Tea Tree Oil: How To Use It, Benefits and Risks

Tea Tree Oil

Bacteria and fungi killing tea tree oil come from the evergreen leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree. The Australian native plant extract has been known to be used widely throughout for the last century and became popular around the world after its beneficial properties have been studied and documented.

With its usage ranging from therapy in surgery, to burn care, to shampoo and dental care, numerous tea tree oil body care products are available, including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, lip balm, topical (used on the skin) cream, and essential oil.

Tea Tree Oil: All You Need To Know

What is tea tree oil used for?

Tea tree oil has many applications and uses including:

  • The usage of tea tree oil treats minor cuts, burns, acne, athlete’s foot, mild fungal nail infections, vaginal yeast infections, and lung problems (when they add the oil to a bath or vaporizer). 
  • Use as a wound dressing: Place a few drops of oil onto fresh wound dressing to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation.
  • Use to cleanse and improve hair and scalp conditions: The natural cleansing abilities of Tea Tree Oil make this an extremely useful addition to your regular shampoo. Just adding a couple of drops of Tea Tree Oil to your shampoo while in the shower, can help to prevent the build-up of chemicals, oils and dead skin on the scalp and cleanse your hair thoroughly as you wash it. To improve the condition of the hair, using coconut oil with a couple of drops of Tea Tree Oil, can help to moisturise and give a healthy shine to your hair. Do this by massaging the mixture onto the scalp and throughout the length of your hair twice a week and leave it in for at least thirty minutes before washing your hair.
  • Homemade mouthwash: Add 2 drops of tea tree oil to a cup of water and use as mouthwash, but be careful to not swallow as tea tree oil is toxic if taken internally. 
  • Natural dandruff remedy: Add a few drops of tea tree oil into regular shampoo and wash hair as normal.
  • Acne treatment: Mix around 4 drops of tea tree oil to a half cup of water. Apply to the face with a cotton pad one time a day.
  • Household cleaner: Add 20 drops of tea tree oil with a cup of water and a half cup of white vinegar. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use it as an all-purpose antimicrobial cleaner.
  • To lighten the appearance of Scars: You can incorporate Tea Tree Oil into your face care and skin care routine to reduce the appearance of skin blemishes or you can buy pre-made safety tested Tea Tree Oil skincare. Tea Tree Oil contains antioxidants that can promote the regeneration of skin cells; it is also a much cheaper and natural alternative to pricey cosmetic creams. By using Tea Tree Oil mixed with carrier oil or a Tea Tree Oil serum daily and massaging this mixture onto the scar until fully absorbed, you will begin to see an improvement in skin appearance.
  • Use for Razor Burn: Razor burns can be unsightly, uncomfortable and even painful if left untreated. To relieve yourself from these burns simply apply a small amount of Tea Tree Oil to the affected area as a natural astringent to alleviate the irritation caused by shaving. Post shaving, add some drops of Tea Tree Oil diluted in witch hazel on a cotton ball and apply to the parts of your skin which are prone to razor burn. You should notice a soothing and cooling sensation that can provide relief immediately. 

Is tea tree oil safe?

Tea tree oil is safe as a topical treatment, and you can apply it directly to the skin on a daily basis. When applied to the skin in its pure (100% oil) form, tea tree oil doesn’t usually irritate. 

But some people develop an allergic rash (contact dermatitis), so if you are concerned that you might develop a rash, try the oil first on a small area of skin. You can also dilute tea tree oil with other mediums such as coconut, vegetable, olive, or almond oil.

Tea tree oil is not to be taken by mouth. It is unsafe for use in the ears, because it may cause damage to the inner ear.

Benefits of tea tree oil: 

1. Antibacterial

The oil has been used for centuries as a healing treatment, particularly for skin conditions. Today it is used for a number of conditions.

Tea tree oil is probably best known for its antibacterial properties. 

Some research suggests that the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity associated with the oil comes from its ability to damage the cell walls of bacteria. More research is needed to understand how it might work.

2. Anti-inflammatory

Tea tree oil helps to reduce inflammation, possibly due to its high concentration of terpinen-4-ol, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties which is why it’s used for wounds. 

In animal tests, terpinen-4-ol was found to reduce inflammatory activity in cases of mouth infection. 

In humans, applying tea tree oil on the skin helps to reduce swelling in histamine-induced skin inflammation more effectively than paraffin oil.

3. Antifungal

Tea tree oil has the powerful ability to kill a range of yeasts and fungi. The majority of the studies reviewed focus on Candida albicans, a type of yeast which commonly affects the skin, genitals, throat, and mouth.

Other research suggests that terpinen-4-ol (which helps with inflammation) also enhances the activity of fluconazole, a common antifungal drug, in cases of resistant strains of Candida albicans.

4. Antiviral

Research shows that tea tree oil can help treat certain viruses, but research is limited in this area.

5. Acne

Tea tree oil may be useful for a number of skin complaints. Acne is the most common skin condition. It affects up to 50 million Americans at any one time.

One study found a significant difference between tea tree oil gel and a placebo in treating acne.

Participants treated with tea tree oil experienced improvement in both total acne count and the severity of the acne.

This builds on earlier research which compared 5 percent tea tree oil gel with 5 percent benzoyl peroxide lotion in treating cases of mild to moderate acne.

Both treatments significantly reduced the number of acne lesions, although the tea tree oil worked more slowly. Those using the tea tree oil experienced fewer side effects.

6. Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, symptoms reduced through topical application of a tea tree oil cream. 

In one study, 10 percent tea tree oil cream appeared to reduce the symptoms as effectively as 1 percent tolnaftate, an antifungal medication. However, the tea tree oil was no more effective than a placebo in achieving a total cure.

A marked improvement in symptoms and even cure was seen in 68 percent of people who used a 50 percent tea tree oil application, with 64 percent achieving total treatment. This was over double the improvement seen in the placebo group.

7. Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema caused by contact with an irritant or allergen. Several treatments for contact dermatitis were compared, including tea tree oil, zinc oxide, and clobetasone butyrate.

Results suggest that tea tree oil was more effective in suppressing allergic contact dermatitis than other treatments. However, it did not have an effect on irritant contact dermatitis.

Keep in mind that tea tree oil itself can cause allergic contact dermatitis in some people.

8. Dandruff and cradle cap

Mild to moderate dandruff such as the yeast Pityrosporum ovale may be treated with 5 percent tea tree oil, according to one study.

People with dandruff who used a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo daily for 4 weeks showed major improvements in overall severity, as well as in the levels of itchiness and greasiness, when compared with a placebo.Participants experienced no negative effects.

Another study found tea tree oil shampoo effective for treating children with a cradle cap.

It is possible to be allergic to tea tree oil. To check for a reaction, put a little shampoo on your infant’s forearm, and wash away. If no reaction occurs in 24 to 48 hours it should be safe to use.

9. Head lice

Lice are becoming more resistant and gaining immunity to medical treatments, so experts are increasingly considering essential oils as alternatives.

Research compared tea tree oil to nerolidol – a natural compound found in some essential oils – in the treatment of head lice. The tea tree oil was more effective at killing the lice, destroying 100 percent after 30 minutes.

On the other hand, nerolidol was more effective at killing the eggs. A combination of both substances, at a ratio of 1 part to 2, worked best to destroy both the lice and the larvae.

10. Relieving psoriasis

Psoriasis is characterised by red, scaly and inflamed areas of dry skin. This skin condition leads to itchiness, pain and irritation yet currently there is no known cure for the condition.

Tea Tree Oil can help ease discomfort caused by psoriasis thanks to its antibacterial properties.

You can use it by adding ten drops of Tea Tree Oil to two tablespoons of melted coconut oil and massaging onto the affected area twice a day to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and diminish psoriasis scars also.

11. Nail fungus

Fungal infections are a common cause of nail abnormalities. They can be difficult to cure.

One study compared the effects of a cream comprising both 5 percent tea tree oil and 2 percent butenafine hydrochloride (a synthetic antifungal) with a placebo.

After 16 weeks, the nail fungus was cured in 80 percent of people. None of the cases in the placebo group was cured.

One research revealed that tea tree oil was effective in eliminating nail fungus in the laboratory. However, this research does not definitely conclude that the tea tree oil component of the cream is responsible for the improvements experienced, so further research is needed.

12. Oral health

Tea tree oil may be beneficial for those with chronic gingivitis, an inflammatory gum condition is usually used in gel form. 

Participants of the research used tea tree oil gel and experienced a significant reduction in bleeding. They also saw less inflammation when compared with a placebo or a chlorhexidine antiseptic gel.

Other research indicates that a type of bacteria associated with bad breath may be treated with tea tree oil and alpha-bisabolol, which is the active component in chamomile.

13. Removal of skin tags

Skin tags are small flesh coloured growths on the skin that protrude out and look ugly, although harmless. 

They can be difficult to remove but it has been found that you can use Tea Tree Oil as an effective treatment for skin tags due to its combination of antiseptic, antibacterial and antiviral properties. 

By simply using a safety tested Tea Tree Oil treatment you can apply Tea Tree Oil to a skin tag using a cotton pad and leave to dry. You will find that the skin tag will slowly disappear. 

Risks and warnings:

Applying tea tree oil topically, or ingesting it, carries several risks. Tea tree oil should be purchased from a reputable source.

Risks associated with ingestion

Never swallow tea tree oil as it can cause:

  • severe rashes
  • blood cell abnormalities
  • stomach ache
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • drowsiness
  • coma

Risks associated with topical applications

The risks associated with using tea tree oil topically include:

Allergic contact dermatitis: If you get allergies after using tea tree oil, discontinue use. Some research indicates that this is more likely to happen after applying the pure oil rather than mixing with shampoo or cosmetics. Certain people may develop contact dermatitis (an allergic skin rash) on the parts of the body where the product was used.

Male prepubertal gynecomastia: Enlarged breast tissue in prepubescent boys has been associated with topical use of products that have tea tree oil. However, the evidence is limited.

Bacteria resistance: Regular usage of antibiotics, including low-level doses of tea tree oil, may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria, a significant concern. 

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