Tea Tree Oil for Eczema Flare-Ups: Benefits, Risks, and More

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on April 5, 2017Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN and Emily Cronkleton on April 5, 2017

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil, known officially as Melaleuca alternifolia, is an essential oil often derived from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia.

Although tea tree oil has been used in Australia for over 100 years, it has only recently gained popularity in other parts of the world. It’s primarily known for its skin-healing properties.

Many people with eczema are turning to tea tree oil to help relieve their symptoms. When used correctly, diluted tea tree oil can be a safe and effective alternative to traditional creams and ointments.

Keep reading to learn why tea tree oil works, how to use it, and side effects you should be aware of.

How is tea tree oil beneficial to people with eczema?

Tea tree oil has healing components that can help ease the symptoms and severity of eczema flares. These may include:

  • anti-inflammatory properties that lessen irritation
  • antifungal properties that may help reduce itching
  • antimicrobial properties that help fight infection-causing germs
  • antibacterial properties that can reduce infection and stop it from spreading
  • antiseptic properties that can help soothe the skin
  • antioxidant properties that can help to protect the skin from free radicals

Besides helping treat eczema, tea tree oil may help:

  • cure dandruff
  • reduce bacteria in the mouth and skin
  • treat athlete’s foot and fungus
  • treat minor skin irritations and wounds
  • treat acne

What the research says about tea tree oil and eczema

Tea tree oil has been well-studied and is thought to be the best essential oil for eczema. It has a number of exceptional healing qualities that have been proven throughout the years.

For example, researchers in a 2004 animal study observed the effects of a 10 percent tea tree oil cream on canines with eczema. Dogs treated with the tea tree oil cream for 10 days experienced significantly less itching than dogs treated with a commercial skin care cream. They also experienced relief faster.

The results of one 2011 study showed that topically-applied tea tree oil was significantly more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams at reducing eczema symptoms.

How to prepare a tea tree oil treatment

Before you treat your eczema with tea tree oil, take some time to make sure you do it properly so you get the best results. Here’s how to prepare.

Choose a good oil

If you want to use tea tree oil to treat your eczema, a high-quality oil is crucial. High-quality oils are less likely to be contaminated by other ingredients. Here are a few things you should keep in mind during your search:

  • If you can, opt for an organic oil.
  • Make sure any oil you buy is 100 percent pure.
  • Always research the brand to make sure it’s reputable.

You can typically find tea tree oil at your local heath store or online. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate essential oils, so it’s important to purchase from a supplier you trust.

Although most tea tree oils are derived from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree, others may be produced from a different type of Melaleuca tree. The Latin name of the plant and the country of origin should be provided on the bottle. It doesn’t matter which Melaleuca tree the oil is from, however the oil must be 100% tea tree oil.

Some bottles of tea tree oil may list its terpinen concentrations. Terpinen is the main antiseptic agent in tea tree oil. To get the most benefits, choose a product with a 10 to 40 percent terpinen concentration.

If you can, do some research online and read product reviews to determine which oil to buy. Feel free to ask the seller questions about the quality to get a feel for the company’s practices and standards. You should only buy from a supplier whose integrity you trust.

Mix it with a carrier oil

You should never apply undiluted tea tree oil to the skin. Tea tree oil is always drying when used alone. Undiluted tea tree oil is potent and may make your eczema worse. The following carrier oils can help moisturize:

  • olive oil
  • coconut oil
  • sunflower oil
  • jojoba oil
  • almond oil
  • avocado oil

Before using it, add about 12 drops of carrier oil to every 1 to 2 drops of tea tree oil.

Do a patch test

Once you have your oil, you should do a skin patch test:

  • Dilute the oil. For every 1 to 2 drops of tea tree oil, add 12 drops of a carrier oil.
  • Apply a dime-sized amount of the diluted oil to your forearm.
  • If you don’t experience any irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.

This mixture can be applied topically anywhere on the body, although you should avoid using it near your eyes.

Eczema treatment options using tea tree oil

How to use tea tree oil on your hands

Dab a dime-sized amount of diluted tea tree oil onto the back of your hand and rub the blend into your skin. You don’t need to wash it off. Just let it absorb into your skin like a lotion would.

You can also incorporate hand creams or soaps containing tea tree oil into your routine. If you can, opt for an all-natural formula. You should also check the label to make the cream doesn’t contain any fragrances, alcohol, or other ingredients that may irritate your eczema.

How to use tea tree oil on your scalp

Tea tree oil can also help relieve mild to moderate dandruff, a common symptom of eczema. One study found that a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo worked well to clear up dandruff and didn’t cause any adverse effects. In addition to clearing up pesky skin flakes, tea tree oil may:

  • unclog hair follicles
  • nourish your roots
  • reduce hair loss

When selecting your shampoo, make sure the product contains at least 5 percent tea tree oil and has an all-natural formula. Harsh chemicals may irritate your scalp.

You can also make your own. Add 2 to 3 drops of undiluted tea tree oil to a quarter-sized amount of your regular shampoo. The shampoo acts as a carrier for the tea tree oil, so there’s no need to dilute it further.

After shampooing, rinse and condition as you normally would. You can use tea tree oil shampoo as often as you’d like. If you find that it’s causing unexpected irritation, try using it every other time you wash your hair. If symptoms persist, discontinue use.

Check out: Can evening primrose oil help with eczema? »

Risks and warnings

Tea tree oil is generally considered safe to use. If undiluted tea tree oil is applied to the skin, it can cause minor irritation and inflammation.

You should never ingest tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is toxic to humans and can cause drowsiness, confusion, diarrhea, and rashes.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, use tea tree oil with caution and only under your doctor’s supervision.

Tea tree oil can typically be used alongside other treatment options. There aren’t any known risks for interaction.

Is tea tree oil safe to use for babies or young children?

To date, there isn’t any research on the safety or efficacy of using tea tree oil to treat infant eczema. It’s best to talk with your child’s doctor or pediatrician before use.

If you do use it, it should never be on an infant younger than 6 months. You should also dilute the oil at twice the usual rate, mixing 12 drops of carrier oil for every 1 drop of tea tree oil. Never apply the blend near the infant’s mouth or hands, where they might ingest it.

Also, boys who haven’t gone through puberty yet shouldn’t use tea tree oil. Some research has linked tea tree oil to prepubertal gynecomastia. This rare condition can result in enlarged breast tissue.

Learn more: 5 at-home treatments for infant eczema »

The bottom line

Tea tree oil has exceptional healing qualities and is thought to be the best essential oil for eczema.

Results can vary from person to person. Be gentle and patient with yourself as you take measures to heal your skin. Remember that skin takes 30 days to regenerate, and you may continue to have flare-ups along the way.

You may find it helpful to track your flare-ups in a journal to see if they’re caused by any clear environmental, dietary, or emotional triggers.

Remember, essential oils aren’t regulated by the government in any way, so it can be hard to know if you are purchasing pure, uncontaminated oil. Always buy your oil from a licensed aromatherapist, a naturopathic doctor, or a reputable health store.

Check with your doctor before using tea tree oil. And remember to perform an allergy patch test on your skin before you apply the oil to any large area on your body, as allergic reactions are possible.

Keep reading: Alternative treatments for eczema »

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