If putting oil on your acne is not your breakout go-to, you're not alone. But experts agree—having oily skin doesn't preclude you from using oil. In fact, Cybele Fishman, M.D., holistic dermatologist who advises clients on treating acne often, says it's the opposite. Especially in the colder months, using products that treat acne by drying out the skin is unnecessary and risks scarring. In order to treat zits while keeping your complexion smooth and glowing, oils are key regardless of your skin type.
One of the most well-known oils for treating acne is tea tree, which has been shown to be antimicrobial and antifungal in multiple studies. Dr. Fishman points out that it needs to be diluted, and some people are allergic, so always do a patch test before putting it (and any oil—it's just best practice) on your face. Another that's helpful for acne is oregano oil. "Oregano oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties," she said, "but it's very potent and will burn your skin unless it's diluted in a carrier oil." Jojoba is a fantastic carrier oil and a moisturizing face oil—so if you're keen to try oregano or tea tree, use jojoba to dilute them.
Black cumin oil is lesser-known but is so beneficial for acne. For one, it has antihistaminic effects that can help reduce swelling, aids fungal imbalance on the skin, as well as antimicrobial qualities, which help to subdue harmful bacteria on the skin. Odacite's black cumin and cajeput concentrate is one of the best acne serums on the market—it's diluted just enough to be gentle on skin without losing its strength. To use it, dab a drop or two onto clean skin as a spot treatment, taking care not to disrupt the oil with the rest of your skin care regimen. Osmia's spot treatment oil also utilizes cajeput, which was used to treat boils in the 1960s, as well as cypress, lemon, thyme, parsley, and evening primrose oil as a carrier. These oils are astringent and anti-inflammatory, helping cystic acne diminish. "We use powerful essential oils to decrease inflammation and redness, and evening primrose oil to keep the top layer of skin smooth as the blemish recedes," said founder Sarah Villafranco, M.D.
"Cajeput essential oil is rich in two natural compounds—oxides Cinéole (60 percent), and monoterpenes (31 percent). These two remarkable chemical component offer strong therapeutic properties that have been well researched," said Odacite's founder Valerie Grandury. "Oxides, cineoles, and monoterpenes have antiseptic, decongestive, and antiviral properties that work very quickly on pimples. Terpenes are also known to have cortisone-like activity, while being completely natural. This helps reduces the swelling and redness that can occur in pimples," she added.
"Cajeput is the sister oil to eucalyptus and tea tree," said green beauty expert and makeup artist Katey Denno. It's used for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties and has a camphorous scent, but it's not overwhelmingly large. It's a great treatment for acne. I'm not sure why it's not more widely used except it grows in Australia only." If you're looking for a full-face oil to use in conjunction with these spot treatments, try Avalon Organics antioxidant oil, which uses fast-absorbing argan oil and potent apricot and raspberry extracts to heal the skin and encourage turnover.
When using oils to heal acne, there are some rules of thumb that are important to note. First and foremost is dilution—double check to make sure that the product you're using is already properly diluted, and if it's not, find a good carrier oil to use. Second is to always, always, always patch test on your wrist or the back of your neck—yes, even with naturals. Since facial skin is sensitive and acne is even more tender, it's essential to learn how your skin will react to the oil. Finally, use these oils as a spot treatment. They're not meant to use used all over your face—especially during the day when you'll be exposed to sun and light.
For more on oils, check out this guide to the best carrier oils. Plus, discover the difference between wet and dry oils here.