4 reasons skin experts always recommend tea tree oil for acne treatment

It's one of the few ancient ingredients that skin experts really rate

Girl with glowing skin
(Image credit: Getty Images/Dora Lazarevic / EyeEm)

I can't help but feel as though tea tree oil has received some bad rap in recent years. As a beauty editor who does, from time to time, struggle to get her acne under under control, I can safely say that I have seen some fabulous results from using tea tree oil for acne treatment. In fact, I'd go as far as saying it's one of the best acne treatments around.

While social media might have you believe that tea tree oil is terribly drying and irritating, experts still consider it to be one of the most effective ingredients for treating acne. "Tea tree oil is a centuries-old treatment used to heal wounds and, in recent decades, it has become somewhat of a go-to for those fighting acne," says Spirithoula Koukoufikis, Senior Medical Aesthetician at Skinfluencer London.

And the best bit? Tea tree oil can easily be incorporated in your skincare routine for acne, whether it be as a cleanser or a spot treatment. Despite being a beauty editor and having access to the very best and high-tech acne treatments around, including the best acne face washes, the best body washes for acne, the best moisturisers for acne-prone skin and even retinols for acne, I often find myself reaching for tea tree oil products in a bid to reduce the appearance of active spots and blemishes.

To find out what it is that makes tea tree oil such a great spot treatment, I quizzed Koukoufikis on what is one of skincare's oldest and most loved ingredients. Here's the four reasons why using tea tree oil for acne is a great idea.

1. It is an anti-inflammatory

For starters, tea tree oil is thought to have the ability to reduce redness and irritation around breakouts. "It is thought that tea tree oil contains compounds that have powerful anti-inflammatory properties," says Koukoufikis. "This means it can help calm any irritation that is present."

2. It is antibacterial

This is probably one of the most important and impressive characteristics of tea tree oil when it comes to acne treatment. "Tea tree compounds have antibacterial properties, helping to reduce the acne-causing bacteria found on the skin," says Koukoufikis. And unlike other skincare ingredients which work to eliminate acne-causing bacteria, it isn't majorly irritating. "Tea tree oil is more gentle and less irritating that other go-to acne fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide," she adds.

3. It is an antioxidant

A lesser known fact about tea tree oil is that is has antioxidant properties. "Tea tree is a powerful antioxidant so it fights the free radicals that lead to cellular damage," says Koukoufikis. Essentially, antioxidants protect the skin against external aggressors which risk causing long-term skin damage (as well as accelerate the signs of premature skin ageing). 

4. It is really easy to use

The best thing about tea tree oil is that unlike benzoyl peroxide (which stains basically everything it touches), it can be incorporated into most steps of your skincare routine. "Tea tree oil can be incorporated into a skincare regime that includes exfoliants such as glycolic or salicylic acids," reveals Koukoufikis.

Some things to keep in mind...

Sure tea tree oil is a great treatment for acne, but there are some things to beware of. For starters, it's important to remember that tea tree oil isn't going to totally eradicate your acne (no one ingredient is). "It can take longer to see the same results as you would achieve from non-natural solutions such as benzoyl peroxide," warns Koukoufikis. If you're concerned about breakouts, particularly if you suspect you have fungal acne or post-pill acne, be sure to pay a visit to your GP for guidance.

Shop the best tea tree oil for acne products

Having experienced acne myself for many, many years, I consider tea tree oil to be a mainstay ingredient in my routine. As a result, I have tried and tested virtually every tea tree oil acne product out there—these are the four I always end up coming back to.

Shannon Lawlor
Executive Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is the Executive Beauty Editor at Marie Claire. With nearly a decade of experience working for some of the beauty industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear, Glamour UK, Stylist and Refinery29, Shannon’s aim is to make the conversation around beauty as open, relatable and honest as possible. As a self-confessed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for hard-working perfumes, fool-proof make-up products and does-it-all skincare.