Tea tree oil (TTO) has been used as a traditional herbal medicine for over a hundred years and even deemed “a medicine cabinet in a bottle. In this article, we look at the possible uses of tea tree oil and also the drawbacks because in asking “what is tea tree oil good for?”, you also need to ask if tea tree oil is bad. Just because you see it in soaps, shampoos and facial cleansers, it doesn’t mean that all it can do. There are so many hidden usages but at the same time we should look at the other side of the coin.
Keeping in mind that more research and experimentation has to be done, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of determining if tea tree oil is a good option for you.
What Is Tea Tree Oil Good For? Pros vs Cons
IMP: Tea tree oil is available as a pure essential oil in a 5% concentration. Although higher concentrations are also available, dilute it with a carrier oil to decrease the risk of skin irritation.
PRO: If you want to replace chemical cleaners in your home, tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant:
In a spray bottle, preferably glass, combine 20 drops of TTO, 3/4 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar.
- Shake well
- Spray directly onto surfaces and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
- Shake the bottle before each use.
If you have children under the age of 12 who may inhale the oil seconds within disinfecting the dining table or lick surfaces, they could develop serious allergies. The same goes for pets. In Australia, tea tree 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.
PRO: When comparing tea tree oil and nerolidol, tea tree oil was more effective at killing the lice, eradicating 100 percent after 30 minutes but sadly, it did not kill the eggs. On the other hand, nerolidol (a natural compound found in some essential oils for head lice) was more effective at killing the eggs. A combination of both substances, at a ratio of 1 part to 2, is ideal to destroy both the lice and the larvae from the eggs. Another tea tree oil benefit is that it was good at “suffocating” the lice when combined with lavender essential oil.
- TTO is not recommended for treating head lice in children as safety has not been established. It can cause allergic reactions.
- Previous research suggests that tea tree oil can only kill head lice in the nymph and adult stages of life as well as in reducing the number of lice eggs which hatch. But this doesn’t solve the problem- eggs and adults both have to die. Therefore, combing remains the most effective treatment of head lice to date combined with using lice shampoo.
Healthy Hair Growth:
Tea tree oil unclogs hair follicles and its stimulating effect improves blood flow to the area, promoting hair growth. The antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties keep the scalp protected from infections. Regular use of a small amount of this oil can prevent the chemicals, oils and dead skin buildup up.
The beneficial microbial fighting properties of tea tree oil can help to treat dry skin conditions and even prevent and resolve ingrown hairs.
Tea tree oil is also used to treat dandruff. Mild to moderate dandruff related to the yeast Pityrosporum ovale may be treated with 5 percent tea tree oil, according to one particular research where people with dandruff who used a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo daily for 4 weeks showed major improvements in overall severity.
During these pressing times, taking control of your baby’s health from home is an advantage. Rather than heading to the pharmacy, tea tree oil can help you in a pinch as it can be used to soothe the cradle cap on an infant’s scalp.
- It is possible to be allergic to tea tree oil but you can easily test for a reaction. Put a little shampoo on the infant’s forearm, and wash away. If no reaction occurs in 24 to 48 hours it should be safe to use.
- TTO 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 from lack of research.
- According to the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency, traditional usage suggests TTO products should not be used on people under 12 years of age.
PRO: Tea tree oil can be used to make your own natural hand sanitizer at home. Mix Aloe Vera, Tea Tree Oil and Lavender into a spritz bottle. For a stronger hand sanitizer that will help with Coronavirus, add some isopropyl alcohol to the mixture above.
CON: Although this essential oil promotes healthy skin by soothing and healing a wide range of skin issues, you should not apply tea tree oil directly to your skin. It’s important to dilute it.
PRO: Tea tree oil may help treat acne thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that 14 participants with acne supported the use of tea tree oil for treating acne.
The participants used the oil on their faces two times a day for 12 weeks. The researchers measured the benefits of tea tree oil usage based on any decreases in acne lesions.
There were 23.7 acne lesions in total from the 14 participants at the start of the study. By the end of the 12 weeks, the total number of lesions for the group had dropped to a whopping 10.7!
The researchers also found that although mild peeling and dryness occurred, most of the participants tolerated the tea tree oil well. Thus, tea tree oil may help treat mild or moderate acne. For cystic or other types of acne, you should speak to your doctor immediately.
CON: TTO has caused more documented allergic reactions than any other form of essential oil! Overuse may cause dermatitis.
PRO: Tea tree oil can be used to benefit those with oily skin. According to one study, the use of sunscreen containing tea tree oil was used to determine whether or not it reduced oily skin in study participants.
For one month, the participants applied sunscreen containing tea tree oil to their skin. By the next month, at least 1 out of 2 areas of the face showed a reduction in oiliness and a reduction in pore size.
- Do a patch test and wait 24 hours to see if there is a skin reaction.
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 TTO should not be used. The potential for causing an allergic reaction increases as the oil ages and its chemical composition regresses.
PRO: Applying TTO to the skin can help with dryness.
CON: Take most care when using tea tree oil around the eye area. Exposure can cause redness and irritation. Application of TTO to the skin can cause an allergic reaction.
PRO: Razor burns can be unsightly, uncomfortable and even painful but you can apply a small amount of tea tree oil to the affected area as a natural astringent after shaving.
CON: Application of TTO to the skin can cause an allergic reaction. Overuse may cause dermatitis.
PRO: According to a study in The Archives of Dermatological Research, the compared use of zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate with that of tea tree oil in people with dermatitis revealed that tea tree oil was better at reducing allergic dermatitis than the other topical agents.
CON: Application of TTO to the skin can cause an allergic reaction. Overuse may cause dermatitis.
Tea tree oil has shown to be more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams in treating eczema caused by dry skin.
Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema caused by contact with an irritant or allergen. Several medications for contact dermatitis were compared, including tea tree oil, zinc oxide, and clobetasone butyrate. The study suggests that tea tree oil was more effective in suppressing allergic contact dermatitis than other medications.
CON: TTO did not have an effect on irritant contact dermatitis. One thing to note is that tea tree oil itself may induce allergic contact dermatitis for some people.
PRO: One small study, with four participants, compared healing times when using tea tree oil for wounds infected with Staphylococcus aureus. 3 of the 4 participants had decreased healing time in the wounds they treated using conventional treatment plus the fumes from tea tree oil.
CON: The antibacterial properties of tea tree oil make it an effective wound healer, however, studies in this area are lacking.
Lighten The Appearance of Scars:
PRO: Tea tree oil contains antioxidants which can promote the regeneration of skin cells; it is also a much cheaper and natural alternative to pricey cosmetic creams.
- TTO should not be used in or around the mouth.
- Take most care when using tea tree oil around the eye area. Exposure can cause redness and irritation.
PRO: Inflammation causes pain and irritated skin. TTO can quell inflammation, possibly due to its high concentration of terpinen-4-ol. It helps to soothe you by reducing redness and swelling. One research found that tree oil showed signs of reduced inflamed skin due to skin sensitivity to nickel.
In animal tests, terpinen-4-ol was found to reduce inflammatory activity in cases of mouth infection. In humans, topically applied tea tree oil decreased inflammation in histamine-induced skin swelling which turned out to be more effective than paraffin oil.
CON: Do not use it on your pets. In dogs and cats, death or transient signs of toxicity such as lethargy, weakness, incoordination and muscle tremors, were seen after external application at high doses.
Infections and Cuts:
PRO: If you have cut yourself or have a minor infection in an exposed wound, TTO in combination with lavender essential oil acts as a homemade ointment.
According to a 2013 study, TTO was so beneficial to heal wounds caused by bacteria, that nine of the 10 people who used TTO in addition to conventional treatment showed quick healing time compared to conventional treatment alone!
CON: TTO is poisonous if applied on the mouth, and unsafe to use on children. There is an incident where one person went into a coma after drinking tea tree oil.
Treat Insect Bites and Stings:
PRO: TTO is highly effective in the treatment of mosquito and insect bites, reducing skin swelling and itchiness.
CON: TTO 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.
PRO: Nail fungus causes pain, discomfort and the loss of the nail. They can be difficult to cure.
One study wanted to distinguish 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. Another study showed tea tree oil effective in destroying nail fungus in the laboratory.
CON: Essential oils are potent, harmful to the skin and cause permanent sensitization if you use them in their pure form directly on the skin. TTO is not recommended for treating nail fungus, as it is not effective.
PRO: TTO can 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.
CON: TTO should not be used in or around the mouth. When used orally, it can cause drowsiness, disorientation, rash, and loss of muscle control in your arms and legs.
PRO: Symptoms of athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, were reduced through topical application of a tea tree oil cream, according to one research where in 10 percent tea tree oil cream appeared to decrease symptoms as effectively as 1 percent tolnaftate, an antifungal medication.
CON: TTO 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.
PRO: A gel containing tea tree oil may be helpful if you suffer from chronic gingivitis, an inflammatory gum condition. Study volunteers who used it experienced a great decrease in bleeding and 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 influenced by tea tree oil and alpha-bisabolol, the active component in chamomile.
CON: Be sure to not ingest it.
Tea tree oil is poisonous when taken internally. It may cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes.
PRO: Tea tree 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.
CON: TTO is claimed as useful for treating insect bites. However, there is not enough evidence to support any of these claims.
Allied Market Research once stated that “the global tea tree 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 because TTO is used as a traditional, topical medication in low concentrations for the attempted treatments of skin conditions, but there is little evidence of efficacy.