Tea tree oil is one of the many essential oils that displays strong medicinal properties if used properly. Research suggests that it has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties and has shown promise against bacteria such as MRSA. It is also effective against lice. It cannot, however, be ingested.
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is an essential oil, obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia. The tree is native to Australia. (1)
While tea tree oil has been used for at least a hundred years in folk medicine, it’s only more recently that the scientific community has started taking an interest. Thus, while several studies have been done, a lot more need to be done regarding its efficiency to treat a variety of medical conditions and/or work as an antibacterial agent in cleaning products and hand washes.
1. Antibacterial Properties—An Excellent House Cleaning Product
One study suggests that tea tree oil is effective in killing a number of resistant bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This makes tea tree oil the perfect oil to clean your house when diluted with water. You can also combine it with other essential oils and vinegar in addition to the water. (2)
Other essential oils, such as cedar oil, have proven effective in killing fleas, ticks, and mosquitos. Tea tree oil is rumored to kill fleas as well, though no scientific studies on the subject seem to be found at present. You may want to combine tea tree oil with cedar oil to keep your home pest free. (3)
Please note that while it might be good for pest control, tea tree is toxic for animals and therefore should only be used in the right concentrations and after consulting with a vet if you keep pets in your home.
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2. Getting Rid of Head Lice
If you’re looking for a natural way of killing lice, tea tree oil might be the answer. In one study, tea tree oil proved effective in killing all lice within 30 minutes. It was particularly effective when combined with nerolidol, as nerolidol killed the eggs within five days (tea tree oil 0.5% plus nerolidol 1%). However, a 2% solution of tea tree oil appears to have the same effect. (4)
Another study showed that a combination of tea tree oil and lavender had a 97.6% success rate of getting rid of lice in humans. (5)
As head lice have become more and more resistant to chemicals found in shampoos that are meant to treat outbreaks, essential oils can be a great alternative.
3. Antifungal Properties—Curing Athlete’s Foot, Candida, and Nail Fungi
Two different studies have been made with tea tree oil that showed promise when it came to treating nail fungus. One study showed that a cream containing 2% butenafine hydrochloride and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia oil (tea tree oil) cured 80% of patients within 16 weeks. For those whose toenail fungus was not cured within 16 weeks, the tea tree oil did not cure it over longer time periods either. (6) (7)
When it comes to Candida albicans, combining the drug fluconazole with tea tree oil proved effective in “strongly enhanced fluconazole activity against fluconazole-resistant C. albicans strains.” Other research suggests it’s effective against oral candida. (8) (9)
As for athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), tea tree oil seems to alleviate the symptoms—possibly because it helps against inflammation. When applied in a 50% cream, it also cured the infection in 64% of the subjects. (10) (11)
It should also be noted that in one of the studies, 3.8% of the subjects developed dermatitis, which disappeared after they stopped using tea tree oil.
4. Treating Eczema Caused by Allergies
Tea tree oil may help eczema sufferers, as one study showed that it reduced contact dermatitis caused by an allergic reaction by 40.5%. (12)
5. Using Tea Tree Oil for Your Teeth and Mouth
One study suggests that tea tree oil is effective in treating plaque, if not as effective as Meswak toothpaste. (13) However, other studies suggest that it may actually cause plaque, or at the very least, leave it unchanged. (9)
It also appears tea tree oil can help against herpes, which commonly occurs on and around the lips. (9)
Studies also suggest that tea tree oil may be effective against halitosis (bad breath) and gingivitis (inflamed and bleeding gums). (9)
Another reason to use tea tree oil in your toothpaste or mouthwash is its previously mentioned overall antibacterial and antifungal properties.
You can easily make your own mouthwash using xylitol and essential oils blended with water.
Due to its antifungal properties, tea tree oil may be beneficial in treating dandruff. One study showed that a 5% tea tree oil shampoo was effective when it came to treating dandruff caused by the yeast Pityrosporum ovale. Using the shampoo for four weeks showed a 41% improvement of the condition. (14)
Please note that a dry scalp is different from dandruff caused by yeast/fungus.
7. Cradle Cap
As the name suggests, cradle cap, or seborrheic dermatitis, usually affects infants and young children. Luckily, tea tree oil has shown promise in treating it. (15)
8. Treating Acne
Two different studies showed that using a tea tree oil gel was effective in treating mild to moderate acne. (16) (17)
While tea tree oil is tolerated by most when applied diluted on the skin (the strongest solutions are 50%, but normally no more than 5%), some develop dermatitis or have other allergic reactions.
Tea tree oil should never be ingested.
While usually safe to use around the house in cleaning products, keep in mind that tea tree oil is toxic to some pets, and therefore it’s best to check with a veterinarian before you decide on the strength of the solution you are using. If you are washing a pet using tea tree oil, it needs to be at a very low concentration and you need to consult with a vet prior to using it.
Tea tree oil shows a lot of promise as an antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal agent when applied on the skin and scalp and/or used on surfaces. Therefore, using it in cleaning products, skin products, and shampoo makes sense. You may also want to combine it with other essential oils—or alternate. However, it’s important to make sure you’re not allergic to it, and taking regular breaks from using it might also be wise so that you do not develop any allergies.