The 5 Best Essential Oils For Pimples

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Whether it's due to allergies, sensitive skin, or is simply a personal choice, there are plenty of reasons some people avoid traditional acne treatments like drying lotions, medicated ointments, and masks. The best essential oils for pimples offer a natural alternative to spot treatments that often contain harsh chemicals. Essential oils boast powerful, naturally therapeutic properties and can be applied topically.

"Pimples are a type of breakout characterized by excessive oil, overgrowth of bacteria, and buildup of dead skin cells. This leads to inflammation, redness, and can progress to pustules or papules," Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS told Bustle in an interview. For this reason, she recommends that when looking for essential oils to treat pimples, you "consider oils that can kill bacteria, have an exfoliant effect, and can calm inflammation."

When you're choosing an essential oil to fight a blemish, you'll need to think about what kind of pimple you're trying to treat. A picked or scabbed pimple could benefit an oil with calming properties, while a stubborn cyst that needs to be brought to a head might benefit most from something stimulating — though esthetician Elina Fedotova told Bustle that she cautions against applying essential oils to the skin without mixing them with a carrier oil. "You should never apply any essential oils straight without diluting," she says, though she cites tea tree oil as the one exception.

While some essential oils might be harmless or even helpful for many people, there's always the possibility that you might experience a negative reaction. Both Fedotova and Elmore recommend testing an essential oil (diluted) on your forearm before applying to your face. Observe it for a minimum of 30 minutes, though Fedotova suggests waiting a full 48 hours to be safe.

You should also make sure that you're using a pure essential oil, rather than an artificial fragrance. Fedotova points out that while essential oils can possess healing properties, fragrances "are not delivering any therapeutic effects on your body." Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) told Bustle that oils "can be drying if they have fragrance to them which will further irritate the skin and can certainly exacerbate a rash/ skin condition."

Dr. Lee is wary of treating pimples with essential oils in general, recommending instead the "abundance of wonderful acne treating ingredients that have been proven and safe for most skin types, including Benzoyl Peroxide, Sulfur, and Salicylic Acid." And both sulfur and salicylic acid, she points out, "can be naturally derived."

Obviously, there’s a lot to consider before choosing an essential oil to treat acne — including other types of treatment. Anecdotal evidence, studies, and experts like Elmore and Fedotova show that essential oils have something to offer, while Dr. Lee and some others firmly believe in other methods. Every face and acne case is different, so if you're not sure what to do, you should always consult your dermatologist or seek the advice of a certified aromatherapist. For many people, however, these five essential oils could be a truly effective, natural way to reduce and prevent pimples.

1. To Prevent & Reduce Blemishes: Tea Tree Oil

Obviously, no list of acne-fighting essential oils would be complete without tea tree oil. According to Fedotova, "it is very light and has fabulous anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties." It basically acts the same way a spot treatment does, by eliminating germs and bacteria, and since it's anti-inflammatory, it rapidly reduces the size of the pimple while also drying out pus. Fedotova says it's also effective at sanitizing pimples you've already extracted.

If you're looking to prevent pimples before they appear, Elmore points out that "clinical studies have shown it to be mildly effective and very well tolerated when applied to acne prone skin to prevent the appearance of pimples and comedos." Basically, if you want to treat pimples with essential oil, tea tree is a great place to start.

2. To Treat Existing Pimples: Sandalwood Oil

If tea tree oil isn't your jam, sandalwood oil might be just what you're looking for. Elmore explains that it "has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial activity while remaining extremely safe on the skin." Essentially, it gets rid of acne causing bacteria, and as long as you use a carrier oil, it likely won't cause irritation (though you should still do a spot test). In addition, Elmore says it "may help to prevent pimples from ever progressing to acne pustules or papules."

3. To Fight Pimples On Oily Skin: Lemongrass Essential Oil

Stimulating to the skin and possessing antimicrobial properties, lemongrass essential oil can help destroy zits. Lemongrass essential oil can be used as a toner and can target blocked pores or pimples. It's especially good for reducing and preventing the appearance of acne while revitalizing the skin on oily complexions. Elmore cautions that lemongrass oil can be "very hot to the skin." She says that the skin on your face can be more sensitive than on other parts of your body and hot essential oils "should not, in general, be applied to the face without dilution in a carrier oil."

4. To Heal Popped Pimples: Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender essential oil is known to help heal wounds and ease inflammation, and its calming effects make it an ideal treatment for popped cysts, pimples, and even ingrown hairs. It's an extremely versatile ingredient — it's soothing, so it can help relieve itchiness and irritation. Using the oil directly on open pimples isn't recommended, however — instead, start by blending with a carrier oil (like coconut or olive oil) before applying topically.

5. To Reduce Scarring: Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense essential oil has all sorts of skin benefits ranging from astringent properties to anti-inflammatory, strengthening, and "tissue remodeling." That means it's a great option for helping heal your skin after an outbreak, especially if you're treating popped or scabbed blemishes.

Elmore points out that that there isn't "rigorous scientific evidence" to back up its effectiveness, frankincense has "been used for generations to support the appearance of skin following injury and scarring. She says that frankincense is gentle on the skin and might be an effective treatment for healing pimples, but also cautions that "there is no great evidence that any essential oil can prevent scarring." If you're struggling with acne scarring, you may want to make an appointment with your dermatologist.

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.

Studies referenced:

Orchard, A., & van Vuuren, S. (2017). Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435909/#B2.

Mori, H. M., Kawanami, H., Kawahata, H., & Aoki, M. (2016). Wound healing potential of lavender oil by acceleration of granulation and wound contraction through induction of TGF-β in a rat model. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880962/.

Han, X., Rodriguez, D., & Parker, T. L. (2017). Biological activities of frankincense essential oil in human dermal fibroblasts. Biochimie open, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5801908/.

Experts:

Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS

Elina Fedotova, celebrity esthetician and owner of Elina Organics Skincare and Spas

Dr. Sandra Lee, certified dermatologist and founder of SLMD Skincare

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