Tea tree oil , also known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a native Australian plant.
Its popularity has grown in recent decades as an alternative and complementary treatment in other areas of the world. Tea tree oil is commonly found today in cosmetics, topical medicines, and home-made products.
Important facts about tea tree oil
- Tea tree oil is distilled from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, found in Australia.
- The oil possesses antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
- A person can treat acne, athlete’s foot, contact dermatitis or head lice using tea tree oil.
- Tea tree oil should never be swallowed.
There is some evidence showing that tea tree oil can have multiple uses.
The oil has been used as a curative treatment in Australia for nearly 100 years , especially for skin conditions. It is used today for a variety of conditions.
This is possibly best known for its antibacterial role in tea tree oil.
Some research suggests that the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity associated with the oil is due to its ability to damage the bacterial cell walls. There is a need for more research to understand how that might work.
Tea tree oil may help to quell inflammation of a compound with anti-inflammatory properties, possibly due to its high concentration of terpinen-4-ol.
In animal tests in case of mouth infection, terpinen-4-ol was found to suppress inflammatory activity. In humans, the topically applied tea tree oil reduced inflammation of the skin caused by histamine to swell more effectively than paraffin oil.
An analysis of the tea tree oil ‘s effectiveness highlights its potential to kill a variety of yeasts and fungi. Most studies reviewed focused on Candida albicans, a yeast type that commonly affects the skin, genitals, throat, and mouth.
Other research suggests that in cases of Candida albicans resistant strains, terpinen-4-ol increases the activity of fluconazole, a common antifungal drug.
Some studies have shown that tea tree oil can effectively cure some viruses, but research in this area is limited.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advise that there is little research on the effects of the topically applied tea tree oil in humans.
The oil can however be helpful for a variety of skin complaints.
Acne is the most common skin condition. At any given time it affects up to 50 million Americans.
One study found a significant difference in acne treatment between the tea tree oil gel and a placebo.
Participants treated with tea tree oil experienced both total acne count improvement and acne severity.
This builds on earlier research compared 5 percent tea tree oil gel with 5 percent benzoyl peroxide lotion in mild to moderate acne treatment situations.
Both therapies decreased the number of acne lesions substantially while the tea tree oil worked more slowly. Those using the oil from the tea tree experienced less side effects.
6. Athlete’s foot
According to one study, symptoms of athlete ‘s foot, or tinea pedis, were reduced by topical application of a tea tree oil cream.
A 10 percent tea tree oil cream appeared to reduce symptoms as effectively as an antifungal medication, 1 percent tolnaftate. The tea tree oil, however, was no more effective in achieving total cure than a placebo.
More recent research has compared higher tea tree oil concentrations on athlete ‘s foot with a placebo.
A marked change in symptoms was observed in 68 per cent of people using a 50 percent application of tea tree oil, with 64 percent achieving complete cure. This was more than double the improvement the placebo group have seen.
7. Contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema caused by contact with an irritant or allergen. Several contact dermatitis therapies have been compared, including tea tree oil, zinc oxide, and butyrate clobetasone.
Results suggest tea tree oil has been more effective than other treatments in suppressing allergic contact dermatitis. It has had no effect on irritant contact dermatitis, however.
Keep in mind that tea tree oil in some people can itself induce allergic dermatitis in contact.
8. Dandruff and Cradle Cap
According to one study, mild to moderate dandruff associated with the Pityrosporum ovale yeast may be treated with 5 percent tea tree oil.
People with dandruff who used a 5 per cent tea tree oil shampoo everyday for 4 weeks showed substantial changes in overall severity as well as the rate of itchiness and greasiness compared to placebo.
Participants did not suffer any adverse effects.
Another study found tea tree oil shampoo effective for treating children with cradle cap.
Tea tree oil can have an allergic effect. Put a little shampoo on the infant’s forearm to check for a reaction, and rinse. If no reaction occurs within 24 to 48 hours then use should be safe.
9. Head lice
Head lice are becoming more resistant to medical treatments, therefore experts are increasingly seeing essential oils as alternatives.
Research in the treatment of head lice compared tea tree oil and nerolidol – a natural compound found in some essential oils. Tea tree oil was more effective in killing the lice, after 30 minutes, eradicating 100 percent. On the other hand, nerolidol was more effective at killing the eggs.
A combination of both substances worked best to destroy both the lice and the eggs, at a ratio of 1 part to 2.
Other research has found a combination of tea tree oil and lavender oil to be “suffocating” effective.
10. Nail fungus
Nail abnormalities are a common cause of fungal infections. They can be tough to cure.
One study compared the effects with placebo of a cream consisting of both 5 percent tea tree oil and 2 percent butenafine hydrochloride (a synthetic antifungal).
After 16 weeks, 80 percent of people cured the nail fungus. Neither case was cured in the placebo group.
Another study showed that tea tree oil was effective in the laboratory at eliminating nail fungus.
However, this research certainly does not show that the cream’s tea tree oil component is responsible for the improvements experienced, so further research is needed.
11. Oral health
A gel containing tea tree oil may be beneficial to those with chronic gingivitis, a condition of the inflammatory gum.
Study participants who used tea tree oil gel experienced a significant reduction in bleeding and inflammation compared to a placebo or antiseptic gel with chlorhexidine.
Other research indicates that tea tree oil and alpha-bisabolol, the active component in chamomile, may be used to treat a type of bacteria associated with bad breath.
The amount and timing of the dosage of tea tree oil depends on several factors, including the condition requiring treatment, its severity and tea tree oil concentration.
Risks and warnings
Applying tea tree oil topically, or ingesting it, carries several risks. Tea tree oil is not monitored for safety or purity by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it should be purchased from a reputable source.
Risks associated with ingestion
Never swallow tea tree oil as it can cause:
- severe rashes
- blood cell abnormalities
- stomach ache
Risks associated with topical applications
The risks related to the topical use of tea tree oil include:
Allergic contact dermatitis: Discontinue use if this happens after using tea tree oil. Some research suggests that this is more likely to happen after using the pure oil instead of shampoo or cosmetics.
Male prepubertal gynecomastia: Enlarged breast tissue has been associated with topical use of products containing lavender oil or tea tree oil in prepubescent people. Yet there is limited evidence.
Resistance to bacteria: Consistent use of antibiotics, including low-level doses of tea tree oil, can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a major concern in the health community.
Some possible uses of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has many applications. Some suggestions include:
- Dressing up Wound. To destroy bacteria and reduce inflammation, put a few drops of oil on fresh wound dressing.
- Homemade mouthwash. To a cup of water add 2 drops of tea tree oil and use as a mouthwash. Do not swallow as tea tree oil is toxic when taken indoors.
- Natural cure for dandruff. Mix in daily shampoo a few drops of tea tree oil, and wash hair as usual.
- Acne therapy. To a half cup of water add 4 drops of tea tree oil. Once daily apply a cotton pad to the face.
- Household cleaner. Mix a cup of water and a half cup of white vinegar with 20 drops of tea tree oil. Measure the mixture into a spray container, and use as an antimicrobial cleaner for all purposes.