Acne, a common skin disease, is a major problem for a lot of people. It usually affects teenagers and adolescents, but nowadays there are no rules; acne can affect anybody. Around 90% of the adolescent are affected by acne at one stage, but acne can be persistent; around 50% of young adults and adults have reported the late onset of acne, into their thirties and even forties.
Even though it is common, acne is still hard to treat and usually has negative effects on the skin. It also causes discomfort, emotional stress, anxiety, and embarrassment in the majority of acne patients. There were even severe cases of self-esteem issues trigger by acne, that have led to suicide. In the modern-day and world, where perfection is always expected, acne are a real problem.
Even though it is hard, there are some acne treatment options. The disease can be treated with a variety of topical or orally-taken agents. Usually, acne treatment is based on the reduction of inflammation, antimicrobial activity, and the reduction of sebum production. Over-the-counter treatments seem to be helpful in mild acne cases, but for serious cases, this may not be the solution.
That is why today we will discuss the miracle known as tea tree oil. In the last decade, this essential oil, coming from Australia, has become a hit acne treatment. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we are going to look at this oil and its efficacy in acne treatment.
Before we get to the miraculous tea tree oil, we must first look at acne and what this skin disease really is. Acne is actually the inflammation of the skin, characterized by red scaly skin, blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, nodules, and scarring. Acne can affect facial area, neck, upper chest part as well as the back. In moderate cases, acne doesn’t have to necessarily be skin inflammation; sometimes, hair follicles can be inflamed, or due to hormonal oscillations, blind pimples simply form. The inflammation is usually associated with stress, PMS, hormonal disbalance, excessive production of sebum, excessive oil production by hair follicles and abnormal presence of bacteria.
According to the World Health Organization, there are three main types of acne people experience from the first onset during puberty into late onset during adulthood;
- Mild acne – characterized by blackheads (open clogged pores at the surface of the skin), and whiteheads (closed clogged pores),
- Moderate acne – characterized by severe inflammation, blackheads, whiteheads and the reddened are which is elevated above the skin surface, also known as papules. Additionally, there can also be pimples, which are known as the areas of pustules.
- Nodulocystic acne – characterized by deep, solid, oftentimes painful lesions. If not treated, nodulocystic acne, or nodules, can lead to additional inflammations and scarring of the skin.
When it comes to acne treatment, as mentioned before, there are topical and orally-taken agents. However, acne, in general, requires patience, a face cleaning routine, and regular consultations with a physician in severe cases. Moreover, alongside treatment, dietary changes are necessary. Acne patients are often advised to reduce the intake of milk and dairy products and increase fiber in their diet. Moreover, fish and seafood have been correlated with the reduction of acne outbursts and the inhibition of sebum production.
Tea Tree Oil Overview
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil is an essential oil originating in Australia. It has been used for decades as a form of alternative medicine as well as a topical medication in cases of herpes, insect bites, skin (fungal or bacterial) infections as well as in acne treatment. It is important to point out that tea tree oil is actually poisonous if taken internally; it should not be used around the mouth and should be kept away from children and pets. If taken orally, tea tree oil can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, hallucinations and severe rashes. So, this oil is only to be used for external purposes, usually in its diluted form; tea tree oil on itself can be too hard for the skin, especially in the facial area.
When it comes to clinical and medicinal efficiency of tea tree oil, it has;
- Antimicrobial activity – the extracted tea tree oil is mostly known for its antimicrobial activity. Microbes, after being exposed to tea tree oil, either through inhalation or external exposure, have shown a reduction in visibility and reproduction.
- Antibacterial activity – the oil has proven effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is most effective, however, in its diluted forms; the oil, diluted in agar or broth, has shown efficiency against bacteria like Streptococcus and E-coli. Tea tree oil affects the functional and structural integrity of a bacteria, especially its membrane, causing reduction and vulnerability.
- Antifungal activity – the oil has shown effective in preventing fungal growth; it affects the fungal membrane and prevents the protection of the cells. This destabilizes the fungus, and just like in the case of bacteria, it causes reduction, expansion and delays further formations.
- Antiviral activity – the antiviral activity of tea tree oil has been only tested on plants; in one particular study tobacco plants and tobacco mosaic virus have been used. The study has shown that tea tree oil is highly effective in inhibition of plaque formation after the plant was exposed to the virus.
Efficacy in Acne Treatment
Tea tree oil contains approximately 100 different components that make it effective in inflammation reductions and acne treatment. Therefore, it is an ingredient in many over-the-counter products that are directed at acne treatment. In the European Union, for example, it is even allowed in other skin products, oral hygiene products, nail care products, shampoo and conditioners, shaving products, etc. The applicability of tea tree oil seems to have a wide range. However, let’s focus on its efficiency when it comes to acne treatment;
Unclogging of the pores
When it comes to the formation of acne, it is safe to say that the majority of acne cases are based on the abnormal presence of bacteria. The bacteria is usually responsible for the formation of large and painful pimples, that can be above or under the skin surface. The pimples above the skin surface are usually small to large bumps that contain visible fluid. The pimples under the skin surface, also known as blind acne, do not come to ‘head’ and are filled with dirt, follicle oils, and bacteria; these are especially hard to treat and can stay under the skin from one week to several months.
Because acne usually forms deep in the skin pores, it is hard to for acne treatments to actually reach them. Tea tree oil helps unclog the pores on the facial skin by penetrating deep into the pores, managing to kill all the bacteria. It also prevents further formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and bumps caused by follicle oils. Tea tree oil is also effective in keeping specific acne symptoms under control, the surface of the skin clear and manages to reduce redness and irritation caused by acne.
Killing bacteria and fungus
When it comes to acne, inflammation and bacteria-caused infection is a huge problem. Usually, because of the abnormal presence of bacteria and fungi, acne tends to permeate and linger for a longer period, usually for several weeks, even months. These bacteria and fungi often tend to become resistant to topical medication and spot treatment. However, tea tree oil has shown effective activity against a variety of organisms.
As mentioned before, tea tree oil has over 100 components; the main antimicrobial component is terpinen-4-ol. This component can differ in concentration depending on the type of tea tree oil. The normal and most effective concentration is 5%, which is usually found in commercially available acne treatment products. This component is responsible for killing organisms; sometimes, when applied, tea tree oil is able to kill bacteria in the first 10, 30 or 50 minutes, or at least reduce resistance and formation of bacteria and fungi.
Nevertheless, this oil has shown effective against certain types of viruses, bacteria, and fungi; those are usually cells that are more exponential and growing. When it comes to stationary cells, tea tree oil still has to show efficacy. Moreover, there aren’t enough studies to confirm these effects with 100% certainty, so there surely needs to be more studies and research conducted on this topic.
Removal of blemishes and scarring
In the medical community, there is often a special focus on sole acne treatment, but not much is done in terms of blemish and scar treatment caused by acne. It is important to point out that blemishes and scars are also a major skin concern, and this type of treatment is definitely scarce for acne patients.
However, some studies have shown that tea tree oil can be effective in scar and blemish treatment. It has shown to minimize the appearance of the so-called raised scars. Unfortunately, there is low-quality evidence on the scar treatment of scars that appear below the skin surface. Tea tree oil is not able to reduce total skin lesions in acne; however, it can be an appropriate intervention in cases of serious scarring. People usually share their tea tree oil stories on the Internet, and according to that, we can say that in the majority of cases this oil can help with the scarring. One particular acne patient shared her story and stated that after two days of application, tea tree oil has managed to heal some of the scars. There was no intense redness, the majority of the scars faded and the blemishes disappeared completely.
Preventing future outbreaks
Tea tree oil can also be used as skincare even when there are no acne and pimples. It is very effective in cleaning the skin deeply, so not only will the surface of the skin be bacteria-free, but the oil will go deep under the skin and help remove bacteria, fungi, and follicular oil. It is, however, recommended to be used as a spot treatment; the oil can be rather strong, even when diluted. So, in order to use it as skincare, it is important to use it on a cotton ball and only for spots that are liable for an acne outbreak.
Tea tree oil can also be used in combination with honey. Honey helps the oil retain its benefits but reduces its strong, disinfectant effect that can harm sensitive or even regular skin. It is best to use on the skin that has been washed; also, it is most effective when applied to stay overnight. This way, your skin is not exposed to additional dirt and bacteria, and the chances of the oil to take effect are higher. Therefore, with or without acne, the oil can be used as a prevention of future outbreaks.
Tea Tree Oil for Acne: Does it Work?
Before using tea tree oil for acne treatment, it is important to know how to use it safely. Here are some steps to follow, especially in the case of first-time use;
- Tea tree oil needs to be diluted before application. To do that, make sure to mix 2 drops of the oil and 12 drops of either water or carrier oil. Carrier oil can be anything, from coconut, jojoba, avocado, olive or grape-seed oil. You can also mix the oil with some honey, turmeric and cinnamon. This way you will avoid irritation and provide additional nourishment for the skin.
- Before application, make sure to test the oil on your skin to see if there are any unwanted reactions. The unwanted reactions that may occur usually include redness, burning, swelling, and itchiness.
- Before application, make sure your face is clean. Wash your face with a foaming face wash, as these types of washes are most effective in removing dirt from the face. After washing, make sure to dry the face by tapping it.
- When applying the oil, make sure to gently dab it on the pimple, acne or blemish. Do it with a round cotton pad or cotton ball. Allow the oil to dray and repeat the steps in the morning and before bedtime.
Tea tree oil is a miraculous acne treatment that is globally and commercially available. For acne patients, this oil can be a life-saver, especially when most of the available medication does not help. However, in order to use this oil, it is important to be safe; it can be very toxic when used orally and can cause irritation of the skin if not diluted before application. Other than that, tea tree oil is overall safe and very effective in reducing inflammation, preventing and killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and generally taking care of the skin. Make sure to test it and try during your skincare routine.