Thinking About Using Essential Oils to Fight Acne? Read This First

If you're using harsh chemicals to combat breakouts, you could be making it worse or irritating your skin. Enter—essential oils.

Acne isn't just a problem for teens

An estimated 80 percent of all people between the ages of 11 and 30 have outbreaks at any given time, while people in their 40s and 50s still get acne too. Although acne is incredibly common, many people can't seem to find a treatment that works for them. Prescription drugs and chemical treatments become the go-tos, but their harsh chemicals can cause significant side effects, furthering irritation and exacerbating the problem, and for some people they simply don't work at all. Rather than spending wads of money on potentially harmful products or useless products, why not get back to the basics—essential oils, which have been used as a beneficial home remedy for centuries to enhance spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental health. Egyptians used them as early as 4500 BC; scholars in India created the science of Ayurveda using essential oils around 3000 BC; and Chinese scholars used essential oils as remedies for ailments between 2067 and 2597 BC.

How essential oils work

Because essentials oils are extracted directly from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf, seed, or root of a plant or tree, and then distilled, they are highly concentrated, so just one drop can have incredible benefits. The benefits of essential oils come from their antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, which provide natural medicine without side effects. Studies have shown essential oils to fight cold and flu symptoms, improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety, improve digestion, heal skin conditions, and so much more. There are three primary ways to use essential oils: applied to the skin, inhaled, or ingested. If you're applying them directly to the skin, test a small drop on the inside of your wrist first to see if you have a reaction to it. Most formulas are diluted, which should protect against skin sensitivities. Oral use of essential oils is trickier, so if you're interested in that, work with an aromatherapy practitioner to make sure you're doing it correctly and safely. Whether you've run out of options for treating your skin or are just looking for a more holistic route, research has found several essential oils that can help treat acne.

Clary Sage

Clary sage essential oil, a close relative of common garden sage, is among board-certified dermatologist Cybele Fishman, MD's top three oils for fighting acne. "Clary sage oil also acts against bad bacteria Staphylococcus aureus," Dr. Fishman notes. There is increasing evidence that this species is a major culprit in causing skin conditions like acne. A study published in Advances in Dermatology and Allergology tested the potency of clary sage on multiple drug-resistant bacterial strains, and found that it was active against bacteria that cause skin infections that can lead to acne breakouts. To use clary sage essential oil for acne, apply 1 to 3 drops of it to the affected areas using a clean cotton ball. "I like to put a few drops in a carrier oil to dilute it," Dr. Fishman. "I like jojoba as a carrier oil because it is not comedogenic (pore-clogging)."

Tea Tree Oil

The incredibly useful tea tree oil is considered one of the most effective essential oils for acne. "Besides its well-known antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil displays anti-inflammatory activities," notes Jeanette Jacknin, MD, board-certified holistic dermatologist, author, speaker, and cosmeceutical consultant. There's research to back it up. A three-month clinical trial involving 124 patients found that while both tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide helped reduce acne, fewer patients in the tea tree oil group reported skin discomfort. Another study, conducted in 2007, found tea tree oil to be 3.6 times more effective than the placebo used. And in terms of overall acne severity, tea tree oil was 5.8 times more effective. "One drop of pure tea tree oil can be applied directly to each acne lesion twice a day," advises Dr. Jacknin. "Results should be comparable to those achieved with benzoyl peroxide."

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Korean Fir

This essential oil may not ring a bell, but if you're having acne problems, you'll want to get to know it. Native to the higher mountains of South Korea, Korean fir has been used to treat colds, indigestion, stomachaches, and vascular and pulmonary diseases, in addition to acne. "Korean fir has [antibacterial] activity against P. acnes—which is linked to the skin condition of acne—and reduces many inflammatory markers that are implicated in acne," notes Dr. Fishman. Research has found the essential oil to exhibit some broad spectrum antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus as well. Dr. Fishman suggests putting a few drops in a carrier oil and applying it directly to the skin. A cotton ball will ensure the oil is concentrated on the intended spot without wasting it or spreading it onto unwanted areas.  Looking to treat acne scars? Here's how to get rid of the most common types.


Perhaps one of the most common essential oils, lavender oil is known for its ability to eliminate nervous tension, relieve pain, enhance blood circulation, treat respiratory problems, and more. It's also well-known for helping treat acne breakouts thanks to its analgesic, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2003 concluded that inhalation of the oil provided significant calming effects on participants. Because some acne is associated with stress, reducing tension can calm down breakouts. Lavender essential oil can be applied via a cotton swab or Q-Tip, focusing on the problem areas. Make sure to dilute it with a carrier oil first, as there's some evidence that using lavender essential oil directly on the skin may be harmful.

Juniper Berry

Juniper essential oil is known for its incredible health benefits, including detoxification, increasing circulation, increasing urine elimination, healing skin conditions, and antiseptic properties. Research shows that the essential oil has more than 87 different active constituent compounds, including antioxidants, antibacterials, and antifungals. A 2005 study published in Pharmaceutical Development and Technology found juniper berry oil's antibacterial activity to serve as a promising anti-acne topical solution. The scientists found that, when applied directly to the skin, or in combination with carrier oils, it had beneficial anti-acne activity. To use juniper berry essential oil for acne, dilute 2–3 drops in a carrier oil and apply topically to the area of concern.

Essential oil recipes for acne

Along with diluting the aformentioned essential oils in a carrier oil like jojoba essential oil, you can also create your own treatments.

For a face wash:

Mix together the following ingredients in a bottle and store in a cool place:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 20 drops tea tree oil
  • 2 capsules of live probiotics

For an acne scar treatment:

Create this paste by mixing the following ingredients. Apply to a dry face after washing, let rest for an hour, then rinse off:

  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops tea tree oil
  • 3 drops frankincense oil

For a face serum to replenish natural oils:

Add the following ingredients to a 2-ounce or larger bottle, swirling around for 30 seconds to blend. Use on a dry face after washing, applying and then massaging a drop of serum to forehead, cheeks, and chin:

2 ounces jojoba oil

5 drops tea tree oil

5 drops lemongrass oil

10 drops lavender oil

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