Tea tree oil has been used to treat blemishes for as long as we’ve been alive, but in a world where advanced ingredients and next-gen formulas steal all the focus, is it still the best option for tackling problem-prone skin?
To call tea tree oil the OG of the skincare world wouldn’t be an understatement – in fact, it’s been used to heal wounds and aid with minor illnesses for centuries. Fast-forward to more recent years, and it’s likely you’ve already used tea tree oil to treat your skin at some point, whether it was a well-steeped cotton bud administered to teenage breakouts, or a spot cream laced with this natural bacteria-fighting powerhouse.
But when those max-strength tubes of benzoyl peroxide and potent salicylic acid spot creams are winking at you from the aisles (not to mention the new guard of cute blemish stickers), has humble tea tree oil been replaced by more efficacious newcomers?
Not if the latest skin launches are anything to go by. From new (and Liberty-approved) brand Skin Regimen, to Insta-famous Disciple Skincare, several brands are returning focus to this humble natural oil. So, what’s behind the revival, and should we be placing tea tree back in our bathroom cabinets?
What is tea tree oil?
Simply speaking, tea tree is an essential oil extracted from a small tree native to Australia. It has a strong, camphorous odour, and can be pale yellow or clear in its pure state.
Can tea tree oil help with acne?
According to Kirsty Eaton, National Trainer at Skin Regimen, tea tree is still an effective weapon in the fight against acne. ‘It contains compounds with an effective antibacterial action, so reduces the chance of imperfections by killing the bacteria that causes them.’
Indeed, studies have proven that tea tree oil naturally possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, meaning it can both reduce the acne-causing bacteria on your skin and calm any irritation that has already set in.
Are there any downsides to using tea tree oil?
However, just because tea tree oil is a natural product, it doesn’t mean you should apply it to aggravated skin with abandon. ‘Using too much tea-tree oil can be damaging and it should not be ingested as it is poisonous,’ warns Eaton. ‘With that in mind though, it’s important to remember that products containing tea tree oil have been carefully formulated to be safely used as directed.’
Is tea tree oil the best option for acne and blemishes?
Several studies have shown that tea-tree oil is just as effective as benzoyl peroxide at reducing the severity of acne – although it takes longer to see the same results. As Eaton explains, the benefit of using tea tree oil is that it is much more gentle and less irritating for the skin.
What’s more, tea tree is a great team player, and can be used alongside skin-clearing ingredients such as mild AHAs and BHAs – think glycolic or salicylic acid – to deliver a holistic treatment for easily congested skin. ‘By combining tea tree with an alpha hydroxy acid you can keep the skin clear of dead skin cells,’ says Eaton.
Even better, tea tree oil can deliver bonus benefits that benzoyl peroxide can’t. ‘Tea tree is a powerful antioxidant while benzoyl is not,’ explains Nataliya Robinson, holistic facialist and Founder of Quantum Botanika. ‘It can create free radical formation, so it may be that the spot will go quicker, but this ingredient will highly irritate the skin surrounding the spot and possibly create free radicals that can lead to skin cell damage.’
How to use tea tree oil for acne
When using tea tree oil to treat breakouts or acne, you have options. Either apply it neat, in its pure state, or look for a product that contains it.
When using a bottle of pure tea tree oil, Robinson advises applying it via a cotton bud directly to dry skin, diluting with water or aloe vera if your complexion is easily sensitised. Alternatively, try blending a few drops of pure tea tree into your regular moisturiser or serum.
If you don’t fancy becoming your own dermatologist, you can reach for one of the best new tea-tree oil products for acne on the market. A far cry from the sticky, smelly gels of old, these next-gen innovations combine this wonder extract with a host of soothing and clearing ingredients to deliver consistent, reliable benefits to your skin.
This article first appeared on ELLE UK.