URL of this page: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/113.html

Tea tree oil

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. However, 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. When applied twice daily for 45 days, tea tree oil reduces several acne symptoms, including acne severity.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Bad breath. Early research shows that adding tea tree oil to an essential oil mixture containing peppermint and lemon oils can reduce bad breath.
  • Cold sores (Herpes labialis). Research so far suggests that applying 6% tea tree oil gel 5 times daily does not significantly improve cold sores.
  • Eyelid infection (blepharitis). Early research shows that tea tree might cure common eyelid infections and reduce the associated symptoms, including eye inflammation and vision loss.
  • Dandruff. Early research suggests that applying a 5% teat tree oil shampoo three minutes daily for four weeks reduces scalp lesions, scalp itchiness, and greasiness in patients with dandruff.
  • Dental plaque. Results from research examining the effects of tea tree oil on dental plaque are inconsistent. Some early research shows that brushing the teeth with a 2.5% tea tree oil gel twice daily for eight weeks reduces gum bleeding but not plaque in people who have gingivitis caused by plaque. Also, using a mouthwash containing tea tree oil after a professional teeth cleaning does not seem to reduce plaque formation. However, rinsing with a specific product (Tebodont) containing tea tree oil and a chemical called xylitol does seem to reduce plaque.
  • Gingivitis. Results from research examining the effects of tea tree oil on gingivitis are inconsistent. Some early research shows that brushing the teeth with a 2.5% tea tree oil gel twice daily for eight weeks reduces gum bleeding but does not improve overall gum health in people who have gingivitis caused by plaque. However, rinsing with a specific product (Tebodont) containing tea tree oil and a chemical called xylitol seems to reduce gum inflammation.
  • Hemorrhoids. Some early evidence suggests that applying a gel containing tea tree oil reduces symptoms of hemorrhoids, including pain, inflammation and itching, in children.
  • Lice. Early research suggests that tea tree oil might repel lice. Also, applying a combination of lavender and tea tree oil kills lice eggs and reduces the number of live lice. It is unclear if the effects are caused by the tea tree oil alone or the combination of lavender and tea tree oil.
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. Evidence about the effects of tea tree oil on MRSA infection is unclear. When compared to standard MRSA treatment alone, adding tea tree oil does not seem to improve overall MRSA clearance. Also, using a tea tree oil solution when cleaning wounds does not seem to improve MRSA clearance. However, an early study suggests that using a 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment plus a 5% tea tree oil body wash along with other standard treatments might have a small benefit.
  • 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. Also some early evidence suggests that applying diluted tea tree oil to the skin before nickel exposure reduces skin reactions in people allergic to nickel.
  • Water warts. Early research shows that applying a combination of tea tree oil and iodine for 30 days helps clear up warts in children better than just tea tree oil or iodine alone.
  • Yeast infections in the mouth and throat (thrush; also known as oropharyngeal candidiasis). 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. There is also early evidence that using tea tree oil as part of an essential oil mixture might improve oral comfort in cancer patients. However, adding 1 mL of tea tree oil to a standard conditioner treatment does not reduce infections and inflammation in people with dentures.
  • Vaginal bacterial infections. Some studies suggest tea tree oil may be beneficial for some vaginal infections caused by bacteria.
  • Vaginal yeast infections. Early evidence suggests that tea tree oil might be beneficial for some vaginal yeast infections.
  • Ear infections.
  • Scabies.
  • Ringworm.
  • Preventing infections in cuts, abrasions, burns, insect bites and stings, and boils.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Congestion.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate tea tree oil for these uses.

How does it work?

The chemicals in tea tree oil may kill bacteria and fungus, and reduce allergic skin reactions.

Are there safety concerns?

Tea tree oil is POSSIBLY 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 LIKELY 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 is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin. However, it is LIKELY UNSAFE if taken by mouth. Ingestion of tea tree oil can be toxic.

Are there interactions with medications?

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.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

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.

Other names

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.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

References

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Last reviewed - 02/16/2015