What is Tea Tree Essential Oil? (Melaleuca)
Tea tree essential oil is one of the most widely used and popular essential oils in the world. It has been used for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand for many common health ailments.
It is a clear to pale yellow substance with a spicy, warm and balsamic aroma, and is extracted by steam distillation of the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia tree.
The essential oil of tea tree blends well with: Pine species, black spruce, saro, manuka, ravintsara, blue tansy, rosemary, eucalyptus, monarda species, green myrtle, spike lavender, cistus, thyme, fir and niaouli essential oils.
Like eucalyptus, tea tree also belongs to the myrtle plant family Myrtaceae. The variety most often used for medicinal purposes is Melaleuca alternifolia.
Other varieties of Melaleuca are popular with aromatherapists too, such as Melaleuca quinquenervia (also known as naiouli) and Melaleuca ericifolia. But Melaleuca alternifolia is the most commonly used and studied variety which we will focus on here.
Chemical Components of Tea Tree Essential Oil
More than one hundred components make up the essential oil of tea tree. The main components include: terpinen-4-ol (30-48%), -terpinene (10-28%), and eucalyptol (trace to 15%).
Other components include: terpinolene, a-terpinene, p-cymene, limonene, sabinene, a-pinene, aromadendrene, gamma-cadinene, a-terpineol and 1,8 cineole.
Historical Use of Melaleuca alternifolia
The indigenous people of Australia have a long history dating back thousands of years. They used (and still do use) tea tree extensively for healing purpose.
Traditional uses include: healing poultices for cuts, wounds and infections, as well as vapor inhalation of crushed boiled leaves to treat respiratory illness.
They also drink tea from crushed leaves to help heal colds and flu. In addition, they make an ointment using crushed tea tree leaves combined with animal fat for applying on wounds and other skin complaints.
In the 1920s, Dr Arthur Penfold, a well known Australian chemist, found out that tea tree oil was 13 times stronger and more effective at healing infections than carbolic acid, which was the common disinfectant of that times.
Australian servicemen in the 1930s and 40s included tea tree oil in their personal first aid kits, thus probably being responsible for its worldwide popularity.
Therapeutic Properties of Tea Tree Essential Oil
Antibacterial (broad spectrum), antibiotic, antifungal, anti-infective (broad spectrum), anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, decongestant (venous and lymphatic), expectorant, immunostimulant, neurotonic and stimulant.
Benefits of Tea Tree Essential Oil
There are hundreds of published research about tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) that support its healing qualities. We will mention below 10 of the most important benefits that researchers attribute to this wonderful of nature:
1. Antibacterial, antiseptic and antioxidant effects
Tea tree essential oil has long been used to get rid of the bacteria that cause body odor and acne.
Recent studies indicate that it is also effective against some fairly deadly bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, better known as MRSA.
Also, American researchers reported in 1999 that one of the ways that tea tree oil helps is by activating and strengthening white blood cells, which are an important part of the immune system.
French researchers. on the other hand, investigating tea tree oil in 2006 stated: “Melaleuca alternifolia oil may not only act as an anti-inflammatory mediator through its antioxidant activity, but may also efficiently protect the organism by reducing the proliferation of inflammatory cells without affecting their capacity to secrete anti inflammatory cytokines”.
In October 2016, an interesting publication in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology by Chinese researchers, found that, tea tree oil was quite effective against Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus (golden staph) and Candida Albicans. It work by compromising the cell membrane of these bacteria and fungi, ultimately leading to cell death.
One of the problems associated with widespread use of antibiotics is that bacteria begin to develop resistance to these drugs.
In 2015, Brazilian researchers found that tea tree oil was effective against Staphylococcus Aureus which exhibits resistance to multiple antibiotic drugs.
Interestingly, Malaysian researchers published an article in 2013 in the journal Phytomedicine which investigated the relationship between various essential oils and antibiotics.
They found that none of the oils evaluated (including Melaleuca alternifolia) caused an adverse reaction when taken with various antibiotic drugs. In addition, they concluded that the use of some of the essential oils (namely peppermint, cinnamon, and lavender) along with antibiotics provided a synergistic effect.
2. Anti-cancer activity
Joint Australian and American research reported in Journal of Dermatological Science in 2012, found that tumor-bearing mice given a combination of Melaleuca alternifolia and dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO) activated an immune response and resulted in tumor cell death.
Besides, in 2010, two Australian studies with mice, found that tea tree oil and its major active terpene component, terpinen-4-ol, had anti-tumor activity against two cancer cell lines: mesothelioma and melanoma.
Researchers stated that tea tree oil “significantly inhibited the growth” of these two tumor cell types.
Chinese researchers in 2009 reported that tea tree oil had both antimicrobial and anti-cancer effects. As a result, they found that tea tree oil exhibited strong cytotoxicity (toxic to cancer cells) against human lung cancer cells, human breast cancer cells (MCF-7, which are hormone receptor positive, infiltrating ductal carcinoma) and human prostate cancer cells (PC-3, which exhibit high potential for metastasis).
On the other hand, Italian research reported in 2004 investigated tea tree oil against human melanoma (M14 WT) cells, as well as Adriamycin-resistant melanoma cells. Tea tree oil induced apoptosis (planned cell death, lacking in cancer cells) against both cell lines but especially the Adriamycin-resistant cells.
3. Anti-fungal and anti-mold action
Tea tree essential oil has been used for decades to help treat conditions like jock itch, nail fungus, and athlete’s foot because of its excellent anti-fungal properties.
In 2016 Italian researchers scrutinized several different essential oils including basil, mint, tea tree, lavender, winter savory and oregano for their antifungal effects against Candida albicans. They discovered the essential oils inhibited both the growth and activity of Candida albicans more efficiently than a popular antifungal drug, Clotrimazole.
Another Australian study in 2015, investigating fungal contamination in indoor environments, examined the tea tree essential oil and four other agents, including industrial disinfectants.
Researchers noted that between five substances tested, tea tree essential oil exhibited the best inhibitory effect on the growth of the two fungi studied. Tea tree oil was just as effective applied as a liquid or vapor.
Cancer patients often suffer from oral yeast infections due to the treatments they undergo. In 2006, UK researchers found that tea tree oil was effective against 301 different kinds of fungal infections found in the mouths of 199 patients with advanced cancer.
Surprisingly, researchers stated that tea tree oil was even effective against 41 fungi that were known to be resistant to traditional anti fungal drugs.
Older research reported in 1992 by Australian investigators found that tea tree oil was quite effective in treating the symptoms of tinea pedia (athlete’s foot). They noted that tea tree oil was just as effective as Tolnaftate, a popular anti-fungal agent.
4. Anti-inflammatory and immune stimulating effects
A plethora of research studies exist attesting to the anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil.
In 2014, Brazilian researchers found that in addition to being an anti-inflammatory, tea tree oil also stimulated human macrophages, a type of white blood cell of the immune system involved in engulfing and destroying bacteria, cancer cells, microbes, etc.
5. Antiparasitic activity
A study reported in May 2016 by Brazilian researchers discovered that tea tree oil was effective against the eggs and larvae of Haemonchus contortus, also known as “the barber’s pole worm”, a common parasite of ruminants.
In addition, a 2009 Italian study found that tea tree oil was effective against equine ringworm.
6. Natural anti-viral
Tea tree essential oil has long been used for easing the pain and itching of chickenpox and cold sores, both, caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. Tea tree has also been found helpful against influenza; even the H1N1 virus strain.
7. Respiratory illness
Equally, tea tree oil has a lengthy history of use for easing lung congestion and infections. Indeed, a Chinese study in animals reported in 2016 found that a nanoemulsion of tea tree oil was effective against fungal and bacterial pneumoniadue to its anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
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In like manner, tea tree oil is also effective against the bacterium that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, which adversely affects the lungs much like pneumonia.
Italian scientists reported in 2009 that Legionella pneumophila was “exquisitely sensitive” to tea tree oil. They further stated that tea tree oil should be investigated for use as an anti-Legionella disinfectant and for control of water system contamination in places like spas, small water lines, and in respiratory medical devices.
8. Insect repellent
Indigenous Australians used tea tree essential oil for hundreds of years as an insect repellent and also as an aid to heal insect bites.
Furthermore, a study reported in 2015 by Brazilian researchers found that tea tree oil was effective against two fly species.
9. Dental health
Although it is generally not recommended to take tea tree essential oil internally, it can be used for a variety of dental complaints.
In 2015, Indian researchers reviewed several studies on essential oils to investigate their therapeutic effect in a dentistry setting. They found that tea tree oil has antibacterial and antifungal benefits made it a promising agent against oral pathogens.
Tea tree essential oil has also been found useful for periodontal disease. In 2016, an Indian study found that a gel made from coenzyme Q10 and tea tree oil proved to be effective in the treatment of chronic periodontitis.
10. Skin complaints
Psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, sores, wounds, sunburn, warts, acne and insect bites, down through the centuries all of these conditions have been eased using tea tree oil.
Modern science is catching on to the reasons why it is so beneficial.
A 2013 review of various studies on tea tree oil by Iranian scientists discusses its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also stated that tea tree oil accelerated wound healing and exhibited anti-skin cancer activity.
For cases of skin with acne conditions, tea tree oil can quickly clear up the sebum glands and eliminate the bacteria, resulting in smoother, healthier-looking skin in a surprisingly short amount of time.
In 2002, a study by Australian researchers reported in the British Journal of Dermatology, found that tea tree essential oil was able to reduce histamine-induced skin inflammation in 27 volunteers.
As you can see, Australian natives were not wrong. Tea tree essential oil has literally dozens of excellent uses. Read on for some helpful tips on using tea tree oil at home.
Uses of Tea Tree Essential Oil
Among the most common uses of tea tree oil are:
Digestive system: Diarrhea, enteritis, intestinal parasites, dental hygiene, gum problems, infections of the mouth, mouth ulcers, oral thrush (Candida albicans), esophageal candidiasis, canker sores, dental abscess, hemorrhoids, rectal fissures and gingivitis.
Lymph and Immune system: Lowered or compromised immunity, lymph congestion.
Reproductive and Urinary system: Leucorrhoea and vaginal candidiasis. Cystitis, urethritis, urinary tract infection.
Respiratory system: Colds, flu, bronchitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, congestion, coughs, sore throat, ear infections, bacterial or viral respiratory infections and tonsillitis.
Skin: acne, nail fungus, oily skins, abscesses, boils, cold sores, cuts, dandruff, herpes simplex, insect bites, lice, rashes, shingles, infected wounds, varicose ulcers, athlete’s foot, ringworm, inflamed skin conditions, varicose veins, juvenile acne, acne rosacea, prevention of skin radiation burns, and dermal mycoses (fungal infections).
Easy DIY Tips for Using Tea Tree Essential Oil
Here are some popular uses for tea tree oil, together with recommended dilutions:
For foot fungus: Dilute tea tree essential oil with an organic carrier oil like coconut oil, hemp oil, almond oil or jojoba oil. A good dilution would be one part tea tree oil to one part carrier oil (a 50% dilution). Apply to infected areas with a cotton ball or cotton swab, twice daily for best results.
If the fungal infection is severe and skin cracks are present, it may be too painful to use a 50 percent dilution so dilute it down further. Continue using until problem heals.
Homemade mouthwash: Add two drops of tea tree oil to a cup of water and use as mouthwash. Do not swallow as tea tree oil is toxic if taken internally.
To relieve psoriasis and eczema: Mix one teaspoon of organic hemp or almond oil with, five drops of tea tree oil and apply to affected area. To make it ultra-soothing, add five drops of lavender oil to the mixture. Keep using it until it heals.
For dandruff and dry scalp: Add 10 drops of tea tree essential oil to an eight ounce (236 milliliter) bottle of organic shampoo. Shake bottle gently before each use.
- Add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to one tablespoon of organic raw honey. Apply to skin as a mask, let it sit for 5-10 minutes and wash off. Both, honey and tea tree essential oil are excellent anti-bacterial agents. Repeat twice a week.
- Mix 4 drops of tea tree oil to a half cup of water. Apply to the face with a cotton pad once daily.
- Apply tea tree essential oil with a cotton swab directly on the pimple. Repeat 2 to 4 times a day, depending on skin sensibility. Keep using until it heals.
For lung infections: Place a drop or two of tea tree essential oil into your hands and rub them together, placing them over your nose and mouth (always ensure to avoid the eyes). Breathe in deeply for a little while. This is the best method for getting the essential oil into your lungs and bloodstream.
You can also diffuse tea tree oil into a room where you will be sitting or working. Be sure to use a diffuser for better results. Never heat essential oils because doing so can reduce their therapeutic benefits.
Household cleaner: Mix 20 drops of tea tree oil with a cup of water and a half cup of white vinegar. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use as an all-purpose antimicrobial cleaner.
Precautions When Using Tea Tree Oil
Make sure to only use a high quality, medicinal grade essential oil. Tea tree oil is often heavily adulterated with other chemicals and fillers in some parts of the world, so if you wish to use tea tree oil medicinally, be sure that your oil is labeled with the genus (such as Melaleuca alternifolia) and is organically grown and distilled using the best distillation practices.
Above all, It is NOT suggested to take tea tree oil internally. As one website advises: “In 2011, Poison Control received nearly twice as many calls about tea tree oil than any other named essential oil, including cinnamon oil, clove oil, and eucalyptus oil. More than 10 percent of people exposed to tea tree oil were treated in a hospital or doctor’s office”.
Tea tree essential oil should not be taken by mouth for any reason. If you wish to use it for dental health, however, make sure to spit out the oil afterwards to prevent any potential problems which could include dizziness, digestive problems, or hives.
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Avoid using tea tree oil if pregnant or nursing. While it may be perfectly safe, no studies can prove this, so it is best to avoid using tea tree oil during this time.
Additionally, tea tree oil has been deemed to be safe for children over the age of six months, but please use essential oils with special care on children.
Dilute heavily. For instance, for every ounce (29 ml) of organic carrier oil, only use 3-5 drops of tea tree oil for children six months and older. This is a general guideline only. If unsure, always work with a qualified aromatherapist.
Where to buy Tea Tree Essential Oil?
Usually, good quality oils, that is, 100% pure and not mixed with other substances, can be found in specialized natural herb stores.
On the other hand, applying tea tree essential oil topically or ingesting it, carries several risks. Tea tree oil is not monitored for safety or purity by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it should be purchased from a reputable source.
If you can not reach a trusted naturist or herbalist shop near you, here are some recommendations:
Tea Tree Essential Oil by SWB
Scent Characteristics: Spicy, camphorous, warm, fresh, slightly medicinal scent.
Our 100% Pure Essential Oils are extracted from the root, bark, wood, seed, fruit, leaf, or flower of a freshly harvested plant.
We source only the finest quality essential oils from highly regarded suppliers and distillers from around the world, many with whom we’ve worked with for decades.
Many of our oils are steam-distilled or cold-pressed, therefore retaining the essential odor, aroma, taste, medicinal, and therapeutic properties of the plant, resulting in a superior quality, and highly concentrated essence. Shop Here.
The following are also good quality essential oils that you can find on Amazon:
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Tips for a better performance and duration of your oils:
- Store them in a dark glass bottle, never plastic, not even when blended with a carrier oil.
- Keep them in cool, dark places, away from sources of heat and light.
- Maintain the container that holds it tightly closed, since they are very volatile and also, their properties would be lost or modified.
Risks and warnings when using Tea Tree Essential Oil
Risks associated with ingestion
Never swallow tea tree oil as it can cause:
- Severe rashes
- Blood cell abnormalities
- Stomach ache
Risks associated with topical applications
The risks associated with using tea tree oil topically include:
- Allergic contact dermatitis: If this occurs after using tea tree essential oil, discontinue use. Some research indicates that this is more likely to happen after applying the pure oil rather than shampoo or cosmetics.
- Male prepubertal gynecomastia: Enlarged breast tissue in prepubescent boys has been linked with topical use of products containing lavender oil or tea tree oil. However, the evidence is limited.
- Bacteria resistance: Consistent use of antibiotics, including low-level doses of tea tree oil, may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria, a significant concern among the medical community.
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Tea tree essential oil has been associated in rare cases with serious complications.
Some known side effects of tea tree oil use include:
- Redness, itching, burning and irritation on the skin.
- Dry and scaly skin.
- Fluid retention under the skin.
- Stomach pain.
- Unexplained weakness.
- In some individuals, tea tree oil can cause a blistering disorder.
- Counteract other medications.
- Unusual blood changes.