Uses and Benefits of Tea Tree Oil
What is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is a volatile essential oil. It is also known as melaleuca, because it is derived from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. The Melaleuca genus belongs to the Myrtaceae family and contains approximately 230 plant species, almost all of which are native to Australia.
It’s been widely used throughout Australia for at least the past 100 years and for over seven decades, it’s been documented in numerous medical studies for its ability to kill many strains of bacteria, viruses and fungi. And, it’s becoming an increasingly popular active ingredient in a variety of household and cosmetic products. Tea tree’s natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions make it one of the most beneficial essential oils that should included as part of your natural medicine cabinet. (1)
Tea tree oil (or TTO) is an ingredient in many topic formulations that are used to treat infections, and it’s marketed as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent in Australia, Europe and North America. You can also find tea tree in a variety of household and cosmetic products, like cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoos, massage oils, and skin and nail creams. So what is tea tree oil good for? Well, it’s one of the most popular essential oils because it works as a powerful disinfectant and is gentle enough to apply topically in order to fight skin infections and irritations. (2)
Tea tree’s primary active ingredients include terpene hydrocarbons, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. It is these compounds that give tea tree its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. There are actually over 100 different chemical components of tea tree oil — terpinen-4-ol and alpha-terpineol are the most active — and various ranges of concentrations. The volatile hydrocarbons found in the oil are considered aromatic and capable of traveling through air, pores of the skin and mucus membranes. That’s why tea tree oil is commonly used aromatically and topically to kill germs, fight infections and soothe skin conditions. (3)
Benefits of Tea Tree Oil
1. Fight Acne and Other Skin Conditions
Due to tea tree oil’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it has potential to work as a natural remedy for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
A 2017 pilot study conducted in Australia evaluated the efficacy of tea tree oil gel compared to a face wash without tea tree in the treatment of mild to moderate facial acne. Participants in the tea tree group applied the oil to their faces twice a day for a 12-week period. Those who use tea tree experienced significantly fewer facial acne lesions compared to those using the face wash. No serious adverse reactions occurred, but there were some minor side effects like peeling, dryness and scaling, all of which resolved without any intervention. (4)
2. Improve Dry Scalp
Research suggests that tea tree oil is able to improve symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, which is a common skin condition that causes scaly patches on the scalp and dandruff. It’s also reported to help alleviate contact dermatitis symptoms.
A 2002 human study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology investigated the efficacy of 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo and placebo in patients with mild to moderate dandruff. After a four-week treatment period, participants in the tea tree group showed a 41 percent improvement in the severity of dandruff, while only 11 percent of those in the placebo group showed improvements. Researchers also indicated an improvement in patient itchiness and greasiness after using tea tree oil shampoo. (5)
3. Soothe Skin Irritations
Although the research on this is limited, tea tree oil’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties may make it a useful tool for soothing skin irritations and wounds. There is some evidence from a pilot study that after being treated with tea tree oil, patient wounds had begun to heal and reduced in size. (6)And there have been case studies that show tea tree oil’s ability to treat infected chronic wounds. (7)
Tea tree oil may be effective in reducing inflammation, fighting skin or wound infections and reducing wound size. It can be used to soothe sunburns, sores and insect bites, but only when it has been tested on a small patch of skin first to rule out sensitivity to topical application.
4. Fight Bacterial, Fungal and Viral Infections
According to a scientific review on tea tree that’s published in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, data clearly shows the broad-spectrum activity of tea tree oil due to its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. This means, in theory, that tea tree oil can be used to fight a number of infections, from MRSA to athlete’s foot. Researchers are still evaluating these tea tree benefits, but they have been shown in some human studies, lab studies and anecdotal reports.
Lab studies have showed that tea tree oil can inhibit the growth of bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria cause serious infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, bloodstream infections, strep throat, sinus infections and impetigo. (8)
Because of tea tree oil’s antifungal properties, it may have the ability to fight or prevent fungal infections like Candida, jock itch, athlete’s foot and toenail fungus. (9)
A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study conducted in Australia tested the efficacy of tea tree oil in the treatment of athlete’s foot compared to placebo. Patients in the treatment group received 25 percent tea tree oil solution, or 50 percent tea tree oil solution or placebo. They were instructed to apply the solution twice daily to the affected areas for four weeks.
Researchers reported a clinical response in 68 percent of the 50 percent tea tree group, 72 percent of the 25 percent tea tree group, and 39 percent in the placebo group. Of the 158 patients that participated in the study, four experienced moderate to severe skin reactions to the treatment that improved quickly after they stopped using the solution. (10)
Lab studies show that tea tree oil has the ability to fight recurrent herpes virus (which causes cold sores) and influenza. The antiviral activity of tea tree oil has been attributed to the presence of terpinen-4-ol, one of the oil’s main active components. (11, 12, 13)
Tea tree oil can eliminate warts. A 2008 case study found that when tea tree oil was applied topically once daily to a wart on a pediatric patient’s middle finger, the wart completely disappeared after 12 days of treatment. This is another example of tea tree’s antiviral activity. (14)
5. May Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistance
Essential oils like tea tree oil and oregano oil are being used in replacement of or along with conventional medications because they too serve as powerful antibacterial agents, without the adverse side effects. Research published in The Open Microbiology Journal indicates that some essential oils, like tea tree oil, have a positive synergistic effect when combined with conventional antibiotics.
Researchers are optimistic that this means essential oils may help prevent antibiotic resistance from developing. This is extremely important in modern medicine because antibiotic resistance may lead to treatment failure, increased healthcare costs and the spread of infection control problems. (15)
6. Relieve Congestion and Respiratory Tract Infections
Very early in its history, the leaves of the malaleuca plant were crushed and inhaled to treat coughs and colds. Traditionally, the leaves were also soaked to make an infusion that was used to treat sore throats.
Today, studies show that tea tree oil has antimicrobial activity, giving it the ability to fight bacteria that lead to nasty respiratory tract infections, and antiviral activity that’s helpful for fighting or even preventing congestion, coughs and the common cold. This is exactly why tea tree is one of the leading essential oils for cough and respiratory issues. (16)
7. Help Treat Head Lice
Tea tree oil has insecticidal effects making it effective in eliminating head lice, which are small, parasitic insects that feed on human blood. A lab study conducted in Italy investigated the efficacy of tea tree oil against lice and its eggs. Tea tree was used alone and in combination with nerolidol and tested at different ratios against 69 head lice and 187 eggs over a six-month period.
Researchers found that tea tree oil alone was more effective against head lice, with treatment resulting in 100 percent mortality after 30 minutes of exposure. A higher concentration of tea tree oil was able to induce the failure of 50 percent of the eggs to hatch. When tea tree oil was combined with nerolidol at a 1:2 ratio, the two substances caused the death of all head lice within 30 minutes and the abortive effect of lice eggs after 5 days of treatment. (17)
8. Help Treat Scabies
A common question is “can tea tree oil get rid of scabies?” The answer, according to lab studies, is yes. A study conducted at Flinders University in Australia found that 5 percent tea tree oil and its active component terpinen-4-ol were highly effective in reducing the survival of scabies mites. Tea tree works as a natural treatment for scabies because it has powerful antimicrobial properties, giving it the ability to heal scabies on top of and beneath the skin. (18)
9. Improve Bad Breath
Bad breath comes from bacteria that are found in your mouth, especially the back of your tongue, throat and tonsils. Because tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that can kill these bacteria, it works as a natural remedy for bad breath.
An in vitro study also shows that tea tree oil acts as an effective antiseptic agent against oral pathogens, including Candida albicans, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. This tea tree oil benefit can be extremely helpful after oral surgery, like a root canal, that increases your risk of developing a bacterial or fungal infection. (19)
But keep in mind that tea tree oil should not be used internally, so if you are using it as a mouthwash to kill oral germs, make sure to spit it out afterwards and rinse your mouth with water.
Uses Of Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil can be used to make natural beauty, health and cleaning products that are free from dangerous chemicals. Tea tree oil can be used in the following ways:
- Aromatically: Diffuse tea tree oil throughout your home using an oil diffuser. You can also directly inhale the oil by sniffing it right out of the bottle.
- Topically: Tea tree oil can be applied to the skin topically, but you should always dilute it with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, in a 1:1 ratio before applying it.
- NOT for Internal Use: According to the National Poison Center, tea tree oil is known to be poisonous if swallowed. Tea tree oil should NOT be taken by mouth for any reason. If you are using tea tree for bad breath or oral health, make sure you spit it out afterwards to prevent potential side effects like digestive issues, hives or dizziness. (20)
Here are some basic ways that you can use tea tree oil at home to transform your health.
1. Natural Acne Fighter
One of the most common uses for tea tree oil today is in skin care products, as it’s considered one of the most effective home remedies for acne.
2. Improve Psoriasis and Eczema
Tea tree oil may help relieve many types of skin inflammation, including being used as a natural eczema treatment and for reducing psoriasis.
3. Boost Hair Health
Tea tree oil has proven very beneficial for the health of your hair and scalp. Like coconut oil for hair, tea tree oil has the ability to soothe dry, flaking scalp and remove dandruff.
4. Natural Treatment for Lice
Tea tree oil has been shown to kill and prevent lice when used on the scalp and other areas of hair growth.
5. Natural Household Cleaner
Another fantastic way to use tea tree oil is as a household cleaner. Tea tree oil presents powerful antimicrobial activity that can kill off bad bacteria in your home.
6. Laundry Freshener
Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties, so it works great as a natural laundry freshener, especially when your laundry is musty or even moldy.
7. Fight Toenail Fungus and Ringworm
Because of its ability to kill parasites and fungal infections, tea tree oil is a great choice to use on nail fungus (onychomycosis), athlete’s foot and ringworm.
8. Improve Foot Odors
Here’s another example of how tea tree oil’s antibacterial activity is super beneficial. If you’re dealing with stinky feet or you need to get a funky smell out of your shoes, tea tree oil is a great remedy.
9. Kill Mold
A common problem many people experience in their homes is mold infestation, oftentimes without even being aware of it. Sometimes, people even begin to experience black mold symptoms when they are exposed to this toxin in their homes. Consider buying a diffuser and diffusing tea tree oil in the air around your home to kill mold and other bad bacteria. Also, you can spray tea tree oil all-purpose cleaner onto shower curtains, and into your laundry machine, dishwasher or toilet to kill off mold and other bacteria.
10. Natural DIY Deodorant
Another great reason to use tea tree oil is to eliminate body odor. Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that destroy the bacteria on your skin that cause body odor. You can make homemade tea tree oil deodorant by mixing a few drops with coconut oil and baking soda.
11. Protect Wounds and Cuts
Tea tree oil is the perfect ingredient in a homemade wound ointment because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Just make sure to clean a cut first with water and hydrogen peroxide if necessary, then put on 1–3 drops of tea tree oil and cover it with a bandage to help fight off infections.
12. Natural Toothpaste for Oral Health
Because of tea tree oil’s ability to kill off bad bacteria and at the same time soothe inflamed skin, it’s a perfect ingredient in homemade toothpaste and mouthwash. It may help to reduce the bleeding of gums and tooth decay, also. To get rid of bad breath and improve your oral health, simply mix a few drops of tea tree oil with coconut oil and baking soda for an amazing homemade toothpaste.
13. Natural Insect Repellent
Not only does tea tree oil work as a natural insect repellent, but it also helps to soothe bug bites. Because bug repellents typically contain toxic chemicals, using a natural option like tea tree oil is gentler on your skin.
14. Cough Reliever
To relieve a cough that’s caused by the common cold or another respiratory condition, simply diffuse 5 drops at home, inhale tea tree oil directly from the bottle, or combine 1–2 drops of tea tree with a half-teaspoon of coconut oil or other carrier oil and rub the mixture into your chest and back of your neck.