Insights into the mechanism of Cymbopogan martinii essential oil in topical therapy of acne vulgaris

Future Microbiol. 2021 Oct:16:1181-1193. doi: 10.2217/fmb-2021-0039. Epub 2021 Oct 7.


Aim: The present study investigated the essential oil of Cymbopogan martinii (palmarosa oil; PRO) as a potential topical therapy in acne vulgaris. Materials & methods: GC-MS profiling and biocompatibility studies of PRO were undertaken. The antimicrobial potential was assessed against Cutibacterium acnes. anti-inflammatory, antityrosinase activity and lipid peroxidation were also evaluated. Results: Geraniol was identified as the major phytoconstituent, and the oil was found to be safe for topical application. The minimum inhibitory concentration and minimum bactericidal concentration values were noted as 16 μl/ml. PRO reduced the cytokine levels of TNF-α, IL-12 and IL-8 and inhibited tyrosinase. A low concentration of the oil (up to 0.5 μl/ml) produced malondialdehyde levels equivalent to that of untreated cells. Conclusion: PRO may prove useful as a natural topical agent in the management of acne.

Keywords: C. acnes; acne; antioxidant; cell line; cytokines; dermatological; essential oil; flow cytometry; palmarosa oil.

Plain language summary

Lay abstract Acne vulgaris is a highly prevalent skin condition among adolescents, associated with much psychological distress in the affected individuals. The disease primarily affects the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of the face, neck, chest and back. Hormonal imbalance leads to increased production of sebum. Abnormal cellular processes cause swelling of the follicles and create an environment that is conducive to the growth of Cutibacterum acnes. The bacteria are known to initiate an immune response, rupturing the wall of hair follicles and dispersing the contents into the surrounding skin tissues. Inflammation occurs, further laying the ground for skin blemishes. Although a number of drugs are reported for the topical management of this condition, they do not address all the factors contributing to the development of acne lesions and are also reported to have several adverse effects. Therefore, the existing drugs do not offer a satisfactory solution to the problem. The growing bacterial resistance to antimicrobial drugs is another cause of concern. An agent that effectively counters the various causative factors of acne, is safe for application on human skin and is devoid of the risk of bacterial resistance, would be an ideal anti-acne agent. In this study, the essential oil derived from the plant Cymbopogan martinii (palmarosa oil) was evaluated for its potential to inhibit the growth of C. acnes, and control inflammation and blemishes associated with acne. It was also checked for its compatibility with human skin. The results were promising, advocating the essential oil as a natural and holistic solution for treating acne.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris* / drug therapy
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Cymbopogon / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Oils, Volatile* / pharmacology
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology*
  • Propionibacteriaceae / drug effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Oils

Supplementary concepts

  • Cutibacterium acnes subsp. acnes