Acne sucks—especially when zits follow you into adulthood. That’s just freaking unfair, especially when virtually everything in the skin-care aisle seems to burn the hell out of your skin without actually killing the acne, which is exactly what was happening to me.
So, as a wellness-junkie who hates resorting to prescription treatments, I made it my mission to discover a natural solution that I wouldn’t hate putting on my face. And, after some deep internet searching and experimenting, I found my current go-to product for not just acne, but all skin issues: tea tree oil.
Yes, you’ve most definitely heard of tea tree oil before, but I’m not talking about it in a granola-eating, eco-friendly way. I’m telling you this stuff really works—it totally cleared up my worst breakouts when no other product could—and it has the research to prove it: Studies show that tea tree oil is just as effective to treating acne as benzoyl peroxide (one of the most common acne-fighting ingredients), but with fewer side effects, like burning, itching, peeling, and irritation.
“Tea tree oil may help kill some of the bacteria on the skin that cause inflammation and acne breakouts,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “It can be used as a spot treatment or as a full-face treatment to both eliminate the pimples that you have and also help prevent new ones from popping up.”
Before You Apply…
Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to douse your face in pure, 100 percent tea tree oil—this stuff is potent, so use the pure, concentrated stuff as a nightly spot-treatment only. And if your skin is super-sensitive, or you have too many zits to spot-treat every night, try using a product with tea tree oil as its main ingredient, like a lotion or face mask.
Yes, these magical products exist, and I’ve rounded them up for you, below.
A version of this article was originally published in April 2017.