great Ingredient in a Bad Product

Tea tree oil is a great ingredient that sometimes is included in bad products. Tea tree oil might be added to a pore strip that is literally glued to the skin, the glue clogging more pores than the tea tree oil treats. A product may contain enough tea tree oil that you can smell it, but not enough to kill bacteria. Or a line of tea tree oil products may be formulated so that one product clears your pores while another clogs them, ensuring you continue to need to buy skin care treatments.

Let’s take a look at some tea tree oil products that don’t really clear up acne, and a less expensive alternative that nearly always works.

Biore Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strips

Biore offers a wide range of cleansing pore strips for removing whiteheads and blackheads, their Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strips infused with tea tree oil and menthol. No Biore Cleansing Pore Strip, and especially not the Biore Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strip, is a good product for treating acne blemishes. Why? The sticky backing on the strip creates new clogs while the strip cleans out old ones, and the combination of tea tree oil and menthol can irritate and redden the skin.

Body Shop Tea Tree Cleansing Wipes

Body Shop Cleansing Wipes tend to be a little pricey, about US $0.50 for every wipe. A box of Body Shop Cleansing Wipes will not last an entire month. The problem with the Tea Tree Cleansing Wipes is that they contain only a trace of tea tree oil, not enough to treat infection.

Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Wash

This anti-acne facial wash is not strong enough to kill acne bacteria. However, thanks to the addition of the botanical ingredient Calophyllum inophyllum (a kind of evergreen tree) seed oil, it is strong enough to kill skin. There is enough tea tree oil in the product for the scent of tea tree, but not enough to kill bacteria. This well-intentioned product contains the right ingredients in the wrong amounts and can actually make blemished skin more irritated.

This is also the problem with the Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Foaming Cleanser and the Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Toner. The label on the Body Shop Tea Tree Blackhead Exfoliating Wash implies that it is possible to scrub blackheads away, but this is not true. The problem with a dozen more Body Shop Tea Tree products is that they only have enough tea tree oil for the scent, not for antibacterial action.

DDF Doctor’s Dermatologic Formula Benzoyl Peroxide Gel 5%, with Tea Tree

This DDF product contains enough tea tree oil to “get the red out” of pimples. The antibacterial action of the product is solely due to the benzoyl peroxide. Still, for US $28, it’s not a bad buy for a product that actually works.

Isomers Australian Harvest Products

This company’s products all work, they just don’t all work in the ways advertised. The Australian Harvest Daily Control Cream with Tea Tree Oil is one of a relative few over the counter products that contains the right amount of glycolic acid (3%) at the right pH (3.8) to loosen tight skin around pores and to give an even texture to the skin. The tea tree oil in this product just keeps the glycolic acid from  causing skin irritation. It is not concentrated enough to fight acne bacteria.

Isomers Australian Harvest Daily Control Serum with Tea Tree Oil, on the other hand, actually does contain enough tea tree oil to keep acne bacteria in check. What is does not contain is the right amount of salicylic acid at the right pH to help keep pores open.

Isomers Australian Harvest Daily Cleanser with Tea Tree Extract does not contain either enough exfoliating acids or tea tree oil to do your skin any good, but its thickening agents will clog enough pores to ensure that you need the other two products!

There are similar problems with the rest of the Isomers Australian Harvest product line. They contain one ingredient in the right form and right amount, and another ingredient in an ineffective form and amount. However, if you use a lot of their products, altogether you will get slow but visible results. It’s a lot better to use a kit product containing a lot of products that all work.

Jane Iredale Zap & Hide Blemish Concealer

The Zap & Hide lipstick-sized blemish concealer is a great idea poorly executed. The Zap portion of this product is a colorless balm designed to kill acne bacteria. The Hide portion of this product is meant to control redness. The product contains a sufficiently high concentration of tea tree oil to zap acne bacteria. Unfortunately, the tea tree oil is mixed with shea butter, which can clog pores, and geranium, ylang-ylang, and lavender, which can irritate them. The Hide portion of the product can also clog pores. This product is a great idea, and perhaps it will be refined in the future.

Jurlique Blemish Cream

The Jurlique International Blemish Cream relies on a combination of sulfur and tea tree oil to fight blemishes. This product uses sulfur to kill bacteria and just enough tea tree oil to keep the mixture from smelling bad. Unfortunately, sulfur can cause redness, itchiness, and irritation, and there is not enough tea tree oil in this product to keep it from causing as many problems as it treats.

Kiehl’s Tea Tree Oil Toner

This toner contains enough tea tree oil to fight acne bacteria and reduce inflammation. It also contains enough eucalyptus, lavender oil, and sage to create as much inflammation as it soothes.

Lush Tea Tree Toner Tab

Here is a product that delivers a single dose of tea tree oil at an affordable price, usually about US $2. You’re better off just buying a bottle of the real thing, however, because this product mixes the tea tree oil with citric acid (not a kind of vitamin C, and not a chemical the skin can absorb) that creates about as much inflammation as the tea tree oil heals.

If so many tea tree oil products are formulated badly, how can any acne sufferer ever benefit from using the product?

The secret is to buy pure tea tree oil. This is a product you (and any children in your household) must never drink. It can cause headaches and hallucinations (not a good kind) when ingested by mouth. But just dab tea tree oil on pimples with a clean cotton swab once or twice a day to kill infection and relieve  redness, usually in 2 or 3 days.

If you have worked out your skin care routine so that all you really need to do is to make sure you keep acne bacteria under control, then tea tree oil may be the only additional product you need. If you are just starting out on your acne care, however, an acne treatment kit like Exposed Skin Care may be an easy and cost-effective way to treat your skin.

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Santiago Vidaurri Reply

In your article it states that Shea Butter clogs pores but Shea butter has a Comedogenic Rating of 0, which means it does not clog pores. It could be other ingredients within the product that are the culprits.

September 1, 2014 at 4:21 am Reply
XOXO Reply

This best option to getting the recommended percentage of tea tree oil in your prescribed acne treatment is to make your own. Buy some 100% distilled essential oil from a natural foods store or regular grocery store and dilute it with some fractionated coconut oil. I use 1 drop essential oil to 6 drops carrier oil. (16% dilution)

October 13, 2014 at 8:21 am Reply
xi Reply

Tea tree oil is very strong in fighting against bacteria because it has strong antibacterials. To use it bare, you can plunge a cotton piece into the oil then place it on the affected skin. ITS VERY STRONG THOUGH - and I have sensitive skin. I like Tea Tree oil mixed in other products. Citrus Clear products use Tea Tree Oil, and I found that the Citrus Clear products worked better than just using plain tea tree oil. Especially cause my skin is so sensitive. No breakouts since I started that routine.

August 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm Reply

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