Clearing Up Problem Skin: Top Essential Oils for Acne
It’s the most common skin problem in the U.S., with up to 50 million cases in Americans every year. It’s acne — and many of us, myself included, have personally felt the confidence-killing effect it can have in our lives.
That moment when you see a photograph of yourself and realize your skin looks worse than you thought. That morning when you wake up before a big job interview to see a new eruption. We all have a story about acne invading our lives and wreaking havoc!
But what exactly lies behind this peace-of-mind-destroying skin disorder? Well, there are a variety of triggering factors, but the basic problem can be found under the surface of the skin.
Breakdown of a Breakout
Your skin has oil glands connected to your pores that produce oil (or sebum)— and contrary to your expectations, that’s a good thing! This oil keeps your skin moisturized and clears away dead skin cells…that is, when it’s working properly.
The problem is, sometimes those follicles get blocked up, and oil builds below the surface, causing a pimple. This is why regular cleansing and exfoliating is so important — it keeps those pores clear so that the oil can do its job and doesn’t get backed up under the skin.
But that’s just the basic biology…when it comes to triggers, there are a number of underlying causes that can bring on a breakout.
Hormones are probably the biggest acne trigger. Think back to your high school years when it seemed like you had a new “friend” on your face every day! That was your hormones shifting, causing an overproduction of oil that your skin just couldn’t keep up with, which led to acne.
As another example of how hormones play a part, many women get acne with their cycle as the hormone fluctuations cause changes in the skin as well. Some women even experience acne outbreaks during pregnancy.
But if you’re not going through puberty and don’t typically experience hormonal acne, there may be other factors involved — for example, stress.
Stress can be a significant trigger for acne prone skin, and the worst part is that this kind of acne pops up when you’re already anxious about something else going on in your life and you don’t really have time to stress about acne.
Remember those sebum glands we talked about? Well, those have stress receptors in them — meaning that when you feel stressed, your glands can be triggered to produce more oil than usual. This leads to your acne outbreak and — go figure — more stress.
Even the food you eat can signal your body to cause a flare-up – especially if you have acne prone skin. A study published in Archives of Dermatology discusses how individuals with diets that are heavy in sugars, saturated fats, and carbs are much more susceptible to acne than people who consume foods that are generally “clean” and unprocessed. Another study showed how the hormones we consume in milk and dairy products may also be to blame for higher levels of acne.
So you see how individualized acne can be. Your acne can be chalked up to any number of things — diet, genetic makeup, hormones, or even just the wrong skincare products if they’re not clearing your pores effectively. If you’ve done everything you can to eliminate your particular triggers, what more can you do to clear up a breakout when it strikes?
Most people see their doctor for a prescription acne medication, or go straight to the pharmacy and pick out a remedy. But before you do that, let’s take a step back and look at some of these commonly-advocated acne treatments.
The Case for Going Natural
If you buy an over the counter acne treatment, most are an iteration of the same few chemicals — typically salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. When it comes to treating acne with a prescription, the field is much more varied. Some doctors will prescribe much stronger topical creams or gels to keep acne at bay. However, the problem with these options is they often are filled with other ingredients that just aren’t great for your body.
These conventional remedies often contain artificial chemical ingredients that absorb straight into your body through your skin and can cause serious damage. Let’s take a look at the main offenders:
Parabens: These ingredients are typically used to preserve products, but they also imitate hormones within your body and are associated with certain types of cancer.
Phthalates: Yet another common chemical ingredient, phthalates are used in products to create certain textural effects, but unfortunately they’re endocrine disruptors that have been linked to cancer and even reproductive birth defects!
Triclosan: Another endocrine disruptor, triclosan is an additive that’s used as an antimicrobial. However, it almost does its job too well, as it’s thought to be partially responsible for making bacteria “antibacterial-resistant.”
With all the unknowns in OTC and prescription skin products, the best way to go is natural. This way, you know exactly what’s going on your skin and into your body, and you can be assured that you’ll be healthier both inside and out.
How to Use Essential Oils for Acne
Before you go slathering your skin with essential oils, you need to know how to use them effectively.
Essential oils will evaporate off your skin if they’re not mixed with something else. This is why it’s so important to dilute them properly.
For me, I like to add a few drops of essential oils to my daily skincare products. You can add some essential oils to your favorite (paraben and phthalate-free, of course!) moisturizers, cleansers, and toners to give your skin an added acne-fighting boost.
Another common method is to use a carrier oil to dilute your essential oils. We’ll talk about which types of carrier oils work best in a minute — but for now we’ll focus on how they work.
The carrier oil keeps the essential oils from evaporating away, and carries the oil deeper into the layers of your skin. So you end up with a more effective mixture, and one that stretches your essential oils even further! Carrier oils also help prevent skin irritation.
Best Carrier Oil for Acne
So now that you know how they work, let’s talk about the which are the best carrier oils for acne. After all, you want something that’s going to do its job as a carrier without causing an oil overload!
Here are a few of the top contenders for acne carrier oils:
- Jojoba oil: The benefits of jojoba oil for acne extend beyond just acting as a carrier. This oil is also particularly beneficial due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, so not only does it effectively disseminate your essential oils, but it also works to clear impurities and kill acne-causing bacteria. Win-win!
- Almond oil: Acne can be particularly tricky to navigate when you have sensitive skin and have to be careful which products you use, for fear of irritation. In this scenario, almond oil comes in to the rescue. It’s light and deeply moisturizing, but also hypoallergenic, so your skin won’t react negatively.
- Hemp seed oil: If hormonal breakouts are your main challenge, then this option may be your go-to oil for acne. Hemp seed oil balances your hormones and related oil production, so your skin stays moisturized without becoming greasy and clogged.
- Vitamin E oil: Using vitamin E oil for acne is an incredibly effective treatment, as it’s chock-full of antioxidants to nourish your skin as it purifies and moisturizes. If you’ve had a long battle with acne and you have the scars to prove it, this may be the oil for you, as it helps fade those marks to give you a clean slate.
If you’re thinking that olive oil should be on the list, we actually left that one off because it can be too heavy, clogging pores and suffocating the skin. That one’s better as a body oil. Once you’ve picked the oil that’s right for your skin, how do you use it? I’ll start off by saying, you don’t just rub it into your skin and leave it. There’s an actual systematic method of purifying your skin with these oils, and it’s called the oil cleansing method.
Sounds weird, right? Why would you use oil as a cleanser?
Before you write it off as nonsense, allow me to explain with a little science. Oils are most effective at dissolving other oils. It’s the principle of “like dissolves like.” So you can actually use your carrier oil as a cleanser to dissolve the oil that’s already on your face — and it will pull with it dirt, debris, makeup, or anything else that’s blocking your pores.
When you’re ready to cleanse, you simply take some of your carrier oil (or your blend, if you added in any essential oils — more on those to come) and massage it into your skin with your hands, focusing on problem areas. Then, use a hot washcloth to gently wipe away the oil. Your face will be left clean and glowing, but not stripped of its natural oils!
This way, you’re not just cleansing your skin. You’re nourishing, moisturizing, and rebalancing the oil production, all at once. If you’re curious about what carrier oils are ideal for your skin type check out this link on the oil cleansing method.
If you’re still unsure of which type of essential oil you should use in your oil cleansing routine, fear not — we’re covering that next!
Best Essential Oils for Acne
There are so many options when it comes to essential oils for oily skin— and I love them all! Let’s take a look at the best essential oils for acne, along with their unique traits.
Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium is possibly the best oil for oily skin. If your skin tends toward overproduction, geranium oil helps your skin back off the sebum by bringing balance to your skin’s pH level.
It’s also known to help balance your hormones and relieve stress — which means it can help eliminate a number of acne triggers in one swoop.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
There are huge benefits to using tea tree oil for acne. This antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic oil is super effective at clearing the skin of impurities and killing the bacteria that cause acne breakouts.
However, there are some tricks to knowing how to use tea tree oil for acne. If your skin is sensitive or prone to dryness, it may be best to start with only one drop mixed in with your carrier oil dose, until your skin begins to tolerate it more. You definitely don’t want to do a tea tree oil spot treatment, as this oil can be harsh if overused or not diluted with a carrier. Start small when using this essential oil for acne!
Sandalwood Essential Oil
For those of you who were freaking out about using oil as a cleanser (you know who you are), I have to be frank — what you need is not less oil, but rather a rebalancing of your natural oils.
This is where sandalwood comes into the picture. If your skin is over-producing oil, sometimes it’s a signal that your skin is actually not getting enough moisture. For this scenario, sandalwood is a deep moisturizer that can replenish your depleted skin. In so doing, it lets your sebum glands know that they can back off a bit, and your skin will go back to a normal production level. It’s also very helpful for dry skin and a drop can be added to moisturizers to nourish skin in the cold winter months.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Do your acne battles show in dark spots, scars and pockmarks? Then not only do you need something to fight back, but you also need an oil that can heal the damage that’s been done.
The main benefit of frankincense oil for acne is its repairing ability, but it also is extremely effective in preventing new breakouts as well, as it contains astringent properties that help clear the pores and shrink them.
Lavender Essential Oil
Who doesn’t love a little lavender essential oil? Its soothing scent is perfect for de-stressing after a long day.
Using lavender oil for acne has much the same soothing effect, only on your complexion. Lavender essential oil nourishes and calms the skin, healing blemishes and preventing further breakouts from rearing up at inopportune moments. The added benefit to using lavender is the constituent linalyl acetate which promotes stress-relief and relaxation. Kill 2 birds with one stone!
Helichrysum Essential Oil
If you’re mainly looking into essential oils for acne scars, then helichrysum oil may be your match.
This oil is a deep-healer, dealing with trauma to the skin and helping repair scarring. This is an especially good choice for someone who struggled with cystic acne or some other severe skin issue.
Rose oil is an all-around great option when it comes to essential oils for acne. Not only is it antibacterial, helping to keep breakouts at bay, but it also possesses some of the healing qualities of helichrysum, making it useful for fading scars as well. If you’re not quite sure which oil to start with, this “jack-of-all-trades” may be a good jumping off point.
Acne Special Cases
What do you do when your acne is unique or particularly stubborn? Or if you’re dealing with one or more annoying (or embarrassing!) skin conditions? Trust me- there’s still an oil that can help. Let’s take a look at some special cases and the oil selections that work best in these scenarios. You can add these oils to a cotton ball (one drop at a time or make up a blend) and add to toner or moisturizer and apply to the skin.
Essential Oils for Blackheads and Cysts
Blackheads are especially common in the oilier “T-zone” area of your face — that is, your forehead, nose, and chin. They occur when your pores get clogged right at the surface, but thankfully there are a number of essential oils for blackheads that can clear away the debris and leave you with a fresh complexion:
- Eucalyptus oil
- Lemon oil
- Tea tree oil
- Cedar wood oil
All of these have astringent and antiseptic properties, which cleanse, purify, and tighten up your pores to help you eliminate those annoying blackheads.
What if your acne is deep in the skin — erupting in cysts that are often pus-filled, painful, and difficult to get rid of? In this type of tough case, you need essential oils for cystic acne:
- Neem oil
- Tea tree oil
- Geranium oil
- Clary sage oil
These oils are aggressive (yet not irritating) acne-fighters, making them ideal for those tough-to-cure cystic acne cases.
Essential Oils for Seborrheic Dermatitis
Though not technically an acne, seborrheic dermatitis (itchy, flaky scalp that’s similar to psoriasis or eczema) makes you more susceptible to acne, so the two are often found in tandem. Here are a few essential oils that are known to help with seborrheic dermatitis:
- Lavender essential oil
- Rosemary essential oil
- Peppermint essential oil
- Eucalyptus essential oil
These oils each have calming properties, and in the case of peppermint and eucalyptus, have a cooling effect that help take care of pesky itching that so often accompanies seborrheic dermatitis.
Essential Oils for Hormonal Acne
When acne is hormone-related, you need essential oils that can rebalance and regulate your hormones to help deal with acne from the inside. These essential oils help restore the balance and clear your skin in the process:
- Rose oil
- Clary sage oil
- Geranium oil
- Lavender oil
Does Coconut Oil Help Acne?
While we’re discussing oils that benefit your skin, it’s time to clear up a common myth.
A few years back coconut oil was the newest health craze — and with good reason! It’s packed full of healthy fats and can help lower your risk of heart disease. It was also touted as a skincare miracle that could deeply moisturize and restore your skin.
While this is overall true — coconut oil is deeply nourishing and can even help fight inflammation — the problem is, it’s also highly comedogenic, meaning it has a tendency to clog pores if you have acne-prone skin. So where battling acne is concerned, it’s not the safest option to add to your essential oil arsenal.
Best Essential Oil Face Wash
If you’re not ready to take the plunge into the oil cleansing method, you can still find essential oil-based cleansers to purify your complexion and give you all the benefits that essential oils have to offer. Look for cleansers formulated with aloe vera because it’s anti-inflammatory and soothes the skin.
With all this information on essential oils and acne, there’s no reason to suffer through another breakout! Experiment by creating your own blends, or try an online recipe and find the method that works best for your skin. Everyone’s complexion is different, so take the time to explore your triggers and you’ll find the answers to your skin’s needs.