Ever heard of tea tree oil? No, you shouldn’t confuse it with tea oil (Camellia sinensis) or the tea oil plant (Camellia oleifera). Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a pale yellow color to nearly clear essential oil with a fresh camphoraceous odor. It is taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. Tea tree oil has long been used by the aboriginals as an antiseptic. The tea tree oil that I’m talking about was accidentally discovered by Captain James Cook who dropped anchor off the coast of New South Wales in 1770. When his sailors went ashore and prepared a perfumed tea from the leaves of a tree growing in the swampy valley there the tea smelled like nutmeg.
So why tea tree oil?
The answer to it is quite simple: tea tree oil is loaded with medicinal benefits. Even before, the native Bundjalung people of eastern Australia use “tea trees” as a customary medicine. What they do was to crush the leaves and inhale the scented oil to treat coughs and common colds. Recognizing its antimicrobial properties, they also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. Tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to care for sore throats or skin ailments.
However tea tree oil as medicine did not become common practice until researcher Arthur Penfold made available the first reports of the oil’s antimicrobial action in a series of papers in the 1920s and 1930s. In its evaluation, the antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil was rated as 11 times more active than phenol. While tea tree oil used to be only a popular home remedy in New South Wales, but it is now increasingly gaining credit all over the world. The medicinal value of the tea tree oil is now being recognized by physician and people across the globe.
Tea tree oil is now being applied topically for treatment of common skin infections such as acne, fungal infections of the nail (onychomycosis), lice, scabies, athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), and ringworm. It is also used topically as a local antiseptic for cuts and abrasions, for burns, insect bites and stings. Some may even add the oil to their bath water to treat cough, bronchial congestion, and pulmonary inflammation.
Certain conducted studies have showed that tea tree oil is possibly helpful for:
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)
It was found out that topical application of a 10% tea tree oil cream works about as well for relieving symptoms of athlete’s foot, as well as scaling, inflammation, itching, and burning. However to treat the infection a stronger tea tree oil solution (25% or 50%) is required. Although, 25% or 50% tea tree oil concentrations may not appear to be as efficient for curing the infection as to other fungal medications such as clotrimazole or terbinafine.
Fungal infections of the nails (onychomycosis)
Topical application of 100% tea tree oil solution, twice daily for six months, can cure fungal toenail infection in about 18% of people who try it. It can also improve nail appearance and symptoms in about 56% of patients after three months and 60% of patients after six months of treatment. It seems to be comparable to twice daily application of clotrimazole 1% solution (Fungoid, Lotrimin, Lotrimin AF).
Mild to moderate acne
When applying a 5% tea tree oil gel to acne, the oil appeared to be as effective as other acne-medication such as 5% benzoyl peroxide (Oxy-5, Benzac AC, and others). Even though tea tree oil might take slowly to show its effectiveness, it seems to be less irritating to facial skin.