Essential Oils for Acne

Research studies are growing for the use of essential oils on the skin

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Amy Branum
Edited By:
Dermveda Content Team ,

Acne has affected almost everyone at some point in their life. For many people, it can be an ongoing challenge. 

Acne is caused by overproduction of oil and clogged pores which lead to the growth of the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes. While there are many acne medications available, they can be harsh on the skin and may contain chemicals that are not ideal for a healthy lifestyle. 

Essential oils may be helpful in acne care. Essential oils are volatile oils from plants which typically give them their characteristic fragrance. They are usually acquired by steam distillation and, some such as citrus, may be extracted by pressing of plant matter. Essential oils are highly concentrated and should be respected as such since they can irritate the skin if directly applied. However, their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects, among others, makes them attractive for skin use.


Essential Oils


Chamomile is a wonderful essential oil to use for irritated skin. It is well-known for it’s calming and slightly uplifting effects. On the skin, it is used commonly in cosmetics due to its anti-inflammatory effects. It reduces redness and swelling on the skin and soothes irritation.[2]

Citrus oils

Citrus oils such as lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, and bergamot are commonly used in cleaning products due to their ability to cleanse surfaces and their antimicrobial properties.[3-5] Citrus oils help to remove excess oil on the skin and are great in cleansers but can be too harsh for those who do not have oily skin. Be sure to properly dilute citrus oils before using. While bergamot is helpful in cases of acne, it is also important to note that it can cause sun sensitivity. Use cautiously and only at night when out of the sun for an ample amount of time. 

Clary Sage

Clary sage is a sweet, floral scented oil loved by many. It is antimicrobial, as it has been found effective against staphylococci bacteria in wounds.[6] It also has the added benefit of antidepressant activity, decreasing cortisol levels in menopausal women.[7]


One of the most popular essential oils because of its charming aroma and easily accessibility. It is known for its calming ability, and in a test of 10 essential oils it was found to be one of the most effective against the P. acnes bacterium.[5] It’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic properties[8,9] make it a nice addition to any skin regime. 


Neem comes as both an essential oil and an infused oil. The essential oil is commonly sold as ‘neem oil’ and is an ingredient regularly used in skin care and natural dental products due to it’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions.[10] It also has a cooling effect, which helps reduce hot, red, and irritated skin.  


Rosemary is an antibacterial.[11] It also has antioxidant effects, which may benefit the skin. Rosemary is warming and may further irritate reddened skin conditions. It is recommended that this essential oil is used at a much lower dilution rate than many of the other essential oils listed here. 

Tea Tree

Tea tree oil is another of the most commonly known essential oils, and mainly due to its antibacterial effects. It has been found to be effective against acne[12,13] and is easily found in many skin care products. As long as there is no allergy to tea tree oil, it can be used ‘neat’, or undiluted on small areas of the skin. A drop or two onto a Q-tip applied directly to pimples twice a day may lead to clearer skin. 


Using Essential Oils 

When using essential oils on the face, they need to be properly diluted in a carrier oil such as grapeseed oil. Grapeseed is a good choice for acne due to its light quality, anti-inflammatory, and astringent effects. The general dilution rate for adults is 3-6 drops in sensitive skin and 6-15 drops for otherwise healthy skin per ounce of carrier oil.[1] These essential oils can also be added to a homemade cleansing scrubs, facial masks, or honey before applying it to the face. Properly diluted essential oils can be used daily as part of your skin care routine. Certain oils can be used on acute areas multiple times a day but must be applied carefully to look for irritation or an allergic response. The use of essential oils should be discussed with a qualified health professional. 

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1. Accessed July 14, 2016.

2.    Singh O, Khanam Z, Misra N, et al. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.): An overview. Pharmacogn Rev.2011;5(9):82-95; PMID: 22096322.

3.    Ou MC, Liu YH, Sun YW, et al. The Composition, Antioxidant and Antibacterial Activities of Cold-Pressed and Distilled Essential Oils of Citrus paradisi and Citrus grandis (L.) Osbeck. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.2015;2015:804091; PMID: 26681970.

4.    Matiz G, Osorio MR, Camacho F, et al. [Effectiveness of antimicrobial formulations for acne based on orange (Citrus sinensis) and sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L) essential oils]. Biomedica.2012;32(1):125-133; PMID: 23235794.

5.    Zu Y, Yu H, Liang l, et al. Activities of Ten Essential Oils towards Propionibacterium acnes and PC-3, A-549, and MCF-7 Cancer Cells. Molecules.2010;15(5):3200-3210.

6.    Sienkiewicz M, Głowacka A, Poznańska-Kurowska K, et al. The effect of clary sage oil on staphylococci responsible for wound infections. Postepy Dermatol Alergol.2015;32(1):21-26; PMID: 25821423.

7.    Lee KB, Cho E, Kang YS. Changes in 5-hydroxytryptamine and cortisol plasma levels in menopausal women after inhalation of clary sage oil. Phytother Res.2014;28(11):1599-1605; PMID: 24802524.

8.    Silva GL, Luft C, Lunardelli A, et al. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil. An Acad Bras Cienc.2015;87(2 Suppl):1397-1408; PMID: 26247152.

9.    Cavanagh HM, Wilkinson JM. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res.2002;16(4):301-308; PMID: 12112282.

10.    Subapriya R, Nagini S. Medicinal properties of neem leaves: a review. Curr Med Chem Anticancer Agents.2005;5(2):149-146; PMID: 15777222.

11.    Fu Y, Zu Y, Chen L, et al. Investigation of antibacterial activity of rosemary essential oil against Propionibacterium acnes with atomic force microscopy. Planta Med.2007;73(12):1275-1280; PMID: 17893831.

12.    Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, et al. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol.2007;73(1):22-25; PMID: 17314442.

13.    Hammer KA. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. Int J Antimicrob Agents.2015;45(2):106-110; PMID: 25465857.