I had never heard of tea tree oil until I went on a tour of Australasia. My guide scraped her hand during one of our camping trips, and instead of applying an antibiotic ointment to the cut, she used a liquid smelling of fresh eucalyptus and camphor. She insisted that tea tree oil was one of nature’s magical gifts, and she was right.
Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia that grow in Australia. The tree was named by sailors who made nutmeg-scented tea from its leaves. Tea tree lakes in Australia exist because the oil from the roots of the trees seeps into the lake (1). The lake ranges from amber to black in color, but it is clean and pure due to tea tree oil’s antimicrobial properties.
Tea tree oil can be applied to the skin as an antiseptic for wounds and injuries. It has been known to cure athlete’s foot and fungal infections of the nails. Tea tree oil can also help clear acne, although it takes longer to do so than prescribed medications (2). I have used tea tree oil on severe insect bites to stop inflammation and itching. A friend of mine uses tea tree oil to clear up cold sores. Tea tree oil can also provide relief from joint and muscle pain, because it resembles the feeling of “Icy Hot.”
I’ve found that tea tree oil does wonders for the hair and scalp. I make my own shampoo and put a few drops of tea tree oil into the batch to prevent dandruff. Tea tree oil can also be used against lice. Apparently lice hate the smell of tea tree oil, and putting a few drops on your scalp each night can prevent and get rid of the little pests. If you’re diagnosed with an ear infection by your doctor, you can talk to them about using tea tree oil to cure the issue. It cannot be placed directly into the ear, but it can be mixed with oil or stirred into water before use.
Tea tree oil has rapidly gained popularity in the medical field. Although the research is limited, tea tree oil treatments have been shown to improve MRSA, an infection caused by a strain of Staphylococcus (3). Additionally, a three-year study conducted by The University of Western Australia’s Tea Tree Oil research group used tea tree oil to inhibit tumor growth in mice. Tea tree oil’s anti-cancer effects may coincide with the body’s immune system, and could potentially be used instead of chemotherapy in patients with non-melanoma skin cancers and precancerous cells. It is not currently advised to use tea tree oil as an alternative treatment for cancer, but the research in the field is growing (4).
Tea tree oil is very concentrated, and should only be used at small levels or mixed with other compounds. Side effects are minimal, but concentrated doses may cause skin irritation and drying. Do not drink tea tree oil, as it is known to interact with the central nervous system. The common dosage for acne treatments is 5 to 15%, 70 to 100% for fungal infections, and 1 to 40% for other maladies. Search for tea tree oil brands that only contain oil from Melaleuca alternifolia, less than 10% cineole, and a minimum of 30% terpinen-4-ol (5). Once you’ve found your perfect brand of tea tree oil, sit back, relax, and enjoy its benefits.
1. “Tea Tree Oil- Overview” WebMD. Available at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-113-TEA%20TREE%20OIL.aspx?activeIngredientId=113&activeIngredientName=TEA%20TREE%20OIL. Accessed 05 Feb 2014.
2. “Tea Tree Oil- Uses.” WebMD. Available at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-113-TEA%20TREE%20OIL.aspx?activeIngredientId=113&activeIngredientName=TEA%20TREE%20OIL. Accessed 05 Feb 2014.
3. Bradley, SF. “MRSA colonisation (eradicating colonisation in people without active/invasive infection).” NCBI, 2011. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217659/ Accessed 05 Feb 2014.
4. “Tea Tree Oil Offers Hope to Skin Cancer Patients.” The University of Western Australia, 29 June 2010. Available at http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201006292609/events/tea-tree-oil-offers-hope-skin-cancer-patients. Accessed 05 Feb 2014.
5. “Tea Tree.” NYU Langone Medical Center, 2013. Available at http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21867. Accessed 05 Feb 2014