It was centuries ago that Australian aborigines probably first started plucking leaves from a native tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) to treat skin infections. In 1770, sailors from Captain Cook's expedition to the South Seas ventured ashore at New South Wales and brewed a tea using the leaves of the same tree. This event engendered the herb's English name "tea tree"--which is actually something of a misnomer because the Melaleuca species bears no relation to the Camellia species, the usual source of tea leaves.
Today, an aromatic oil with a fragrance reminiscent of nutmeg is steam-distilled from the Melaleuca leaves. Because the Melaleuca alternifolia grows only in Australia, that country is now the major source of tea tree oil, exporting some 700 tons of annually. Tea tree products are often referred to as "melaleuca oil." The pure oil is colorless to pale yellow.
High-quality tea tree oil contains 40% or more of terpinen-4-ol, the ingredient that fights harmful bacteria and fungi and makes the oil so effective in preventing and fighting infection in cuts, scrapes, insect bites, and stings.
Specifically, tea tree oil may help to:
Treat cuts, scrapes, insect bites and stings, and other minor skin wounds and irritations. Tea tree oil blends rapidly and easily with the skin's own oils. In the process, the oil alters the chemical barrier of the skin, making it less hospitable to the growth of fungi and other organisms. In these ways, tea tree oil not only lessens the chance of infection, it also promotes healing and reduces the likelihood of scarring.
Fight fungal nail infections, jock itch, and athlete's foot. Tea tree oil has been shown to be effective in countering Trichophyton, the fungus that causes numerous topical infections, including athlete's foot and jock itch.
Shorten the course of vaginal yeast infections. Two of the organisms that cause these discomforts, Candida albicans and Trichomonas vaginalis, apparently succumb to the actions of tea tree oil.
Gently control acne. Even severe cases of acne have been shown to benefit from anti-acne preparations that contain up to 15% tea tree oil, an effect that can be explained by the oil's antibacterial and skin-healing properties. In one study conducted in Australia, a comparison was made between a gel containing 5% tea tree oil and a traditional 5% benzoyl peroxide acne lotion. The products proved similar in their effectiveness against pimples, although the herbal preparation worked more slowly. It was notable, however, that the product containing the tea tree oil caused significantly less dryness, redness, scaling, and itching to the surrounding skin.
Treat dandruff and head lice. According to one study, a 5% solution of tea tree oil is effective against Pityrosporum ovale, a fungus that can cause dandruff. In a laboratory analysis of tea-tree chemistry, substances were discovered that can kill head lice. But human research is still needed, especially since the skin of children (a population particularly susceptible to lice) may be overly sensitive to tea tree oil.
Curtail warts. Tea tree oil is sometimes recommended for warts, which are caused by viruses. More research is needed to determine whether the oil is truly effective for this purpose, but it certainly does not seem to cause any complications.
Note: Tea tree oil has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Tea Tree Oil.
15 ml $17.95