You might have thought about using tea tree oil to soothe a red, itchy ringworm rash on your body or scalp. Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree. It’s known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Some research suggests tea tree oil might be useful for treating fungal infections like ringworm of the body or scalp, as well as athlete’s foot and nail fungus.
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. It’s not related to an actual worm, but instead gets its name from the circular rash that forms on the skin of people who’ve been infected.
Ringworm is also known as tinea corporis — or tinea capitis if it’s on the scalp. It’s related to other fungal infections, including:
You can catch ringworm if you touch a person, animal, or personal item (such as a towel or sheet) that’s been infected with the fungus.
The infection creates a red, itchy rash surrounded by a raised red circle that is worm-like in shape. However, ringworm isn’t a worm; it’s a fungus.
Tea tree oil has antifungal properties. It kills fungi like the ones that cause ringworm.
There have been very few well-designed studies of tea tree oil for treating fungal infections, and much of the research that does exist is more than 20 years old. But a
None of the studies specifically looked at tea tree oil for ringworm of the body or scalp, but they did investigate its use for other fungal conditions, like athlete’s foot.
After a month, symptoms improved in around 70 percent of the people who’d used the tea tree oil, compared to less than 40 percent of those in the placebo group.
Nearly two-thirds of people who’d used the 50 percent tea tree oil solution had complete skin clearing. The main side effect was a skin rash, which developed in four people who used the tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil and tolnaftate both improved symptoms like scaling, itching, and inflammation better than placebo, but none of the treatments cured the condition.
Before applying tea tree oil — or any other ringworm treatment — check with your dermatologist to make sure it’s safe for you. Wash and dry your skin before you rub on the oil.
Dilute the essential tea tree oil in a carrier oil. Use a sterile cotton ball, Q-tip, or cloth to apply the diluted tea tree essential oil to your skin. Cover the entire rash with the oil.
Some products come already diluted in a cream or oil. Read the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to do a patch test.
Ringworm on the scalp
For ringworm on the scalp, apply a few drops of tea tree oil directly to the affected area. You can also mix a few drops into your shampoo and wash your hair and scalp with it.
Watch your skin for any signs of irritation. If you develop any new redness or bumps, stop using tea tree oil and see your dermatologist.
The main treatment for ringworm is an over-the-counter antifungal cream like clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF) or terbinafine (Lamisil AT). Generally, you’ll apply these products twice a day for about two to four weeks.
If you have ringworm on a large area of your body, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal pill.
Ringworm of the scalp is treated with a prescription medication such as griseofulvin, which is available in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. You may also need to use an antifungal shampoo.
Because ringworm is very contagious, your doctor might recommend that people who live with you use the medicated shampoo, too.
Antifungal creams or pills can clear up ringworm within a few weeks. Tea tree oil hasn’t been proven to treat ringworm, but there’s no harm in trying it unless your skin is sensitive to it.
For the best odds of getting clear skin, take your antifungal medication exactly as your doctor prescribes it, or as the package instructions direct. It might take a few weeks of use to fully clear your skin.
If your skin doesn’t improve or gets worse, visit your doctor to discuss other treatment options.
Be aware that tea tree oil is available in a variety of concentrations. Topical products commonly include tea tree oil in 5 to 10 percent concentrations. Do not apply tea tree oil directly to the skin unless you have mixed it with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil.
Even when diluted, tea tree oil can still cause reactions and irritation. Do a patch test with a small amount before applying more broadly.
If you’ve been infected with ringworm, be careful not to spread the fungus. It can live on household items like clothing and bedding. Don’t share any personal items until the infection has fully cleared.