If you’ve got acne and are looking for an alternative to drugstore and prescription acne treatments, you might consider essential oils. Essential oils are plant chemicals extracted with steam from different parts of the plant, including:

  • stems
  • roots
  • leaves
  • seeds
  • flowers

Plant extracts have a long history in traditional folk medicine. They’re also studied in modern medicine for their benefits. This includes killing bacteria, one of the primary causes of acne.

While many people do report that essential oils can help treat acne, few studies have been done to support this information. While there isn’t enough evidence to recommend using essential oils for acne, they’re generally safe to try, and you may see positive results.

You should stop using essential oils if you notice irritation or sensitivity on the skin.

Acne starts when skin flakes and skin oil (sebum) clogs your pores. A plugged pore becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, especially Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria, which contributes to causing pimples. Applying a topical bacteria-killing agent to the surface of your skin is one of the treatments used for acne.

Several essential oils kill bacteria. One laboratory study found the most effective against P. acnes include:

  • thyme
  • cinnamon
  • rose
  • rosemary

You can purchase the essential oils derived from these plants at a health food or herbal medicine store.

In the kitchen, this herb’s delicate essence is often used to enhance pasta sauces and cooked potatoes. In the laboratory, thyme has been shown to be effective in fighting the bacteria that causes acne. It’s also effective in killing germs that cause eye infections. However, never apply thyme to the eyes.

In lab tests, rosemary has been shown to damage P. acnes. Food scientists have also studied rosemary’s positive effect on preventing fungal growth that rots food during harvest and packaging.

It turns out cinnamon is good for more than just baking and sprinkling on your latte. This extensively studied tree bark product has been proven effective at fighting P. acnes. It has also been reported to reduce menstrual pain and cholesterol levels. And cinnamon has been shown to kill staphylococcal bacteria and E. coli.

Rose essential oil fights E. coli, Staphylococcus, and other kinds of bacteria. In animal tests, it’s also been shown to be effective at reducing liver damage caused by acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Tea tree oil may be useful for killing bacteria and fungi. It’s been shown to reduce acne. But scientists aren’t certain if that’s because it kills P. acnes or because it reduces swelling. If you don’t care for undiluted tea tree oil, it’s also used as an ingredient in many skin products.

Oregano has been extensively tested. It shows promise for activity against:

It hasn’t been proven that it fights P. acnes, but oregano may have some anti-inflammatory properties, which means it might help reduce swelling.

Testing has shown that lavender could help improve skin conditions. It’s also been proven as an antimicrobial. But the scientific community doesn’t know if it fights P. acnes. This essential oil will at least make you feel relaxed and promote sleep.

Advocates of bright, citrus-scented bergamot say that this fruit’s essential oil can improve your mood as well as help your skin. It’s been suggested to be an anti-inflammatory, meaning that it may reduce swelling and shrink pimples.

Because essential oils are concentrated plant chemicals, they can be very strong. Read the directions before applying any essential oil to your skin — you might need to dilute it with what’s referred to as a “carrier oil,” which is usually an unscented plant oil. You could also dilute it with water.

Never put essential oils in or near your eyes. Even the vapors can be irritating. And don’t use essential oils on your newborn’s baby acne or anywhere on your baby. Those tiny spots will go away soon enough.

  • Essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing the essence of a plant’s fragrance. It’s usually extracted from plants with steam, and is a common ingredient in perfumes and soaps.

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