By now, you’ve probably heard of tea tree oil…but what is it exactly and where does it come from?
Tea tree essential oil comes from the leaves of the native Australian tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as a paperbark or tea tree. It grows mostly along streams and swampy areas in subtropical coastal regions of the country.
Also called melaleuca oil, it’s known a “bush medicine” in Australia. The term “bush medicine” refers to the traditional Aboriginal system of medicine derived from plants and herbs found in their native lands.
This fragrant oil has been used medicinally for more than a century in Australia. But the indigenous culture has been using melaleuca oil for far longer. The Bundjalung Aboriginal people of northern New South Wales have long crushed the leaves into a paste to treat wounds or brewed it as a drink for sore throats.1 The origins of the Bundjalung people has been traced back more than 22,000 years.
Another fun fact surrounding the oil: Australian Aboriginals would speak of “healing lakes”, a phenomenon whereby Melaleuca leaves would fall into a nearby lagoon and decay, turning the water the color of tea and retaining all of the essential oil’s properties. Today, “tea tree lakes” still exist and are popular with both locals and visitors who seek out this rather unique and revitalizing bathing experience.
What are the health benefits of tea tree oil?
This ancient oil has since become famed internationally for its antimicrobial activity and has become one of the most studied of all essential oils. So, what have researchers discovered?
Here are just a few of its incredible properties for health and wellness:
- It has antibacterial properities.
In a study on the oral flora of 40 volunteers where the oil was used once daily for 7 days, it reduced the total number of oral bacteria compared to a placebo treatment. These reductions were also maintained for two weeks after the treatment ceased.2
- It inhibits fungus and yeasts.
In one study, this natural remedy was able to inhibit growth of all of the clinical fungal and yeast species tested – over 134 of them.3
- It can reduce duration of the flu.
The influenza virus was significantly constrained if the oil was added within two hours of infection, showing that it plays havoc with an early step in the viral replication cycle.4
- It helps fight acne.
In a clinical study of 124 patients suffering from acne, the fragrant oil proved to be equally as effective as benzoyl peroxide in reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions and had fewer side effects.5
- It could be a new defense against superbugs.
The study of tea tree oil and its effects on the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has received a lot of attention. One trial compared the essential oil to other antibiotic treatments and found no significant differences between results. However, melaleuca oil had the upper hand because no clinical resistance to it (by any bacteria) has ever been reported, despite the fact it’s been used medicinally in Australia since the 1920s.6
- It can help soothe symptoms of athlete’s foot.
Tea tree oil has shown to be highly effective in soothing tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, which has led to the recommendation that it be considered an alternative aid for tinea.7
- It wipes out dandruff.
Dandruff also seems to respond well to this remedy, demonstrating significant improvement in all scores, including itchiness and greasiness of the scalp.8
- It helps your body to treat ringworm.
A medical study in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology showed that the Australian oil is an effective treatment for ringworm. It completely fixed the fungus after four weeks of treatment in more than 64% of test subjects.9
- It has anti-inflammatory properties.
Numerous more recent studies are now supporting evidence that tea tree oil does indeed have anti-inflammatory abilities in mouthwash and topical creams. 10
How can I use tea tree oil?
Pure tea tree oil can usually be found at your local pharmacy or health food store. You may also see it mixed in with various products on the shelves. However, it’s best to buy it 100% pure for the highest quality and efficacy.
Here’s how you can DIY with melaleuca oil at home. (Just note that in most cases you should try to dilute this powerful oil with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or argan oil, as it’s extremely potent.*) Apply a small amount of undiluted oil onto cuts and abrasions with a cotton swab, as both a disinfectant and antiseptic.
- Apply a small amount of undiluted oil onto cuts and abrasions with a cotton swab, as both a disinfectant and antiseptic.
- Dab undiluted onto pimples or acne lesions or make your own face scrub by combining it with olive oil and kosher salt. You can also add a few drops to your moisturizer for spot treating. For your entire face, stick to regular moisturizer as it can be quite drying.
- For toenail fungus, apply undiluted twice daily to the affected area.
- To help manage the symptoms of an athlete’s foot infection, mix equal parts with a carrier oil (like olive oil) and using a cotton ball rub over the area twice a day and cover feet with clean socks.
- Add about 2-3 drops of the natural tree essence to your bathtub as well. Use 2 Tbsp of a carrier oil and pretend you’re soaking in a remote Australian lagoon while soothing skin conditions, such as boils or eczema.
- Create an all-purpose cleaner using around 10 drops of the essential oil, 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle.
- Attack mildew in your bathroom by combining 2 tsp of the oil and 1 cup of warm water in a spray bottle. Allow to sit for a good hour and then get in there with an old toothbrush.
- For the hair and scalp, make your own shampoo by adding 3-4 drops to your regular shampoo and relieve dry flaky scalp.
- Make your own (far cheaper) yoga mat cleaner by filling a spray bottle with ¼ witch hazel, ¾ distilled water and 2 drops of tea tree oil.
- Pests tend to hate the smell of tea tree oil. Add about 20 drops to a spray bottle of water and spray around doorways and cracks where ants and other insects congregate. You can also lessen the sting of insect bites by applying the undiluted oil to the area.
- Add a few drops to your laundry detergent to freshen up your clothes and remove odors.
- Suffering from a cold? Boil some water in a pot on the stove. Add a couple drops of your melaleuca oil to the water. Carefully transfer to a bowl. Set the bowl in your lap or on a table. Place a towel over your head and breathe in the aroma for a solid 5-10 minutes. Likewise, you can use the oil to disinfect surfaces if someone else in the household is sick with cold or flu infections. See above for the all-purpose cleaner recipe.
Is tea tree oil safe?
Australian melaleuca oil is generally considered one of the safest, and most useful, of all essential oils. There are only two real considerations to take note of when it comes to the safety of melaleuca oil:
1. It can be toxic if ingested, so never swallow it.
2. It can cause skin irritation in some people. This is due to its potency, so those with sensitive skin or skin conditions, should always dilute it with a carrier oil. And make sure to do a spot test first on a small patch of skin, say on your wrist or hand.
The Power of the Melaleuca Plant
This amazing oil of the Australian melaleuca plant is perhaps so incredible because it’s such a multi-purpose essential oil. How many products can you turn to for your athlete’s foot, your partner’s cold, your ant infestation and that unexpected pimple breakout all at once? Plus, it’s naturally sourced, a fraction of the price of most cleaners or antibacterial products, and it smells amazing too. Tea tree oil is simply one of those products that everyone needs on hand for the health and wellness of the entire household.
Now, pull yourself a bath, drop in some of this primeval magic oil and imagine that you’re far away in a remote Australian healing lake …
For more health and beauty tips, keep reading on our blog here:
1. “Top 10 Aboriginal Bush Medicines.” Australian Geographic. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
2. Carson, C.F. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review Of Antimicrobial And Other Medicinal Properties.” N.p., 2006. Web. 24 July 2017.
3. Nenoff P, et al. “Antifungal Activity Of The Essential Oil Of Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree Oil) Against Pathogenic Fungi In Vitro. – Pubmed – NCBI.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
4. Garozzo A, et al. “Activity Of Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil On Influenza Virus A/PR/8: Study On The Mechanism Of Action. – Pubmed – NCBI.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
5. Bassett IB, et al. “A Comparative Study Of Tea-Tree Oil Versus Benzoylperoxide In The Treatment Of Acne. – Pubmed – NCBI.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
6. Carson, C.F. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review Of Antimicrobial And Other Medicinal Properties.” N.p., 2006. Web. 24 July 2017.
7. Satchell AC, et al. “Treatment Of Interdigital Tinea Pedis With 25% And 50% Tea Tree Oil Solution: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blinded Study. – Pubmed – NCBI.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
8. Carson, C.F. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review Of Antimicrobial And Other Medicinal Properties.” N.p., 2006. Web. 24 July 2017.
9. Hammer, K. A. “In Vitro Activity Of Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil Against Dermatophytes And Other Filamentous Fungi.” N.p., 2017. Print.
10. Hart PH, et al. “Terpinen-4-Ol, The Main Component Of The Essential Oil Of Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree Oil), Suppresses Inflammatory Mediator Production By Act… – Pubmed – NCBI.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.