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.
- Pearce AL, Finlay-Jones JJ, Hart PH. Reduction of nickel-induced contact hypersensitivity reactions by topical tea tree oil in humans. Inflamm Res 2005;54:22-30.
- Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Eng J Med 2007;356:479-85.
- Allen P. Tea tree oil: the science behind the antimicrobial hype. Lancet 2001;358:1245.
- Martin KW, Ernst E. Herbal medicines for treatment of fungal infections: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Mycoses 2004;47:87-92.
- Morris MC, Donoghue A, Markowitz JA, Osterhoudt KC. Ingestion of tea tree oil (Melaleuca oil) by a 4-year-old boy. Pediatr Emerg Care 2003;19:169-71.
- Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol 2002;43:175-8.
- Khanna M, Qasem K, Sasseville D. Allergic contact dermatitis to tea tree oil with erythema multiforme-like id reaction. Am J Contact Dermat 2000;11:238-42.
- Varma S, Blackford S, Statham BN, Blackwell A. Combined contact allergy to tea tree oil and lavender oil complicating chronic vulvovaginitis. Contact Dermatitis 2000;42:309-10.
- Greig JE, Thoo SL, Carson CF, Riley TV. Allergic contact dermatitis following use of a tea tree oil hand-wash not due to tea tree oil. Contact Dermatitis 1999;41:354-5.
- Bruynzeel DP. Contact dermatitis due to tea tree oil. Trop Med Int Health 1999;4:630.
Cox SD, Mann CM, Markham JL, et al. The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). J Appl Microbiol 2000;88:170-5.
- Chan CH, Loudon KW. Activity of tea tree oil on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). J Hosp Infect 1998;39:244-5.
- Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. Susceptibility of transient and commensal skin flora to the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). Am J Infect Control 1996;24:186-9.
- Blackwell AL. Tea tree oil and anaerobic (bacterial) vaginosis. Lancet 1991;337:300.
- Moss A. Tea tree oil poisoning. Med J Aust 1994;160:236.
- Knight TE, Hausen BM. Melaleuca oil (tea tree oil) dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol 1994;30:423-7.
- Carson CF, Cookson BD, Farrelly HD, Riley TV. Susceptibility of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus to the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia. J Antimicrob Chemother 1995;35:421-4.
- Carson CF, Riley TV. Toxicity of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia or tea tree oil. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1995;33:193-4.
- Carson CF, Riley TV. The antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil. Med J Aust 1994;160:236.
- Elliott C. Tea tree oil poisoning. Med J Aust 1993;159:830-1.
- Jacobs MR, Hornfeldt CS. Melaleuca oil poisoning. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1994;32:461-4.
- Koh KJ, Pearce AL, Marshman G, et al. Tea tree oil reduces histamine-induced skin inflammation. Br J Dermatol 2002;147:1212-7.
- Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust 1990;153:455-8.
- May J, Chan CH, King A, et al. Time-kill studies of tea tree oils on clinical isolates. J Antimicrob Chemother 2000;45:639-43.
- Syed TA, Qureshi ZA, Ali SM, et al. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in cream. Trop Med Int Health 1999;4:284-7.
- Buck DS, Nidorf DM, Addino JG. Comparison of two topical preparations for the treatment of onychomycosis: Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil and clotrimazole. J Fam Pract 1994;38:601-5.
- Zhang SY, Robertson D. A study of tea tree oil ototoxicity. Audiol Neurootol 2000;5:64-8.
- Nelson RR. Selection of resistance to the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia in Staphylococcus aureus. J Antimicrob Chemother 2000;45:549-50.
- Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. In vitro activities of ketoconazole, econazole, miconazole, and Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil against Malassezia species. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2000;44:467-9.
- Elsom GF, Hyde D. Susceptibility of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus to tea tree oil and mupirocin. J Antimicrob Chemother 1999;43:427-8.
- Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. In-vitro activity of essential oils, in particular Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil and tea tree oil products, against Candida spp. J Antimicrob Chemother 1998;42:591-5.
- Jandourek A, Vaishampayan JK, Vazquez JA. Efficacy of melaleuca oral solution for the treatment of fluconazole refractory oral candidiasis in AIDS patients. AIDS 1998;12:1033-7.
- Tong MM, Altman PM, Barnetson RS. Tea tree oil in the treatment of tinea pedis. Australas J Dermatol 1992;33:145-9.
- Del Beccaro MA. Melaleuca oil poisoning in a 17-month old. Vet Hum Toxicol 1995;37:557-8.
- Bhushan M, Beck MH. Allergic contact dermatitis from tea tree oil in a wart paint. Contact Dermatitis 1997;36:117-8.
- Carson CF, Riley TV, Cookson BD. Efficacy and safety of tea tree oil as a topical antimicrobial agent. J Hosp Infect 1998;40:175-8.
- Rubel DM, Freeman S, Southwell IA. Tea tree oil allergy: what is the offending agent? Report of three cases of tea tree oil allergy and review of the literature. Australas J Dermatol 1998;39:244-7.
- Carson CR, Ashton L, Dry L, et al. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil gel (6%) for the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. J Antimicrob Chemother 2001;48:450-1.
- De Groot AC. Airborn allergic contact dermatitis from tea tree oil. Contact Dermatitis 1996;35:304-5.
- Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal, 4th ed., Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
- Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
- Show more references
- Show fewer references
Last reviewed - 12/21/2012
This copyrighted, evidence-based medicine resource is provided by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database disclaims any responsibility related to consequences of using any product. This monograph should not replace advice from a healthcare professional and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
Copyright © 1995 - 2014 Therapeutic Research Faculty
, publishers of Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
, Prescriber’s Letter
, Pharmacist’s Letter
. All rights reserved. For scientific data on natural medicines, professionals may consult the Professional Version of Natural Medicines Comprehensive DatabaseNatural Medicines Comprehensive Database (http://www.naturaldatabase.com/)