Ten essential oils, namely, mint (Mentha spicata L., Lamiaceae), ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc., Zingiberaceae), lemon (Citrus limon Burm.f., Rutaceae), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi Macf., Rutaceae), jasmine (Jasminum grandiflora L., Oleaceae), lavender (Mill., Lamiaceae), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L., Compositae), thyme (Thymus vulgaris L., Lamiaceae), rose (Rosa damascena Mill., Rosaceae) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum N. Lauraceae) were tested for their antibacterial activities towards Propionibacterium acnes and in vitro toxicology against three human cancer cell lines. Thyme, cinnamon and rose essential oils exhibited the best antibacterial activities towards P. acnes, with inhibition diameters of 40 +/- 1.2 mm, 33.5 +/- 1.5 mm and 16.5 +/- 0.7 mm, and minimal inhibitory concentrations of 0.016% (v/v), 0.016% (v/v) and 0.031% (v/v), respectively. Time-kill dynamic procedures showed that thyme, cinnamon, rose, and lavender essential oils exhibited the strongest bactericidal activities at a concentration of 0.25% (v/v), and P. acnes was completely killed after 5 min. The thyme essential oil exhibited the strongest cytotoxicity towards three human cancer cells. Its inhibition concentration 50% (IC(50)) values on PC-3, A549 and MCF-7 tumor cell lines were 0.010% (v/v), 0.011% (v/v) and 0.030% (v/v), respectively. The cytotoxicity of 10 essential oils on human prostate carcinoma cell (PC-3) was significantly stronger than on human lung carcinoma (A549) and human breast cancer (MCF-7) cell lines.