Tea tree oil is an essential oil that can be used for several purposes, including keeping skin, hair and nails healthy.
In addition to its scientifically backed benefits, tea tree oil is inexpensive and safe when used as directed.
This article discusses 14 everyday uses for tea tree oil and provides guidance on using it safely and effectively.
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.
Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders (3).
These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing.
Read on to learn about the many uses and benefits of this versatile oil.
Tea tree oil makes an ideal natural hand sanitizer.
Studies have shown that it kills several common bacteria and viruses responsible for causing illness, including E. coli, S. pneumoniae and H. influenzae (1).
Moreover, a study testing several types of hand wash shows that adding tea tree oil to the cleansers boosted their effectiveness against E. coli (4).
Here is a simple recipe to make your own moisturizing, all-natural hand sanitizer using tea tree oil.
Summary: Using tree oil as a natural hand sanitizer may help kill a number of germs responsible for colds, flu and other illness.
Tea tree oil may help keep pesky insects away.
One study found that 24 hours after being treated with tea tree oil, cows had 61% fewer flies than cows not treated with tea tree oil (5).
Furthermore, a test-tube study revealed that tea tree oil had a greater ability to repel mosquitoes than DEET, the most common active ingredient in commercial insect repellents (6).
Try this easy-to-make insect repellent using tea tree oil and other natural ingredients.
Summary: Tea tree oil has been shown to kill or repel insects. In some cases, it is as effective or more effective than standard insecticides or repellents.
Tea tree oil's antibacterial effects may help control underarm odor related to perspiration.
Sweat itself does not smell. However, when secretions from your sweat glands combine with bacteria on your skin, a moderate to strong odor is produced.
Your underarm area contains a large concentration of these glands and is mainly responsible for what is commonly referred to as "body odor." Tea tree oil's bacteria-fighting properties make it an ideal natural alternative to commercial deodorants and antiperspirants.
Here is a safe and effective natural deodorant that can be made from tea tree oil and a few other ingredients.
Summary: Tea tree oil contains compounds that fight bacteria responsible for body odor. It can be used to make a safe and effective deodorant.
Injuries that result in broken skin make it easy for germs to enter your bloodstream, which can lead to infection.
Tea tree oil can be used to treat and disinfect minor cuts and abrasions by killing S. aureus and other bacteria that can cause infection in open wounds (1).
To disinfect a cut or scrape, follow these steps:
- Clean the cut thoroughly with plain soap and water
- Mix one drop of tea tree oil with one teaspoon of coconut oil
- Apply a small amount of the mixture to the injury and cover with a bandage
- Repeat this process once or twice daily until a scab has formed
Summary: Applying a mixture of tea tree oil and coconut oil can help prevent minor cuts and abrasions from becoming infected.
In addition to preventing infection in cuts and abrasions, tea tree oil may also encourage wound healing.
In a small study of 10 people with wounds, adding tea tree oil to conventional wound treatment led to decreased healing time in all but one participant (9).
A few drops of tea tree oil can be added to wound dressing each time a new dressing is applied.
Summary: Tea tree oil may help speed wound healing by reducing inflammation and increasing white blood cell activity.
In one study, applying a 5% tea tree gel to acne lesions was shown to be more than three times as effective at reducing the number of lesions than a placebo. It was nearly six times as effective in reducing severity (12).
In another study, tea tree oil was found to be as effective against acne as benzoyl peroxide, the most common anti-acne medication (13).
Tea tree oil-based acne gels can be purchased at natural grocery stores or from online retailers.
Alternatively, you can make your own acne treatment by mixing one part tea tree oil with nine parts water and applying the mixture to affected areas with a cotton swab once or twice a day, as needed.
Summary: Gels containing tea tree oil have been shown to reduce the number of lesions and severity of acne in a number of studies.
Fungal nail infections are quite common. Although they aren't dangerous, they can be unsightly. There are medications that can treat nail fungus, though some people may prefer a more natural approach.
In a controlled study, people with nail fungus used straight tea tree oil or an antifungal medication for six months. At the end of the study, about 60% of people in each group experienced partial or full resolution of the fungus (15).
You can use a few drops of tea tree oil alone or mix it with an equal amount of coconut oil and apply it to the affected area. Be sure to wash your hands immediately after applying in order to avoid spreading the fungus to other areas.
Summary: Tea tree oil appears to be as effective against fungal nail infections as antifungal medications applied to the area.
One study found that tea tree oil was more effective against plaque-causing bacteria than chlorhexidine, a common disinfectant and oral rinse. What's more, its taste was found to be less objectionable (16).
On the other hand, an older study reported that tea tree oil didn't seem to have much of an effect on plaque formation (19).
To make your own chemical-free mouthwash, simply add a drop of tea tree oil to a cup of warm water, mix thoroughly and swish in your mouth for 30 seconds or so.
Like other mouthwashes, tea tree oil should not be swallowed. It can be toxic if ingested.
Summary: Tea tree oil can be diluted with water to create a mouthwash that helps fight bad breath and dental plaque.
Tea tree oil makes a great all-purpose cleaner that also sanitizes surfaces.
Plus, it does so without leaving traces of chemicals you wouldn't want your family members or pets coming in contact with.
Here's an easy recipe for an all-natural, all-purpose cleaner:
- Combine 20 drops of tea tree oil, 3/4 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle.
- Shake well until thoroughly mixed.
- Spray directly onto surfaces and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
- Make sure to shake the bottle before each use in order to mix the tea tree oil with the other ingredients.
Summary: Tea tree oil can be mixed with water and vinegar to create a chemical-free, all-purpose cleaner for your home.
Tea tree oil may help relieve inflamed skin.
A common form of skin irritation is contact dermatitis, which occurs when skin comes in contact with an allergen, such as nickel. Exposure to the allergen leads to red, itchy and sometimes painful skin.
In a study comparing the effects of different treatments for contact dermatitis, tea tree oil was found to reduce symptoms by 40%, which was significantly more than standard medications applied to the skin (22).
In addition, tea tree oil may provide relief from bug bite reactions by reducing the itching, redness and swelling that occurs when your body releases histamine to defend against the insect's saliva (23).
Use this recipe to relieve inflamed skin:
- Combine 10 drops of tea tree oil with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and one tablespoon of melted coconut oil.
- Mix well, and store in a sealed container.
- Apply to the affected area up to twice a day until symptoms resolve.
Summary: Applying a tea tree oil mixture may help combat skin inflammation related to contact dermatitis or insect bites.
Dandruff, or white flakes of dead skin that fall from the scalp, isn't dangerous.
However, it can be annoying and embarrassing.
Although there is little published research on tea tree oil's effectiveness in treating dandruff, one controlled study suggests that it may be helpful.
In this four-week study, the group who used a shampoo containing tea tree oil had a 40% improvement in dandruff. Moreover, the tea tree group reported significant improvements in dandruff severity, itchiness and greasiness (24).
To help reduce dandruff, try adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a dollop of shampoo when washing your hair.
Summary: Although research is limited, one study suggests that tea tree oil may help reduce the severity of dandruff and improve other symptoms.
Athlete's foot can be frustratingly hard to control.
Known medically as tinea pedis, athlete's foot is a contagious fungal infection on the feet that can also spread to the toenails and hands. Symptoms include peeling, cracking, blisters and redness.
In a controlled study of 158 people, 72% of the tea tree oil group had significant clinical improvement in athlete's foot, compared to 39% in the placebo group (25).
However, another study found that although tea tree oil helped relieve scaling, inflammation, itching and burning as well as antifungal medication, it wasn't as effective at actually getting rid of the fungus (26).
Here is a natural treatment to relieve the symptoms of athlete's foot:
- Combine 1/4 cup arrowroot powder, 1/4 cup baking soda and 20–25 drops of tea tree oil
- Stir to combine, and place in a covered container
- Apply to clean, dry feet twice a day
Summary: Tea tree oil's antifungal properties may help alleviate symptoms of athlete's foot.
Fresh produce is undeniably delicious and healthy.
Unfortunately, it's also susceptible to the growth of gray mold known as Botrytis cinerea, particularly in warm, moist climates.
To protect against mold, add 5–10 drops of tea tree oil to water before rinsing your produce and drying it thoroughly.
Summary: Tea tree oil contains compounds that help fight the growth of mold on fruits and vegetables. Adding tea tree oil to water when rinsing produce may help your produce remain mold-free.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition characterized by outbreaks of red, itchy, scaly skin.
Although there are medications that can improve symptoms, the condition itself is chronic and there is no known cure.
Tea tree oil contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which, according to emerging evidence, may be helpful for easing psoriasis symptoms (29).
To provide relief for psoriasis flares, combine 10–15 drops of tea tree oil with two tablespoons of melted coconut oil. Apply this to the affected area 2–3 times per day, as needed.
Summary: Applying a mixture of tea tree oil and coconut oil may help relieve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Research has shown that tea tree oil appears to be safe overall (30).
However, there are some things to be aware of before using it.
Tea tree oil should not be ingested because it may be toxic if swallowed.
Therefore, tea tree oil should be stored out of reach of children. In one case, an 18-month-old boy suffered serious injuries after accidentally swallowing tea tree oil (31).
Prior to using tea tree oil for the first time, test a drop or two on a small area of your skin and wait 24 hours to see if any reaction occurs.
Likewise, people with sensitive skin may experience irritation when using undiluted tea tree oil. If your skin is sensitive, it's best to mix tea tree oil with an equal or greater amount of olive oil, coconut oil or almond oil.
Additionally, using tea tree oil in pets may not be safe. Researchers reported that more than 400 dogs and cats developed tremors and other nervous system problems after receiving between 0.1–85 mL of tea tree oil on the skin or orally (34).
Summary: Although tea tree oil is generally safe when used on adults' skin, allergic reactions may occur in some people. Tea tree oil may be unsafe for young children and pets.
As you can see, tea tree oil can be helpful for a number of reasons.
It's an inexpensive natural alternative to chemical-based skin and nail treatments, personal care products and disinfectants, among other things.
However, tea tree oil is not a magic cure-all. In fact, some people may experience skin irritation or allergic reaction after using it.
Overall, tea tree oil serves many purposes and is a good item to have on hand.