Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca, is well-known for its powerful antiseptic properties and ability to treat wounds, which is why it’s one of the top antibacterial essential oils. Tea tree is a volatile essential oil derived mainly from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It’s been widely used throughout Australia for at least the past 100 years and for over seven decades, it’s been documented in numerous medical studies for its ability to kill many strains of bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Tea tree oil uses are numerous — it can be used to make homemade cleaning products, diffused to kill toxic mold that’s growing in your home, and applied topically to heal skin issues and treat skin infections. I use this powerful essential oil in my tea tree oil for acne recipe and many other DIY recipes that have become part of my daily routine.
Tea tree oil becoming an increasingly popular active ingredient in a variety of household and cosmetic products, including disinfectant sprays, face washes, shampoos, massage oils, skin and nail creams and laundry detergents. Tea tree’s natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions make it one of the most beneficial essential oils that should included as part of your natural medicine cabinet. (1)
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is a volatile essential oil derived from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. The Melaleuca genus belongs to the Myrtaceae family and contains approximately 230 plant species, almost all of which are native to Australia.
Tea tree oil (or TTO) is an ingredient in many topic formulations that are used to treat infections, and it’s marketed as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent in Australia, Europe and North America. You can also find tea tree in a variety of household and cosmetic products, like cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoos, massage oils, and skin and nail creams. So what is tea tree oil good for? Well, it’s one of the most popular essential oils because it works as a powerful disinfectant and is gentle enough to apply topically in order to fight skin infections and irritations. (2)
Tea tree’s primary active ingredients include terpene hydrocarbons, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. It is these compounds that give tea tree its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. There are actually over 100 different chemical components of tea tree oil — terpinen-4-ol and alpha-terpineol are the most active — and various ranges of concentrations. The volatile hydrocarbons found in the oil are considered aromatic and capable of traveling through air, pores of the skin and mucus membranes. That’s why tea tree oil is commonly used aromatically and topically to kill germs, fight infections and soothe skin conditions. (3)
9 Tea Tree Oil Benefits
1. Fight Acne and Other Skin Conditions
Due to tea tree oil’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it has potential to work as a natural remedy for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
A 2017 pilot study conducted in Australia evaluated the efficacy of tea tree oil gel compared to a face wash without tea tree in the treatment of mild to moderate facial acne. Participants in the tea tree group applied the oil to their faces twice a day for a 12-week period. Those using tea tree experienced significantly fewer facial acne lesions compared to those using the face wash. No serious adverse reactions occurred, but there were some minor side effects like peeling, dryness and scaling, all of which resolved without any intervention. (4)
2. Improve Dry Scalp
Research suggests that tea tree oil is able to improve symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, which is a common skin condition that causes scaly patches on the scalp and dandruff. It’s also reported to help alleviate contact dermatitis symptoms.
A 2002 human study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology investigated the efficacy of 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo and placebo in patients with mild to moderate dandruff. After a four-week treatment period, participants in the tea tree group showed a 41 percent improvement in the severity of dandruff, while only 11 percent of those in the placebo group showed improvements. Researchers also indicated an improvement in patient itchiness and greasiness after using tea tree oil shampoo. (5)
3. Soothe Skin Irritations
Although the research on this is limited, tea tree oil’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties may make it a useful tool for soothing skin irritations and wounds. There is some evidence from a pilot study that after being treated with tea tree oil, patient wounds had begun to heal and reduced in size. (6) And there have been case studies that show tea tree oil’s ability to treat infected chronic wounds. (7)
Tea tree oil may be effective in reducing inflammation, fighting skin or wound infections and reducing wound size. It can be used to soothe sunburns, sores and insect bites, but only when it has been tested on a small patch of skin first to rule out a sensitivity to topical application.
4. Fight Bacterial, Fungal and Viral Infections
According to a scientific review on tea tree that’s published in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, data clearly shows the broad-spectrum activity of tea tree oil due to its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. This means, in theory, that tea tree oil can be used to fight a number of infections, from MRSA to athlete’s foot. Researchers are still evaluating these tea tree benefits, but they have been shown in some human studies, lab studies and anecdotal reports.
Lab studies have showed that tea tree oil can inhibit the growth of bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria cause serious infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, bloodstream infections, strep throat, sinus infections and impetigo. (8)
A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study conducted in Australia tested the efficacy of tea tree oil in the treatment of athlete’s foot compared to placebo. Patients in the treatment group received either 25 percent tea tree oil solution, 50 percent tea tree oil solution or placebo. They were instructed to apply the solution twice daily to the affected areas for four weeks.
Researchers reported a clinical response in 68 percent of the 50 percent tea tree group, 72 percent of the 25 percent tea tree group, and 39 percent in the placebo group. Of the 158 patients that participated in the study, four experienced moderate to severe skin reactions to the treatment that improved quickly after they stopped using the solution. (10)
Lab studies show that tea tree oil has the ability to fight recurrent herpes virus (which causes cold sores) and influenza. The antiviral activity of tea tree oil has been attributed to the presence of terpinen-4-ol, one of the oil’s main active components. (11, 12, 13)
And if you’re wondering if tea tree oil can get rid of warts, you’re in luck. A 2008 case study found that when tea tree oil was applied topically once daily to a wart on a pediatric patient’s middle finger, the wart completely disappeared after 12 days of treatment. This is another example of tea tree’s antiviral activity. (14)
5. May Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistance
Essential oils like tea tree oil and oregano oil are being used in replacement of or along with conventional medications because they too serve as powerful antibacterial agents, without the adverse side effects. Research published in The Open Microbiology Journal indicates that some essential oils, like tea tree oil, have a positive synergistic effect when combined with conventional antibiotics.
Researchers are optimistic that this means essential oils may help prevent antibiotic resistance from developing. This is extremely important in modern medicine because antibiotic resistance may lead to treatment failure, increased healthcare costs and the spread of infection control problems. (15)
6. Relieve Congestion and Respiratory Tract Infections
Very early in its history, the leaves of the malaleuca plant were crushed and inhaled to treat coughs and colds. Traditionally, the leaves were also soaked to make an infusion that was used to treat sore throats.
Today, studies show that tea tree oil has antimicrobial activity, giving it the ability to fight bacteria that lead to nasty respiratory tract infections, and antiviral activity that’s helpful for fighting or even preventing congestion, coughs and the common cold. This is exactly why tea tree is one of the top essential oils for cough and respiratory issues. (16)
7. Help Treat Head Lice
Tea tree oil has insecticidal effects and can be used to get rid of head lice, which are small, parasitic insects that feed on human blood. A lab study conducted in Italy investigated the efficacy of tea tree oil against lice and its eggs. Tea tree was used alone and in combination with nerolidol and tested at different ratios against 69 head lice and 187 eggs over a six-month period.
Researchers found that tea tree oil alone was more effective against head lice, with treatment resulting in 100 percent mortality after 30 minutes of exposure. A higher concentration of tea tree oil was able to induce the failure of 50 percent of the eggs to hatch. When tea tree oil was combined with nerolidol at a 1:2 ratio, the two substances caused the death of all head lice within 30 minutes and the abortive effect of lice eggs after 5 days of treatment. (17)
8. Help Treat Scabies
A common question is “can tea tree oil get rid of scabies?” The answer, according to lab studies, is yes. A study conducted at Flinders University in Australia found that 5 percent tea tree oil and its active component terpinen-4-ol were highly effective in reducing the survival of scabies mites. Tea tree works as a natural treatment for scabies because it has powerful antimicrobial properties, giving it the ability to heal scabies on top of and beneath the skin. (18)
9. Improve Bad Breath
Bad breath comes from bacteria that is found in your mouth, especially the back of your tongue, throat and tonsils. Because tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that can kill this bacteria, it works as a natural remedy for bad breath.
An in vitro study also shows that tea tree oil acts as an effective antiseptic agent against oral pathogens, including Candida albicans, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. This tea tree oil benefit can be extremely helpful after oral surgery, like a root canal, that increases your risk of developing a bacterial or fungal infection. (19)
But keep in mind that tea tree oil should not be used internally, so if you are using it as a mouthwash to kill oral germs, make sure to spit it out afterwards and rinse your mouth with water.
Top 14 Tea Tree Oil Uses
Tea tree oil can be used to make natural beauty, health and cleaning products that are free from dangerous chemicals. Tree tree oil can be used in the following ways:
- Aromatically: Diffuse tea tree oil throughout your home using an oil diffuser. You can also directly inhale the oil by sniffing it right out of the bottle.
- Topically: Tea tree oil can be applied to the skin topically, but you should always dilute it with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) in a 1:1 ratio before applying it.
- NOT for Internal Use: According to the National Poison Center, tea tree oil is known to be poisonous if swallowed. Tea tree oil should NOT be taken by mouth for any reason. If you are using tea tree for bad breath or oral health, make sure you spit it out afterwards to prevent potential side effects like digestive issues, hives or dizziness. (20)
Here are some basic ways that you can use tea tree oil at home to transform your health.
1. Natural Acne Fighter
One of the most common uses for tea tree oil today is in skin care products, as it’s considered one of the most effective home remedies for acne. You can make a homemade gentle tea tree oil acne face wash by mixing five drops of pure tea tree essential oil with two teaspoons of raw honey. Simply rub the mixture on your face, leave it on for one minute, and then rinse it off with warm water.
2. Improve Psoriasis and Eczema
Tea tree oil may help relieve many types of skin inflammation, including being used as a natural eczema treatment and for reducing psoriasis. Simply mix one teaspoon of coconut oil, five drops of tea tree oil and five drops of lavender oil to make your own skin improving lotion or body soap.
3. Boost Hair Health
Tea tree oil has proven very beneficial for the health of your hair and scalp. Like coconut oil for hair, tea tree oil has the ability to soothe dry, flaking scalp and remove dandruff. To make homemade tea tree oil shampoo, mix several drops of tea tree essential oil with aloe vera gel, coconut milk and other essential oils like lavender oil.
4. Natural Treatment for Lice
To get rid of head lice naturally, combine 3 tablespoons of coconut oil with 1 teaspoon each of ylang ylang and tea tree oils. Apply this mixture all over the scalp, massaging it in thoroughly. Then comb through the hair with a fine tooth comb, cover the head with a shower cap and let it sit for two hours. Then comb through the hair again and rinse out the oils.
Next, combine 2 cups of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water, and apply the mixture with a spray bottle until the hair is completely saturated. Then rinse the hair and comb through it again. The last step is to apply a light application of coconut oil and leave it in. This process needs to be repeated every five to 10 days for a couple of weeks to ensure that all lice and eggs are killed. Continue to comb through hair with a fine tooth comb and using coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner.
5. Natural Household Cleaner
Another fantastic way to use tea tree oil is as a household cleaner. Tea tree oil presents powerful antimicrobial activity that can kill off bad bacteria in your home. To make a homemade tea tree oil cleanser, mix 5–10 drops of tea tree with water, vinegar and 5–10 drops of lemon essential oil. Then use it on your counter tops, kitchen appliances, shower, toilet and sinks.
You can also use my homemade bathroom cleaner recipe that’s made with a combination of natural cleaning products, like liquid castile soap, apple cider vinegar and baking soda.
6. Laundry Freshener
Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties, so it works great as a natural laundry freshener, especially when your laundry is musty or even moldy. Simply add 5–10 drops of tea tree to your laundry detergent. You can also spot clean cloth, rugs or athletic equipment with a mixture of tea tree oil, vinegar and water.
7. Fight Toenail Fungus and Ringworm
Because of its ability to kill parasites and fungal infections, tea tree oil is a great choice to use on nail fungus (onychomycosis), athlete’s foot and ringworm. Put 2–5 drops of undiluted tea tree oil on the affected area using a clean cotton swab. And for stubborn fungi, consider mixing it with natural anti-fungal oil of oregano. Tea tree oil has also been proven beneficial for treating and removing warts, so simply put a few drops of tea tree oil directly on the area for 30 days once or twice daily.
8. Improve Foot Odor
Here’s another example of how tea tree oil’s antibacterial activity is super beneficial. If you’re dealing with stinky feet or you need to get a funky smell out of your shoes, tea tree oil is a great remedy. For foot odor, combine about half a teaspoon of coconut oil and 2–3 drops of tea tree oil and massage the mixture into your feet.
You can also try my exfoliating foot scrub recipe that will leave your feet smooth and odor-free. To remove shoe odor, add 5–10 drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle filled half way with water and spray the inside of your shoes. This works for sports equipment too.
9. Kill Mold
A common problem many people experience in their homes is mold infestation, oftentimes without even being aware of it. Sometimes, people even begin to experience black mold symptoms when they are exposed to this toxin in their homes. Consider buying a diffuser and diffusing tea tree oil in the air around your home to kill mold and other bad bacteria. Also, you can spray tea tree oil all-purpose cleaner onto shower curtains, and into your laundry machine, dishwasher or toilet to kill off mold and other bacteria.
10. Natural DIY Deodorant
Another great reason to use tea tree oil is to eliminate body odor. Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that destroy the bacteria on your skin that cause body odor. You can make homemade tea tree oil deodorant by mixing a few drops with coconut oil and baking soda. (Yes, you can see that coconut oil uses and baking soda uses are many as well!)
11. Protect Wounds and Cuts
Tea tree oil is the perfect ingredient in a homemade wound ointment because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Just make sure to clean a cut first with water and hydrogen peroxide if necessary, then put on 1–3 drops of tea tree oil and cover it with a bandage to help fight off infections. You can also make my homemade drawing salve that will help to heal skin inflammation, insect bites, boils and splinters.
12. Natural Toothpaste for Oral Health
Because of tea tree oil’s ability to kill off bad bacteria and at the same time soothe inflamed skin, it’s a perfect ingredient in homemade toothpaste and mouthwash. It may help to reduce the bleeding of gums and tooth decay, too. To get rid of bad breath and improve your oral health, simply mix a few drops of tea tree oil with coconut oil and baking soda for an amazing homemade toothpaste.
13. Natural Insect Repellent
Not only does tea tree oil work as a natural insect repellent, but it also helps to soothe bug bites. Because bug repellents typically contain toxic chemicals, using a natural option like tea tree oil is gentler on your skin.
Simply add 2–5 drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle filled half way with water and spray it on your skin, or combine 2–5 drops of tea tree with a teaspoon of coconut oil and rub it into your skin before going outside. If you do get a bug bite, add 2–3 drops of tea tree to a clean cotton ball and apply it to the affected area.
14. Cough Reliever
To relieve a cough that’s caused by the common cold or another respiratory condition, simply diffuse 5 drops at home, inhale tea tree oil directly from the bottle, or combine 1–2 drops of tea tree with a half-teaspoon of coconut oil and rub the mixture into your chest and back of your neck.
Precautions and Possible Tea Tree Oil Side Effects
Tea tree is generally considered safe when used aromatically and topically and doesn’t cause side effects in most cases. However, if you have sensitive skin, it’s possible that you might experience a reaction. Keep tea tree oil away from your eyes, contact lenses, inner nose and sensitive parts of your skin. This essential oil possesses a sharp camphoraceous odor followed by a menthol-like cooling sensation, which can make your skin feel like it’s slightly burning if you apply too much. Remember that tea tree oil should not be consumed and if you are using it for oral health, it needs to be spit out so that none is swallowed.
When used in topical products at a concentration of 5–10 percent, it normally doesn’t cause allergies or skin rashes, but stronger concentration have been reported to cause dermatitis reactions. In 1999, tea tree oil was added to the North American Contact Dermatitis Group screening panel and test results showed that about 1.4 percent of patients referred for patch testing had a positive reaction to tea tree oil. It’s always a good idea to do a small skin patch test first on your arm or leg to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction before using larger amounts or applying it to your face, chest or neck.
When you are buying tea tree oil, always look for 100 percent pure essential oil and check that the correct species name is listed on the bottle’s label (Melaleuca alternifolia). Ideally look for oil that’s therapeutic grade and organic, which ensures it’s been tested and meets all criteria, plus it will be free from chemical toxins, fillers or solvents. You can buy tea tree oil online or in your local health food store.
Light, heat, exposure to air, and moisture all affect oil stability of essential oils, so keep your tree oil stored in dark, cool, dry conditions preferably in a glass container.
A BBC News piece released in early 2018 was a cause for concern for many over the possible estrogenic effects of tea tree and lavender essential oils. Journalists reviewed case studies of a total of six young boys diagnosed with a condition known as gynecomastia, a condition in young men who develop breast tissue.
While gynecomastia during puberty is considered normal and usually idiopathic (without a known cause) and clears up on its own, these six case children developed extra breast tissue before entering puberty, which is a cause for concern, and all had been exposed to lavender oil alone or with tea tree essential oil. In the first review of three cases, the authors confirmed that removing the substance from the boys’ exposure resulted in a reversal of their condition. The second grouping of studies was unclear whether or not the substance was removed or if the condition was reversed. (21, 22)
Another review on these two oils demonstrated that they do seem to act like estrogens in lab settings (in vitro studies). (23)
This may seem like a convincing piece of evidence to prove that lavender and/or tea tree oil could cause estrogen-like activity in men. However, don’t throw away your oils just yet — these case studies and lab results aren’t enough to give scientific proof. Other evidence points the opposite direction.
For instance, a risk assessment on tea tree oil found that while certain compounds in the oil do have in vitro estrogen qualities, those aren’t the compounds that are “bioavailable,” meaning absorbed into the skin. (24) Tea tree oil isn’t safe to ingest, so skin absorption is the only way the active compounds enter your body. No human studies have recorded estrogenic side effects of tea tree oil. (25)
The only (very mild) instance of lavender and tea tree oils definitively acting in an estrogenic way in humans is in a study in women with mild idiopathic hirsutism (male-pattern hair growth), in which the oils did seem to be somewhat effective in reducing this hair growth. No other reactions were reported. (26)
However, other attempts to replicate lavender oil’s supposed estrogen-like actions have failed in animals. (27)
Multiple accounts have reviewed these findings and come to the conclusion that these case studies (and their portrayal in the media) are reporting something that simply cannot be proven. (28, 29) The close relations of the boys in each of the separate case study reports suggest there may be another underlying cause in the products that seemed to cause gynecomastia in these subjects. At least one author has suggested a potential toxic response to pesticides or other hormone-disrupting chemicals, as none of the essential oils in question were organic, and the products considered responsible were not tested for other potential toxins such as these. (30)
Basically, it seems unlikely that these isolated incidents were the result of essential oils that have been used safely for decades, but rather just that: isolated, and possibly the result of other factors. However, if you notice any estrogen-like reactions in young boys, you should always consult your doctor in case this points to something more serious.
- Tea tree oil is a volatile essential oil derived from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It is commonly used in household and beauty products because of its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
- The top 8 benefits of tea tree oil include its ability to:
- fight acne and other skin conditions
- improve dry scalp
- soothe skin irritations
- fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections
- help prevent antibiotic resistance
- relieve congestion and respiratory tract infections
- help treat head lice
- help treat scabies
- improve bad breath
- The top 14 tea tree oil uses include:
- natural acne fighter
- improve psoriasis and eczema
- boost hair health
- natural treatment for lice
- natural household cleaner
- laundry freshener
- fight toenail fungus and ringworm
- improve foot odor
- kill mold
- natural deodorant
- protect wounds and cuts
- natural toothpaste for oral health
- natural insect repellant
- cough reliever
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