Tea tree oil is an essential oil obtained by steam distilling the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia , a plant native to Australia. Historically, the leaves have been used as a substitute for tea, which is why tea tree oil gets its name. For medicinal purposes, oil from the leaves is used.
Tea tree essential oil, sometimes also called melaleuca oil, has been used for centuries to treat wounds and other skin conditions. The oil can be applied topically or added to lotions and skin products.
The tea tree has a long history of traditional use. Aboriginal Australians used tea tree leaves to treat skin cuts, burns, and infections by crushing the leaves and applying them to affected areas.
Tea tree oil contains ingredients called terpenoids that have antiseptic and antifungal properties. The compound terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant compound and is believed to be responsible for most of the antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil.
People use tea tree oil for the following conditions:
So far, research on the use of tea tree oil is limited, so it's unclear if the oil can treat any of these conditions. If you plan to use tea tree oil for any medical condition, speak with your doctor first. Please note that tea tree oil should not be used as a substitute for standard care in treating any medical condition.
Tea tree oil has also been used to treat the following conditions:
A randomized controlled trial examined the use of a 25 percent tea tree oil solution, a 50 percent tea tree oil solution, or a placebo in 158 people with athletic feet . After applying twice a day for four weeks, the two tea tree oil solutions were significantly more effective than the placebo.
The 50% tea tree oil group cured 64% compared to 31% in the placebo group. Four people who took tea tree oil dropped out of the study because they developed dermatitis (which improved after stopping the use of tea tree oil). Otherwise, there were no significant side effects.
Toenail fungal infections
A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Family Practice looked at the use of 100% tea tree oil solution or 1% clotrimazole (a topical antifungal) twice daily in 177 people with yeast infections in the toenails . After six months, based on clinical evaluation and toenail culture, tea tree oil was found to be as effective as a topical antifungal agent .
Another randomized controlled trial examined the efficacy and safety of a cream containing 5 percent tea tree oil and 2 percent butenafine hydrochloride in 60 people with a fungal toenail infection. After 16 weeks, 80 percent of the people who used the cream had a significant improvement over the no-placebo group. Side effects included mild inflammation .
In a third double-blind study, 100% tea tree oil was compared with a topical antifungal agent, clotrimazole, in 112 people with toenail fungal infections. Tea tree oil was as effective as an antifungal.
A single, blind, randomized study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia compared the efficacy and tolerability of 5% tea tree oil gel and 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion in 124 people with mild to moderate acne . People in both groups experienced significant reductions in inflamed and non-inflamed acne lesions (open and closed comedones) over three months, although tea tree oil was less effective than benzoyl peroxide.
Although tea tree oil initially lasted longer, tea tree oil had fewer side effects. In the benzoyl peroxide group, 79 percent of people had side effects, such as itching, tingling, burning, and dryness. The researchers noted that the tea tree oil group had far fewer side effects.
A single blind study looked at the use of a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo or a placebo in 126 people with mild to moderate dandruff. After four weeks, the tea tree oil shampoo significantly reduced the symptoms of dandruff.
Check out our other natural dandruff remedies to learn how to deal with flakes naturally.
Possible side effects.
Tea tree oil is generally safe when used in small amounts topically (on the skin). Sometimes people have allergic reactions to tea tree oil, from mild contact dermatitis to severe blisters and rashes.
A study shows that tea tree oil can alter hormone levels . Three cases of topical tea tree oils used to cause unexplained breast enlargement in children have been reported. People with hormone-sensitive cancers, pregnant and lactating women should avoid consuming tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil should not be taken orally, even in small amounts. This can cause impaired immune function, diarrhea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression (excessive drowsiness, drowsiness, confusion, coma).
Tea tree oil, like any essential oil, can be absorbed through the skin. It cannot be applied to the skin neat (undiluted); even small amounts can cause toxicity.
Consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of an overdose: excessive drowsiness, drowsiness, incoordination, diarrhea, vomiting.
Avoid using tea tree oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Keep tea tree oil out of the reach of children and pets.
Dosage and preparation
The researchers studied various doses of tea tree oil. For example, clinical trials have used 5 percent tea tree oil gel applied daily to treat acne. More concentrated solutions have been studied for the treatment of athlete's foot, nail fungus, and other conditions.
The amount of tea tree oil and the formulation that is right for you can depend on a number of factors, including your age, gender, and health. Always consult your doctor for personalized advice.
What to look for
Tea tree oil is most commonly found in its pure form. It is also found in creams, ointments, lotions, soaps, and shampoos.
As with any supplement, the NIH recommends that you check the supplement label on the product you purchase. This label will contain information on the concentration of the product and any added ingredients.
Additionally, the organization invites you to search for a product that has a seal of approval from a third-party quality testing organization. These organizations include the United States Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the safety or effectiveness of a product, but does provide assurance that the product has been manufactured correctly, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.
Lastly, tea tree oil should not be confused with Chinese tea oil, kaeputa oil, kanuk oil, manuka oil, ti oil, and niauli oil.