It can be hard to accept the reality of acne. Sometimes, it seems like you’re going to be searching for the perfect acne-fighting product forever. We often go for over-the-counter treatments or clinically proven products to aid our acne woes, because we’re convinced they’ll give the fastest and most reliable skin results. However, turning to harsh chemicals can make your acne worse and come with adverse side effects.
Instead of adding insult to injury, consider opting for natural sources of medicine instead. One natural option is essential oils, which contain anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. These organic acne fighters will not only soothe your acne-prone skin but also reduce the appearance of dark spots.
We chatted with the co-founder of all-natural skincare brand EO Products, Susan Griffin-Black—who also happens to be an essential oil expert—along with Dave Karlak, president of organic skincare line Max Green Alchemy, to figure out their favorite essential oils for acne.
Meet the Expert
- Susan Griffin-Black is an essential oil expert and the founder of EO Products, a brand created in 1995 with the mission to bring the beautiful benefits of oils to the masses. EO Products has since become a one-stop-shop for all things aromatherapy.
- David Karlak is the president of Max Green Alchemy, a brand focused on creating vegan, cruelty-free, all-natural products.
Read on for the best essential oils for acne that could be the answer your skin’s been waiting for.
Oils Have Preventable Acne-Fighting Properties
One study reports that tea tree essential oil has the power to treat acne as effectively as benzoyl peroxide—without the harsh side effects. "A lot of acne solutions dry out your skin, which sends a signal to your body to produce more oil," explains Griffin-Black. "Farnesol, an active constituent of rose oil, makes dry skin less dry and oily skin less oily. It helps to balance and regulate your skin's oil production."
Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the peroxide family that has been used to treat acne because of its keratolytic, moderate comedolytic, and antibacterial properties, which include the reduction of P. acnes and Staph. aureus on the skin.
According to Karlak, acne is caused by excess sebum production collecting in hair follicles where bacteria infect clogged pores, resulting in an inflamed blemish. "The strategy is to rebalance the skin environment [to] reduce sebum production [and bacteria], which will minimize infection and inflammation," says Karlak. Karlak advises looking for essential oils with antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Like Griffin-Black, he's also a fan of tea tree oil, along with atlas cedar, cypress, geranium, lavender, lemon, and rosemary oil.
Oils Reduce Visible Acne Scars
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about acne scars is waiting for them to fade. Thankfully, essential oils have some of the most powerful acne-fighting ingredients that will also aid in lightening your dark spots naturally. "Helichrysum and immortelle are my favorite oils for acne scars," says Griffin-Black. "Their replenishing properties support skin regeneration and promote smoother skin. Rose and lavender are also excellent for scars." She suggests jojoba oil—a synergy of helichrysum, rose, and lavender—for an efficient way to ease the appearance of acne scars.
Jojoba oil is a natural oil produced from the seed of the chinensis plant, a drought-resistant shrub native to southern Arizona, California, and Mexico. It mimics natural sebum and conditions and seals moisture in the skin without clogging pores or exacerbating acne.
"Acne scars occur from skin trauma and collagen fiber that is in over- or under-production, resulting in visible raised or pitted scar tissue," explains Karlak. He believes the best essential oils to treat acne scars are those that are diluted in a carrier oil. Karlak assures that carrier oils can minimize scar tissue while refining the overall skin appearance.
His favorite carrier oil for acne scars is rosehip seed oil, which has one of the highest concentrations of natural retinoic acid and has been clinically shown to reduce and refine scar tissue. "Max Green Alchemy's Elemeni Radiance Face Oil ($30) is ideal for acne-prone skin because it includes rosehip seed, rose otto, lavender, mandarin, carrot seed, and frankincense oil," Karlak suggests.
[Ed. Note: Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian notes that the dermatologic community doesn't currently have access to enough studies to prove the effectiveness of treating acne with essential oils. As always, before self-prescribing a course of acne treatment that may or may not include essential oils, you should consult a dermatologist.]
Malhi HK, Tu J, Riley TV, Kumarasinghe SP, Hammer KA. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. 2017;58(3):205-210. doi:10.1111/ajd.12465
Lei, Zhiyong, et al. Rosehip Oil Promotes Excisional Wound Healing by Accelerating the Phenotypic Transition of Macrophages. Planta Medica, vol. 85, no. 07, 2018, pp. 563–569., doi:10.1055/a-0725-8456