Tens of millions of Americans suffer from acne. In fact, an estimated 70 percent–90 percent of young adults, both males and females, suffer from acne. And recent studies show that the prevalence of adult female acne has increased.
Yet so many can’t seem to find a treatment that actually works! Most turn to prescription drugs or chemical treatments — investing in the latest “acne-curing solution” that has suddenly hit the market and will answer all of your prayers.
The truth is that these products typically contain harsh chemicals that have side effects or just don’t work at all. That’s why I advise you look to natural, home remedies for acne that have been used for thousands of years. These remedies include essential oils that tackle the root of the problem and are gentle on the skin.
In fact, one major study found that tea tree oil was almost six times more effective than the placebo in treating mild to moderate acne! My top four essential oils for acne will nourish your skin and fight the causes of acne naturally, without adding insult to injury with skin-irritating products.
Why Use Essential Oils for Acne?
People of all ages are affected by occasional breakouts and chronic acne plagues. Acne can cause painful and unsightly breakouts on the face, chest, back and even arms. When it’s left untreated, acne can lead to diminished self-esteem and scarring.
The main causes of acne include clogged pores, bacteria, excess oil production and dead skin. Other factors, such as hormones, diet, stress and certain medications, such as corticosteroids, androgens, birth control pills and lithium, can also worsen acne.
Why do so many, teenagers especially, suffer from acne? Well, it can be due to genetics, changing hormones levels, stress or skin-irritating activity. For instance, friction from sports equipment and backpacks can irritate the skin and cause acne breakouts on the chin, forehead, jawline, neck, chest and back.
But it’s important to know that harsh chemicals and over-the-counter or prescription medications can cause further irritation — exacerbating the problem. Essential oils have the power to kill bacteria on the skin naturally. Some essential oils for acne, such as lavender oil, soothe and protect the skin from irritation and stress.
But acne isn’t just affecting teens; recent studies show that the prevalence of adult female acne has increased. This may be due to stress, hormonal imbalances and sleep deprivation, according to a 2014 study conducted in Brazil. (1)
Essential oils for acne, such as lavender and clary sage, have the ability to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, fight insomnia and sleep deprivation, and balance hormone levels. They are also gentle on the skin and have a number of benefits that go beyond fighting acne and promoting skin health.
Top 4 Essential Oils for Acne
1. Tea Tree
Some tea tree oil benefits include its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Over-the-counter acne treatments containing tea tree oil are now widely available, and evidence indicates that they are a common choice among people who self-treat their acne.
A scientific review of the efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action in regard to the treatment of acne with tea tree oil states that tea tree products reduce lesion numbers in patients with acne, have tolerability levels that are similar to other topical treatments, and have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities that are associated with the treatment of acne. (2)
A 2007 study suggests that tea tree oil is an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. Sixty patients were divided into two groups — one group was treated with tea tree oil and one was the placebo. The participants were followed every 15 days for a period of 45 days. The response to treatment was evaluated by the total acne lesions counting and acne severity index.
The results of the study showed a significant difference between tea tree oil gel and placebo in the improvement of the total acne lesions count, as tea tree oil was 3.6 times more effective than the placebo. In regard to overall acne severity, tea tree oil was 5.8 times more effective, proving that tea tree oil serves as an effective and natural treatment for mild to moderate acne. (3)
To use tea tree as an essential oil for acne, add 2–3 drops to a clean cotton ball and apply topically to the area of concern. Tea tree can also be added to your daily face or body wash — such as my Face Wash for Clean Skin — or it can be added to a spray bottle filled with water and spritzed on the face or body.
Lavender oil has profound benefits on your skin because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant characteristics. It soothes and nourishes the skin — treating acne, healing dry skin, and reducing the appearance of dark spots and scars caused by acne. Other lavender oil benefits include its ability to reduce stress and anxiety that are associated with acne breakouts in adults and its therapeutic properties that improve your quality of sleep, thereby promoting healthy and radiant skin.
A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that lavender oil provides a relaxing effect when inhaled. Twenty volunteers participated in a study that investigated the effects of lavender oil on the central nervous system, autonomic nervous system and mood responses. The results revealed that lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature. The participants characterized themselves as more relaxed and refreshed after lavender oil inhalation. (4)
Studies suggest that stress and acne are connected, explaining why people often experience acne flare-ups in times of increased stress and anxiety. This may be because cells that produce sebum (the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog hair follicles) have receptors for stress hormones. Researchers believe that an increase in acne may be due to higher levels of sebum that are produced in times of stress; therefore, lavender essential oil serves as a powerful tool because of its stress-reducing capabilities. (5)
To use lavender oil to alleviate feelings of stress that can trigger the production of sebum, diffuse 5 drops of oil at home or apply topically to the wrists, back of neck or temples. Lavender essential oil also has antibacterial properties and can be used directly on the skin to fight acne.
3. Clary Sage
An important ester present in clary sage, called linalyl acetate, reduces skin inflammation and works as a natural remedy for acne and skin irritations. It also regulates the production of oil on the skin, a factor that is often associated with breakouts. Clary sage also curbs the growth and spread of bacteria, alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, and supports hormonal balance.
Stress is a major cause of acne in adult women because it is associated with an increase in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research found that the inhalation of clary safe oil has the ability to reduce these cortisol levels by 36 percent. Researchers concluded that clary sage has a statistically significant effect on lowering cortisol levels, and it has an antidepressant effect, improving mood and fighting anxiety. (6)
A recent study published in Advances in Dermatology and Allergology found that clary sage essential oil is an active natural antimicrobial agent. After testing the efficacy of clary sage on multiple drug-resistant bacterial stains, clary sage oil was active against bacteria that leads to skin infections that can lead to acne breakouts or skin irritation. (7)
To develop natural remedies for anxiety and stress, diffuse 5 drops of clary sage oil at home. This also helps with restlessness and insomnia — two conditions associated with acne breakouts. To kill bacteria that is clogging your pores and causing acne, apply 1–3 drops of clary sage oil to the area of concern. It can be applied with a clean cotton ball or by diluting it with jojoba or coconut oil and then massaging the mixture into the skin.
4. Juniper Berry
Juniper berry essential oil has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial abilities, making it one of the most popular natural remedies for fighting skin irritations and infections. It serves as a home remedy for acne and supports beautiful skin. It also has detoxifying and stress-reducing properties that protect the body against toxins that lead to acne.
A 2005 study published in Pharmaceutical Development and Technology states that juniper berry oil has antibacterial activity that serves as an anti-acne topical solution. The antimicrobial activity of juniper berry oil was studied as it made contact with acne vulgare. When used with neat application or after dilution with carrier oils, juniper berry essential oil showed promising anti-acne activity; the modifications did not decrease the antibacterial activity of the oil. (8)
Several studies indicate that juniper berry essential oil is a powerful antibacterial agent that fights acne when used topically. This is due to specific compounds, including alpha-pinene, p-cymene and beta-pinene. (9, 10)
Use juniper berry as an essential oil for acne by applying 2–3 drops topically to the area of concern. For sensitive skin, dilute juniper berry with coconut or jojoba oil before topical application.
How to Use Essential Oils for Acne
Topical Use — The best way to use essential oils for acne is to apply 2–3 drops topically to the area of concern. These oils are safe for neat or direct application, but they can also be combined with a carrier oil such as jojoba or coconut oil.
In fact, when using coconut oil for skin health, you will notice surprising benefits. Coconut oil hydrates the skin and is able to penetrate your skin on a deeper level than your average product because of its low molecular weight and the way it bonds with proteins.
Jojoba oil is also a beneficial carrier oil that boosts skin health by working as a protectant and cleanser. It is rich in iodine and fights harmful bacteria growth that leads to breakouts. It can speed up the healing process and reduce skin lesions, too. (11)
Face Wash for Clear Skin — This face wash is full of probiotics to invigorate the skin and kill acne-causing bacteria. Combine the following ingredients:
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 20 drops tea tree oil
- 2 capsules of live probiotics
Mix the ingredients together and blend with a hand blender. Then pour the mixture into a convenient bottle and store it in a cool place.
Another powerful face wash recipe is my simple Homemade Face Wash that leaves the skin refreshed, hydrated and clean. The essential oils and coconut oil work together to kill bacteria while providing nutrients and hydration to your skin.
Natural Acne Scar Treatment — For a natural acne treatment for scars, make a paste by mixing the following ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons raw honey
- 3 drops lavender oil
- 3 drops tea tree oil
- 3 drops frankincense oil
Wash and dry your face, then apply the paste and let it sit for an hour before rinsing off.
Soap Bar for Skin Hydration — To hydrate and soothe your skin, try my Homemade Lavender Soap bar. Not only does it kill bacteria on the skin that cause acne, but it eases your mind and brings on feelings of peace and contentment.
Possible Side Effects
These four essential oils for acne are safe and effective. Remember that a little goes a long way, so using 2–3 drops on the skin should do the trick.
If you have sensitive skin, dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil before applying topically. Also, avoid exposure to direct sunlight when treating acne with essential oils. The UV rays can make your skin more sensitive and may lead to skin irritations or redness. If using any of these essential oils causes skin irritation, do not use that oil; try a gentler oil like lavender instead.