What is Acne?
Acne is a common skin condition which affects young adults and can also carry into adulthood. It often appears on the face, neck, chest and back, and can leave a lot of us feeling upset and uncomfortable with its presence! Acne affects the “pilosebaceous” glands of the skin, which essentially means the oil gland and the hair follicle, which are prone to getting clogged and inflamed. Blemishes can result from either non-inflammatory (ie. Blackheads and whiteheads) or inflammatory causes with pus-filled, painful and deep cystic lesions .
Acne can come from a wide variety of causes, from increased androgen* production to emotional stress and colonization of the follicle by bacteria. Two specific types of bacteria involved in acne are Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which will be discussed below.
*Androgens are hormones which males and females produce, although men produce them in a higher quantity (ie. testosterone).
Thyme to Treat Acne?
We are familiar with thyme’s uses in a culinary perspective, but interestingly enough, it can also be used for medicinal purposes. Thyme is in the same family as oregano, which we often see in cold and flu formulations for its potent antimicrobial properties. Thyme has similar antimicrobial properties as oregano, both having the same active constituent “thymol”, which is one of the essential oil compounds . When thyme is used on the skin it has been used to treat various bug bites as well as painful inflammation of joints and muscles . If we extrapolate this information, we could imagine how useful thyme oil would be for use in acne!
There are no current scientific trials of thyme and acne, but there is some research of its use on bacterial cultures and on skin to reduce inflammation. We have summarized some of the evidence below!
Thyme oil is antibacterial (Study #1):
In this research article, various essential oil’s effects on bacteria were looked at in a controlled laboratory setting. The two bacteria were P. acnes and S. epidermidis, which as we already know are two of the bacteria most commonly involved in acne pathogenesis. The oils tested were oregano, thyme, lemongrass, tea tree, peppermint, lavender and chamomile. They were compared to common topical antibacterial pharmaceutical products (erythromycin and clindamycin). Compared to both pharmaceuticals, thyme and oregano oils had a larger zone of bacterial inhibition !
The study also examined P. acnes and S. epidermis which may be resistant to anti-microbials or more difficult for them to infiltrate. In this stage of the study, oregano oil showed the highest ability to decrease bacteria concentration, with thyme oil following closely behind. Tea tree oil showed the lowest ability to prevent bacterial resistance .
Thymol decreases inflammation and redness (Study #2):
In this research review, the components of thyme essential oil, specifically thymol, were assessed to determine all of its health benefits both internal and external through various clinical trials. This article echoes thyme’s use similarly to oregano in formulas for respiratory conditions (ie. Cold and cough). Thymol was tested against growth from a wide variety of microbes, including a fungus which contributes to yeast infections, and it did seem beneficial.
The review also reports that thyme used in the cosmetic industry is mainly for its antioxidant and preservative properties . An antioxidant is a chemical which decreases oxidative damage which can come from environmental exposure. When speaking about external sources, environmental damage can come from UV radiation from the sun, or pollution and smoke. Thymol’s antioxidant and inflammatory activity was assessed in a wide variety of scenarios (laboratory and in animals), and for external use it did seem that thymol inhibited release of certain inflammatory molecules, even in the case of allergic inflammation. This tells us that thyme, similar to other essential oils in its family, exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in cells! The article does also mention that thymol has the ability to prevent acne flare-ups, but does not go onto disclose the particular mechanism . We believe it is due to a combination of its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory activities.
What Does This Mean?
In the future, further research should be done on thyme oil (diluted in a carrier) for acne lesions in adolescents and adults. However, although the current research is not specifically done in humans, we can see how thyme essential oil could be quite helpful for bacterial over-colonization as well as inflammation reduction, which are two key mechanisms in acne propagation. It is also quite gentle on the skin, and not as drying as other oils such as tea tree, which is why we’ve decided to use it in our Thyme Blemish Control Gel. This product also contains other powerful anti-acne ingredients such as salicylic acid and clove essential oil. Find out more about these other ingredients here!
By: Dr Arlene Dubier ND
- Grobel, H. & Murphy, S. (2018) Acne vulgaris and acne rosacea. Integrative Medicine 4th Edition, Elsevier Inc. Retrieved from Clinical Key.
- Kuete, V. (2017). Chapter 28: Thymus vulgaris, Medicinal Spices and Vegetables from Africa. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809286-6.00028-5
- Taleb, M., Abdeltawab, N.F., Shamma, R.N., Abdelgayed, S.S., Mohamed, S.S., Farag, M.A. & Ramadan, M.A. (2019). Origanum vulgare L. essential oil as a potential anti-acne topical nanoemulsion- in vitro and in vivo study, Molecules. 23(9), 2164. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23092164
- Salehi, B., Mishra, A.P., Shukla, I., Sharifi-Rad, M., del Mar Contreras, M., Segura-Carretero, A., Fathi, H., Nasrabadi, N.N., Kobarfard, F. & Sharifi-Rad, J. (2017). Thymol, thyme and other plant sources: health and potential uses, Phytotherapy Research, 32(9), 1688-1706. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6109