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Tea Tree Essential Oil is one of the world’s most popular essential oils. It is made from the leaves of the “Tea tree” – Melaleuca alternifolia – which is native to Australia. (Note that the Tea Tree has nothing to do with the drink tea, which is made from the leaves of a completely different plant, Camellia sinensis).
Tea tree oil has been in use since ancient times by the indigenous Australians, who inhaled vapor from the crushed leaves to help with coughs and colds, and used the leaves as antiseptic for wounds or skin conditions. It was not until the 1970s that large scale production of tea tree essential oil began and its scientific investigation is somewhat recent.
In modern times, tea tree oil is one of those “indispensable” essential oils that has a whole host of uses. It has even been called “a medicine cabinet in a bottle” owing to its reported antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities.
Tea Tree should in general not be used undiluted on skin – and should never be consumed! It is often used in combination with lavender essential oil, which has some complimentary qualities, and diluted with a base oil. More safety notes at the foot of the article.
Tea Tree Oil Top 10 Uses
Recent studies support a role for the topical application of tea tree oil in skin care and for the treatment of numerous diseases and conditions:
1. Antiviral. This is in line with the use by indigenous peoples against colds / coughs: A few drops added to a bath or steam may possibly assist against colds and flu. Some support from science: Tea tree has shown some activity against influenza in the lab: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21095205
2. Herpes / Cold Sores. A mix of one tablespoon of coconut oil, with 5 drops of tea tree mixed in, can be applied (using a Q-tip or cotton swab) carefully to a cold sore several times per day. If this is commenced at the earliest sign of cold sore (tingling sensation) it may be able to stop it in its tracks. Be careful never to ingest tea tree oil, it is toxic when taken internally. There has been some support from science suggesting that Tea Tree oil may have an action against the Herpes simplex virus when applied topically as soon after the onset of the cold sore as possible: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11338678 http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/48/3/450.full
3. Head lice. A 2008 study of in vitro toxicity showed a tea tree oil preparation (“Tea Tree Gel”) was more effective against head lice than permethrin, a popular pharmaceutical insecticide remedy. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18816275 This study is especially significant as permethrin is known to be toxic and is now classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a likely human carcinogen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permethrin#Toxicology_and_safety
4. Acne Tea tree oil, in a topical 5% gel application, is possibly as effective against acne as 5% benzoyl peroxide – although results took a little longer. Patients who use tea tree oil have been also found to experience fewer side effects than those that use benzoyl peroxide treatments: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2145499
5. Athletes Foot. Tea tree oil can be blended with coconut oil (4 parts coconut oil, 1 part tea tree) and applied to the affected area twice a day to clear athlete’s foot. It is also possible to add 10 drops of tea tree oil to a foot bath (together with a small cup of sea salt or epsom salt). And don’t forget to change those socks at least once per day!
6. Dandruff. Shampoo which contains 5% tea tree oil has demonstrated effective against dandruff due to its ability to treat Malassezia furfur, a type of fungus which is the most common cause of the condition. Tea tree oil is a known antifungal agent, effective in vitro against multiple dermatophytes found on the skin. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12451368
7. Toenail Fungus. A drop of pure tea tree applied (i.e. via Q-tip) to an infected toenail twice per day has been suggested as a toenail fungus remedy. One clinical study found that 100% tea tree oil administered topically was comparable to clotrimazole in effectiveness against onychomycosis, the most frequent cause of nail disease. It was not as effective at lower concentrations. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8195735
8. Bedbugs and mites. One study has shown a 5% tea tree oil solution to be more effective than commercial medications against the scabies mite in an in vitro situation. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148100 ) Other “promising” essential oils against scabies include turmeric and neem ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148100 ) 2 teaspoons can also be added to laundry, using a very hot water setting, to kill mites, bedbugs. A few drops of oil can also be added to a spray bottle and used as an ant deterrent – used to clean cupboards and places where ants enter the home.
9. Disinfectant. Tea tree can be diluted and use as a disinfectant for toilet seats, door handles, faucets, light switches (with care!), and so on. Laundry soap containing tea tree oil may be effective at decontaminating clothing and bedding, especially if hot water and heavy soil cycles are used. Some studies have indicated that tea tree may be more effective than chemical disinfectants against serious bugs such as MRSA. Other essential oils showing “promising efficacy” include lemongrass, eucalyptus ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23199627 ), thyme, clove and cinnamon ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21941919 ).
10. Aquarium Fish Care. Diluted solutions of tea tree oil are often applied as a remedy to common bacterial and fungal infections in aquarium fish such as bettas. The tea tree acts as a disinfectant and is most commonly used to promote fin and tissue regrowth, but is also considered effectiveagainst conditions such as fin rot or “velvet”. Tea tree based remedies are used mostly on betta fish, but can also be used with other aquarium fish, other than goldfish.
But wait, there’s more: Tea tree has also been reported useful against toothache, candida ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9848442 ), for use against mold in the home (1 teaspoon to a cup of water used to clean the mold area), and has shown “rapid” direct anti-cancer effects in subcutaneous tumours in mice. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22727730 . There may also be possibility that Melaleuca species are effective against disease carrying mosquitos – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23293776 .
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A Few Tea Tree Oil Safety Notes
Tea Tree oil should never be ingested and is toxic when swallowed. It is also advised not to put it into ears undiluted, as there have been reports of hearing loss in animals under such circumstances.
As with most essential oils, tea tree oil should not in general be put on skin undiluted. It can cause irritation, redness or blistering. Occasionally people are allergic to it and some individuals may experience a reaction such as dermatitis. It is thus often suggested to dilute the oil and / or to use a very small amount to begin with and observe effects carefully.
Dogs and Cats: There have been cases of toxicosis associated with application of Tea tree to the skin of dogs and cats. In most cases the oil was used at “inappropriate high doses”, however it may still not be safe for their use. Source – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8197716
General info sources:
We also have a further article on Tea Tree Essential Oil with more historical and other information.
Notes – 1) as per usual, this article is a “general knowledge” report on the findings of others – not medical advice nor a recommendation to self medicate. 2) I receive a small commission from Amazon on sales that I generate.
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