Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. Although Melaleuca alternifolia is known as the tea tree, it should not be confused with the plant that produces leaves used to make black, green and oolong tea. Tea tree oil has been used as a traditional medicine by Aborigines for centuries. These native Australians crush tea tree leaves to extract the oil, which is then inhaled to treat coughs and colds or applied directly to the skin for healing.
Today, tea tree oil is widely available as a 100% undiluted or “neat” oil. Diluted forms are also available, ranging from 5–50% strength in products designed for the skin. Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds, including terpinen-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders. These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.
Benefits of this versatile oil
The oil has been used for almost 100 years as a healing treatment in Australia, particularly for skin conditions. Today it is used for a number of conditions. Tea tree oil is probably best known for its antibacterial activity. Some research suggests that the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity associated with the oil comes from its ability to damage the cell walls of bacteria. More research is needed to understand how it might work.
Tea tree oil may help quell inflammation, possibly due to its high concentration of terpinen-4-ol, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties. In animal tests, terpinen-4-ol was found to suppress inflammatory activity in cases of mouth infection. In humans, topically applied tea tree oil reduced swelling in histamine-induced skin inflammation more effectively than paraffin oil.
A review of the effectiveness of tea tree oil highlights its ability to kill a range of yeasts and fungi. The majority of the studies reviewed focus on Candida albicans, a type of yeast which commonly affects the skin, genitals, throat, and mouth. Other research suggests suggests that terpinen-4-ol enhances the activity of fluconazole, a common antifungal drug, in cases of resistant strains of Candida albicans.
Some studies show that tea tree oil can help treat certain viruses, but research is limited in this area.
Acne is the most common skin condition. It affects up to 50 million Americans at any one time. One study found a significant difference between tea tree oil gel and a placebo in treating acne. Participants treated with tea tree oil experienced improvement in both total acne count and the severity of the acne. This builds on earlier research which compared 5 percent tea tree oil gel with 5 percent benzoyl peroxide lotion in treating cases of mild to moderate acne. Both treatments significantly reduced the number of acne lesions, although the tea tree oil worked more slowly. Those using the tea tree oil experienced fewer side effects.
6) Athlete’s foot
Symptoms of athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, were reduced through topical application of a tea tree oil cream, according to one study. A 10 percent tea tree oil cream appeared to reduce the symptoms as effectively as 1 percent tolnaftate, an antifungal medication. However, the tea tree oil was no more effective than a placebo in achieving a total cure.
More recent research compared higher concentrations of tea tree oil on athlete’s foot with a placebo. A marked improvement in symptoms was seen in 68 percent of people who used a 50 percent tea tree oil application, with 64 percent achieving total cure. This was over double the improvement seen in the placebo group.
7) Contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema caused by contact with an irritant or allergen. Several treatments for contact dermatitis were compared, including tea tree oil, zinc oxide, and clobetasone butyrate. Results suggest that tea tree oil was more effective in suppressing allergic contact dermatitis than other treatments. However, it did not have an effect on irritant contact dermatitis. Keep in mind that tea tree oil itself may induce allergic contact dermatitis in some people.
8) Dandruff and Cradle Cap
Tree tree oil can be used to soothe cradle cap on an infant’s scalp.
Mild to moderate dandruff related to the yeast Pityrosporum ovale may be treated with 5 percent tea tree oil, according to one study. People with dandruff who used a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo daily for 4 weeks showed significant improvements in overall severity, as well as in the levels of itchiness and greasiness, when compared with a placebo. Participants experienced no negative effects.
9) Head lice
Head lice are becoming more resistant to medical treatments, so experts are increasingly considering essential oils as alternatives. Research compared tea tree oil and nerolidol – a natural compound found in some essential oils – in the treatment of head lice. The tea tree oil was more effective at killing the lice, eradicating 100 percent after 30 minutes. On the other hand, nerolidol was more effective at killing the eggs. A combination of both substances, at a ratio of 1 part to 2, worked best to destroy both the lice and the eggs.
10) Nail fungus
Fungal infections are a common cause of nail abnormalities. They can be difficult to cure. One study compared the effects of a cream comprising both 5 percent tea tree oil and 2 percent butenafine hydrochloride (a synthetic antifungal) with a placebo. After 16 weeks, the nail fungus was cured in 80 percent of people. None of the cases in the placebo group was cured.
11) Oral health
A gel containing tea tree oil may be beneficial for those with chronic gingivitis, an inflammatory gum condition. Study participants who used tea tree oil gel experienced a significant reduction in bleeding and inflammation when compared with a placebo or a chlorhexidine antiseptic gel.