Darren was visiting his aunt in Monterey, California. So, while he was using her bathroom to brush his teeth, he did what he had done every time he visited her since he was a kid. He looked through her medicine cabinet. His parents had said that she had been a free spirit when she was younger, which is probably why she had always had interesting things in there. While he was looking through her cabinet this time, he noticed something peculiar. She had a small bottle of undiluted, pure tea tree oil. Hmmm, he thought. I wonder what she uses that for? Lately, he had seen quite a few products containing tea tree oil at the drugstores that he visited. He saw it used as an ingredient in shampoos, soaps, lotions, face washes and even cosmetics. Tea tree oil definitely seemed to be growing in popularity, but Darren was not sure exactly what tea tree oil was and what properties it possessed. He heard that it had medicinal properties, but what were those properties, exactly? He sure wasn’t going to ask his aunt though because that would mean admitting that he had been rifling through her medicine cabinet.
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil is an essential oil derived from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, also called the Narrow-leaved Tea-tree, which is a tree native to Australia. The first people to use tea tree oil were the Aboriginal people of Australia. They crushed the tea tree leaves and used it for its antiseptic and antifungal properties by placing the crushed leaves directly on the injured area. Today, instead of crushing the leaves, tea tree oil is extracted from the tea tree leaves using steam distillation. The resulting essential oil is used in many products.
What are the healing properties?
Tea tree oil has been gaining popularity in the United States, due to its possible antiseptic and antifungal properties. The main component of tea tree oil, terpinen-4-ol, seems to be a major contributor to its health properties. However, few clinical studies have looked at tea tree oil’s health benefits in humans. More studies are still needed to strongly confirm the results that preliminary studies have found. Here are some places that people use tea tree oil today.
- Antiseptic: Tea tree oil has been used for treating certain skin conditions, such as acne, boils, cuts, insect bites, burns, irritated skin and sunburn. However, more studies are needed to fully evaluate the benefit of tea tree oil as an antiseptic.
- Antifungal: Some studies have shown that tea tree oil may have beneficial activity against certain fungal species, such as athlete’s foot, thrush and nail infections (onychomycosis). However more studies are still needed.
- In Hospitals: Early studies are showing that tea tree oil may be able to counter methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is a resistant bacteria that is common in hospitals and is responsible for difficult to treat chronic infections. Although this sounds promising, more evidence is still needed.
- Other: People also use tea tree oil for dandruff, gingivitis, lice and vaginal infections. However, studies in these areas have been inconclusive.
Are there any precautions?
Undiluted topical tea tree oil should not be taken orally by anyone because in large enough doses it can produce potentially severe and even fatal reactions. Even in smaller quantities, tea tree oil taken orally can result in side effects, such as diarrhea, impaired immune function, lethargy, drowsiness or confusion. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the overdose symptoms mentioned above.
Occasionally, some people who use tea tree oil topically may have an allergic reaction to it, such as, redness, rash, itching and blistering. Discontinue use if that is your experience. And keep it out of reach of your kids and pets. It is contraindicated for both those groups at this time.
The bottom line:
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has promising medicinal properties. However, at this time, studies are limited and more are needed to make strong recommendations for its usage and dosage. So, before using tea tree oil for some potentially serious condition, ask your health care practitioner if this is an acceptable approach to take.