I’m regularly looking for more satisfactory results for treatment of acne vulgaris— those nasty pimples most commonly on the facial area. There are multiple factors that cause acne, but a few of those factors includes and excessive production of sebum, an immune response to the bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes, inflammation and abnormal cell turnover of skin cells.
Tea tree leaf oil is one of those plant compounds that has demonstrated both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Previous studies have shown effectiveness of tea tree oil in treating acne but they used higher concentrations of the oil (up to 5%) that are currently not available in commercially available products. The purpose of this study was to see if a commonly available tee tree oil gel and facial wash might work for mild to moderate acne.
Both men and women with mild to moderate acne were recruited in Australia. They were ages from 16-39 y.o. Study participants received 200 mg/g of a Tea Tree medicated gel and 7 mg/g Tea Tree Face Wash for Acne. Study subjects used the products twice daily on their face. They applied 1 pump of the face wash, patted it dry, and then applied a small amount of the gel in a thin layer on the acne areas and leave it on for at least 6 hours and then wash it off right before the next application.
The total number of acne lesions were recorded and scored at baseline, 4, 8 and 12 weeks. The amount of skin oiliness was also recorded by the researcher at those same time intervals. Patients also kept a diary and at the end of each week, they recorded their acne on a 5 point scale ranging from worse to significantly better. Tolerance to the tea tree applications were also scored by the investigator. A laboratory testing of the susceptibility of the acne bacteria to the oil and gel and face wash was also done and the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of each product was determined. The MIC of the unformulated oil ranged from 0.25% to 1% which means that 90% of the isolates were inhibited by 1%. The MIC of the gel ranged from 0.062-0.5% and the MIC of the face wash was < 0.25%.
Results: Mean total lesion count significantly decreased at each visit with a 25% decrease at 4 weeks, 37% decrease at 8 weeks and 54% decrease at 12 weeks. The investigator assessment score was significantly better at weeks 8 and 12 compared to baseline. Facial oiliness was significantly improved at week 12 compared to baseline. Clinical efficacy of 40% or greater in lesion count at 12 weeks occurred for 79% (11/14) of the individuals. The weekly opinion of almost half of the men and women with acne was that their acne was about the same or slightly improved by 43%.
No serious adverse events occurred but there was one person who reported minor itching, one with moderate scaling and 1 had moderate peeling and 1 had moderate dryness. The average tolerability scores for erythema and peeling were significantly decreased by the end of the 12 weeks.
Summary and commentary: The use of the gel and face wash containing tea tree oil for 12 weeks did seem to significantly reduce the number of acne lesions and was pretty well tolerated in men and women with mild to moderate acne. Both the gel and face wash showed significant antibacterial activity in the laboratory part of the study which would imply that this mechanism is at least in part, how tea tree works for mild to moderate acne.
Acne is a very common skin condition and I welcome some confirming evidence for tea tree gel and face wash that may help more folks with this pesky problem. It won’t be as simple as that to cure this type of acne. Other influences and strategies that might need to be addressed would include hormonal, diet and stressors.
Malhi HK, Tu J, Riley TV, Kumarasinghe SP, Hammer KA. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. March 21, 2016; [epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1111/ajd.12465.