Oregano oil, or oreganol, is sometimes marketed as a natural remedy for acne due to its antibacterial properties. Because reducing bacteria alone is not always enough to lessen the severity of acne outbreaks, oregano oil might not be effective for all patients. As of 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of oregano oil for acne or for any other therapeutic uses.
Acne is formed when oil becomes trapped under the skin. Exactly what causes the oil to get trapped is unknown. Often, a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes is also present in acne. The presence of this bacteria on the surface of the skin is normal and helps to protect the skin from other, more harmful types of bacteria or fungi. When it becomes trapped under the skin along with the oil, however, it may worsen acne by leading to painful inflammation.
The purpose of using oregano oil for acne is to reduce the presence of this bacteria on the skin. The oil is applied topically — that is, directly to the skin — twice a day. It is typically diluted in water and then dabbed on the skin with a cotton ball. When used to treat other skin infections, oregano oil may be mixed with olive oil before application, but this is not recommended for acne treatment since olive oil may clog pores.
Some types of acne do not contain any bacteria at all, so using oregano oil for acne will not help all acne sufferers. Also, there is no conclusive evidence that simply reducing bacteria on the skin is enough to reduce outbreaks, since bacteria is only one of several factors that cause acne. Using oregano oil for acne may irritate the skin or reduce the presence of bacteria too much, leaving the skin more vulnerable to other types of infection.
The FDA has approved oregano as safe for human consumption as a seasoning, but has not evaluated its safety or effectiveness as a drug. The oregano oil marketed as an acne treatment comes from wild oregano plants, rather than from the type grown for food, which has a low oil content. Until further studies are done, patients should be cautious when using oregano oil for acne and should only do so under the advice and supervision of a dermatologist.