Tea Tree Essential Oil: Did You Know These Facts About Its History?

Deemed “a medicine cabinet in a bottle,” tea tree essential oil is one of the most commonly used and versatile essential oils in the land of all essential oils. You have probably seen it in a wide variety of products from soap, to shampoo, to facial cleansers. The tea tree essential oil has been used as a traditional herbal medicine for over a hundred years but only went commercial in the 1920s! 

Tea Tree Essential Oil History 

PC:  By Tangopaso 

Tea tree essential oil has a rich history dating back to aboriginal times in Australia. It really is a gem of an oil found in and native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. The name was coined by the British explorer Captain James Cook. He noticed the indigenous people used the leaves to make a tea that smelled like nutmeg. Captain Cook saw this traditional practice and gave it the name “Tea Tree”.

Tea tree essential oil has been documented to have a fresh camphoraceous odor.  It also has a wide variety of uses and if you have never experienced tea tree essential oil and are curious as to what it smells like, it has a slightly astringent and eucalyptus-like aroma.

The oil comprises chemicals where the composition if it is exposed to air, oxidizes. On its own, its colour ranges from pale yellow to nearly colourless and clear. The composition of TTO may change considerably during storage. Light, heat, exposure to air, and moisture also play a role in oil stability. This oil should thus be stored in a dark, cool, dry vessel that contains little air.

Commercial Use:

Buying and selling began in the 1920s when Arthur Penfold, an Australian, investigated the business potential of a number of native extracted oils; he reported that tea tree essential oil had promise, as it exhibited antiseptic properties.

Tea tree essential oil was first extracted from Melaleuca alternifolia in Australia, and this species remains the most important commercially. In the 1970s and 1980s, commercial plantations began to produce large quantities of tea tree essential oil from Melaleuca alternifolia. Many of these plantations are located in New South Wales.

Since the 1970s and 80s, the industry has expanded, including several other species for their extracted oil: Melaleuca armillaris and Melaleuca styphelioides in Tunisia and Egypt; Melaleuca leucadendra in Egypt, Malaysia and Vietnam; Melaleuca acuminata in Tunisia; Melaleuca ericifolia in Egypt; and Melaleuca quinquenervia in the United States. 

Similar oils can also be produced by water distillation from Melaleuca linariifolia and Melaleuca dissitiflora. Whereas the availability and nonproprietary nature of tea tree essential oil would make it – if proved effective – particularly well-suited to a disease like scabies that affects poor people disproportionately, those same characteristics diminish corporate interest in its development and validation.

Allied Market Research once stated that “the global tea tree essential oil market size was valued at $38.8 million in 2017 and is projected to reach $59.5 million by the year 2025”. This is all owing to the fact that it is used as a traditional, topical medication in low concentrations for the attempted treatments of skin conditions, but there is little evidence of efficacy.

Tea tree essential oil is claimed as useful for treating dandruff, acne, lice, herpes, insect bites, scabies, and skin fungal or bacterial infections. However, there is not enough evidence to support any of these claims due to the limited amount of research conducted on the topic. Tea tree essential oil is neither a patented product nor an approved drug in the United States, although it is approved as a complementary medicine for aromatherapy in Australia. It is poisonous if consumed by mouth, and unsafe to use on children

Historical Usage:

TTO has been used for almost 100 years in Australia but is now available worldwide as an active component in an array of products. The primary uses of tea tree essential oil have historically capitalized on the antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions of the oil. 

More recently, during WWII, Australian soldiers would carry tea tree essential oil in their first aid kits because of its effectiveness in treating wounds. It was so popular during that time that anyone who was in the business of producing tea tree essential oil was exempt from the drafts so they were free to keep producing tea tree oil and ensure a large enough supply for hospitals and first aid kits.

Today tea tree essential oil has a variety of benefits that go beyond cold and wound treatments. It has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties so it is great for skin conditions such as psoriasis, athlete’s foot, and even dandruff. Tea tree essential oil can also be used to make homemade mouthwash and natural deodorant as the antibacterial properties help fight the bacteria that live in your mouth and underarm area.

Beyond physical health, tea tree essential oil has so many other practical uses as well. Tea tree essential oil can be used to make your own all-purpose cleaner. If you want to replace chemical-laden cleaners in your home, tea tree essential oil is a natural alternative. Here is a simple recipe you can make that is a natural disinfectant:

In a spray bottle, preferably glass, Combine 20 drops of tea tree essential oil, 3/4 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar.

  1. Shake well until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Spray directly onto surfaces and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
  3. Make sure to shake the bottle before each use in order to mix the tea tree essential oil with the other ingredients.

Tea tree essential oil is also an effective insect repellent. You can make your own with a few simple ingredients. Tea tree essential oil contains terpenes which repel insects from your skin. It is a great alternative to bug sprays that contain DEET which can be harmful when used in large quantities.

What has not worked in the past for users with tea tree essential oil?

Despite the versatility of this oil, you should take precautions before using it. a

As with any essential oil, it’s best to use tea tree essential oil diluted. Essential oils are potent and can be harmful to the skin and cause permanent sensitization if you use them in their pure form directly on the skin. A good rule of thumb is 2% dilution. To do this you can mix approximately 12 drops of essential oil per 1 oz of carrier oil such as avocado, olive oil coconut, almond or jojoba.

Past learnings and precautions include:

  • Tea tree essential oil is not recommended for treating nail fungus, as it is not effective. 
  • It is not recommended for treating head lice in children as safety has not been established and it could cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
  • Tea tree essential oil potentially poses a risk for causing abnormal breast enlargement in men. 
  • A 2018 study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found four of the constituent chemicals (eucalyptol, 4-terpineol, dipentene and alpha-terpineol) are endocrine disruptors, raising concerns of potential environmental health impact from the oil.
  • Be sure to not ingest it.

As a test of toxicity by oral intake, the median lethal dose (LD50) in rats is 1.9–2.4 ml/kg. tea tree essential oil is poisonous when taken internally. It may cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. Tea tree essential oil should not be used in or around the mouth.

  • Do a patch test and wait 24 hours to see if there is a skin reaction. Overuse may cause dermatitis.

Application of tea tree essential oil to the skin can cause an allergic reaction. tea tree essential oil has caused more documented allergic reactions than any other form of essential oil. The potential for causing an allergic reaction increases as the oil ages and its chemical composition regresses. Adverse effects include skin irritation, allergic contact dermatitis, systemic contact dermatitis, linear immunoglobulin A disease, erythema multiforme-like reactions, and systemic hypersensitivity reactions. Consequently, oxidized tea tree essential oil should not be used.

  • Store out of reach of children.

In Australia tea tree essential oil is one of the many essential oils that have been increasingly causing cases of poisoning, mostly of children. Between 2014-2018 there were 749 reported cases in New South Wales, from 17% of essential oil poisoning incidents. According to the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency, traditional usage suggests tea tree essential oil products should not be used on people under 12 years of age.

  • Do not use it on your pets.

In dogs and cats, death or transient signs of toxicity (lasting 2 to 3 days), such as lethargy, weakness, incoordination and muscle tremors, have been reported after external application at high doses.

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