Everything You Need to Know About Tea Tree Oil

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on December 6, 2016Written by Daniela Ginta

tea tree oil

Overview

Often referred to as a “medicine chest in a bottle,” tea tree essential oil has been used for centuries. An essential oil is a naturally occurring compound extracted from a plant. This potent oil can be found in everything from the plant’s seeds and stems to its petals or bark.

Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia bush. The plant is native to Australia. Although it grows wild, it’s generally grown for commercial oil extraction purposes.

Essential oils help keep plants safe from diseases caused by fungus and bacteria and may provide the same benefits when used by people. Keep reading to learn more about the potential benefits of tea tree oil and how to use it.

Benefits of tea tree oil

Aboriginal Australians have historically used the crushed leaves of the plant to treat infections. Nowadays, researchers have assessed the use of tea tree oil in a number of circumstances.

Although more research is needed to truly determine the efficacy, tea tree oil may:

  • help wounds heal
  • help combat head lice
  • help soothe itchiness associated with insect bites and sunburn
  • help relieve some scalp and skin conditions, such as dandruff and psoriasis
  • help clear certain bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, such as athlete’s foot and staph infection

Also, tea tree oil isn’t reserved just for medicinal use. It can also be used for household cleaning.

Consider using tea tree oil:

  • as a disinfectant in cleaning solutions
  • against mold and insects in the house
  • as a laundry freshener

Check out: 10 ways to get rid of or prevent razor burn »

How to use tea tree oil

Recent scientific research has confirmed that tea tree oil is effective in preventing infections caused by bacteria and viruses, as well as fungal infestations. There’s also evidence to suggest that you can use tea tree oil for:

Mouth wash

This may be especially beneficial after dental procedures, such as a root canal. Researchers in a 2013 study found that tea tree oil kills bacteria by causing their cells to break.

A low concentration of tea tree oil was found to be effective against Candida, a fungus that can overgrow and cause numerous health problems.

As a mouthwash, swish a concentration of 2.5 percent twice a day after brushing. Don’t swallow the oil. To make this solution, mix 12 to 15 drops of oil with one ounce of water.

Tea tree oil’s antibacterial properties and fresh smell also work together to eliminate bad breath.

Skin care

Some of the active components in tea tree oil have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help treat acne. Tea tree oil may also be effective against stubborn strains of bacteria that can cause skin infections such as MRSA and S. aureus.

For acne and other skin infections caused by bacteria, use a 5 percent gel or washing solution on the affected area. Do this once a day for three months. To make this solution, mix 30 drops of essential oil per ounce of water or carrier oil.

For stubborn nail and skin fungal infections use the essential oil as is, straight from the bottle. Apply the oil to the affected area twice a day over the course of six months.

Foot health

Using tea tree oil may help get rid of foot conditions such as athlete’s foot.

To help with athlete’s foot, apply a 10 to 50 percent tea tree oil solution to the affected area for a couple of weeks. Always wash and dry your feet before applying any treatment.

To make the solution, mix equal parts oil and carrier oil. For a less potent solution, mix about half of a teaspoon of essential oil with an ounce of carrier oil.

Scalp care

A 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo may help get dandruff under control by reducing itchiness and hair greasiness without any adverse reactions. This product is generally available over the counter.

For dandruff, apply a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo to the scalp daily. Leave this on for three minutes before rinsing. To make your own shampoo, add 30 drops of essential oil to an ounce of your favorite shampoo.

A homemade 1 percent solution may also be effective in treating head lice. To make this solution, mix 6 drops of tea tree oil per one ounce of water or oil. Oil and water don’t mix well, so you may have the best luck mixing it with another oil. Be sure to mix the solution well before applying to the scalp.

To clean and dress wounds use a 3 percent solution of tea tree oil. To make this solution, mix 18 drops of oil in an ounce of water. Shake the mixture well. Although this is generally only done to clean the initial wound, it should be safe to use for daily cleaning.

To increase effectiveness, keep the solution, shampoo, or gel on your skin or hair for a few minutes before rinsing it off. Talk to your doctor about effective dosage and application time.

Home cleaning

Tea tree oil is an effective antifungal agent, more so than the usually recommended vinegar or alcohol solutions. For laundry and cleaning, add a few drops to your rinse cycle or cleaning solution.

Learn more: Home remedies for head lice: What works? »

Risks and warnings

Though essential oils are plant-derived and completely natural, they’re very potent solutions that can cause allergic reactions. As with any new medication or natural remedy, you should do a skin patch test to check for adverse reactions before use.

Skin patch tests are commonly done on the inside of the forearm. Be sure to mix the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive, before applying directly to the skin. Water can also be used as a carrier solution. If you don’t experience any inflammation or irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to do a full application.

Use tea tree oil with care if you have any autoimmune conditions, allergies, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Tea tree oil can lead to mild hormonal activity, so use with caution in children, especially boys.

Because of its wide range of actions, tea tree oil can interact with drugs and herbal supplements. Consult with your doctor before using the oil if you’re taking any medication or dietary supplements.

It’s important to remember the dosage for tea tree oil varies depending on what you use it for. And you should never ingest tea tree oil.

The bottom line

Tea tree oil is a natural and highly effective antibacterial and antifungal solution. It may help with conditions such as acne, dandruff, and fungal infections. You can also use it to keep your home clean and fungus-free and to dress and clean wounds.

As with most natural remedies, it may take a bit of time to see results. Persistence is key. When using natural remedies, a little goes a long way. It’s also worth noting that there’s no chance of bacterial or fungal resistance.

Keep reading: What are the best essential oils for acne? »

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