What is it?
Tea tree oil is derived from the leaves of the tea tree. The tea tree was named by eighteenth century sailors, who made tea that smelled like nutmeg from the leaves of the tree growing on the swampy southeast Australian coast. Do not confuse the tea tree with the unrelated common tea plant that is used to make black and green teas.
Tea tree oil is applied to the skin (used topically) for 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, boils, vaginal infections, recurrent herpes labialis, toothache, infections of the mouth and nose, sore throat, and for ear infections such as otitis media and otitis externa.
Some people add it to bath water to treat cough, bronchial congestion, and pulmonary inflammation.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for TEA TREE OIL are as follows:
Possibly effective for...
- Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis). Topical application of a 10% tea tree oil cream works about as well as tolnaftate 1% cream (Genaspor, Tinactin, Ting, and others) for relieving symptoms of athlete’s foot, including scaling, inflammation, itching, and burning. But the 10% tea tree oil cream doesn’t seem to cure the infection. A stronger tea tree oil solution (25% or 50%) is needed for that. Application of 25% or 50% tea tree oil solution appears to both relieve symptoms and clear up the infection in about half of people who try it for 4 weeks. However, 25% or 50% tea tree oil concentrations don’t appear to be as effective for curing the infection as medications such as clotrimazole or terbinafine.
- Fungus 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). Lower concentrations of tea tree oil do not seem to be as effective. For example, there is some evidence that a 5% tea tree oil cream applied three times daily for two months has no benefit.
- Mild to moderate acne. Applying a 5% tea tree oil gel appears to be as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide (Oxy-5, Benzac AC, and others) for treating acne. Tea tree oil might work more slowly than benzoyl peroxide, but seems to be less irritating to facial skin.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Cold sores (Herpes labialis). Research so far suggests that applying 6% tea tree oil gel 5 times daily does not significantly improve cold sores.
- Allergic skin reactions to nickel. Developing evidence suggests that undiluted tea tree oil may reduce the area and redness skin reactions in people who are allergic to contact with nickel.
- Yeast infections in the mouth and throat (thrush; also known as oropharyngeal candidiasis) in people with AIDS. Because people with AIDS have a weak immune system, they sometimes come down with “opportunistic” infections such as thrush. There is some evidence that tea tree oil might be beneficial in patients with HIV/AIDS whose thrush does not respond to usual antifungal medications such as fluconazole. Swishing and expelling tea tree oil solution for two to four weeks seems to improve symptoms.
- Vaginal infections. Some studies suggest tea tree oil may be beneficial for some vaginal infections caused by bacteria.
- Ear infections.
- Preventing infections in cuts, abrasions, burns, insect bites and stings, and boils.
- Sore throat.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate tea tree oil for these uses.
The chemicals in tea tree oil may kill bacteria and fungus, and reduce allergic skin reactions.
Tea tree oil is LIKELY SAFE for most people when put on the skin, but it can cause skin irritation and swelling. In people with acne, it can sometimes cause skin dryness, itching, stinging, burning, and redness.
Applying products to the skin that contain tea tree oil along with lavender oil might not be safe for young boys who have not yet reached puberty. These products might have hormone effects that could disrupt the normal hormones in a boy’s body. In some cases, this has resulted in boys developing abnormal breast growth called gynecomastia. The safety of these products when used by young girls is not known.
Tea tree oil is UNSAFE when taken by mouth. Don’t take tea tree oil by mouth. As a general rule never take undiluted essential oils by mouth due to the possibility of serious side effects. Taking tree tea oil by mouth has caused confusion, inability to walk, unsteadiness, rash, and coma.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Tea tree oil seems to be safe when applied to the skin. But it should not be taken by mouth. Ingestion of tea tree oil can be toxic.
It is not known if this product interacts with any medicines.
Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
APPLIED TO THE SKIN
- For nail fungus (onychomycosis): 100% tea tree oil solution applied twice daily for six months.
- For athlete’s foot (tinea pedis): 25% or 50% tea tree oil solution applied twice daily for one month has been used. Tea tree oil 10% cream applied twice daily for one month has also been used.
- For acne: 5% tea tree oil gel applied daily.
Aceite del Árbol de Té, Australian Tea Tree Oil, Huile de Melaleuca, Huile de Théier, Huile de Théier Australien, Huile Essentielle de Théier, Melaleuca alternifolia, Melaleuca Oil, Oil of Melaleuca, Oleum Melaleucae, Tea Tree, Tea Tree Essential Oil.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Tea tree oil page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/113.html.
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Last reviewed - 12/21/2012
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