A product of Australia, tea tree oil has a variety of uses and benefits including treating acne; and relieving burns, cuts, and insect bites.
Every region has its celebrated medicinal botanicals: South Asia has sandalwood, France has lavender, and Indonesia boasts the exotic clove oil—but Australia has the champion of champions.
Derived from the leaves of a rather straggly looking Melaleuca alternifolia found on the New South Wales North Coast, tea tree oil (TTO) is a veritable giant among the planet’s healing botanicals.
A long history
The traditional custodians of this area, the Bundjalung people, inhaled crushed tea tree leaves for coughs and colds or sprinkled them on wounds before applying a poultice.
Now, years later, scientific research supports the ancient knowledge that tea tree oil has powerful antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. Data is growing on the oil’s potential use against fungal and viral infections.
TTO can be found most often as a pure essential oil, but it is also used as an ingredient in cremes, lotions, soaps, shampoos, and ointments. Some of the most common uses of TTO are for the treatment of acne, athlete’s foot, dandruff, burns, cuts, insect bites, and yeast infections.
In a double-blind study tea tree oil was examined for treatment of mild to moderate acne vulgaris. Researchers found a six-week course of 5 percent TTO effective in reducing both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions.
Lab tests have shown a strong effect of TTO against a group of common fungi that causes athlete’s foot and is also responsible for toenail fungal infections as well as for dandruff.
Burns, cuts, and insect bites
Though clinical trials have not been conclusive, TTO has long been used to aid the healing of minor cuts and burns as well as insect bites. It is thought that TTO’s antifungal and antibacterial properties make the skin less hospitable to the growth of fungi and other organisms, thus reducing the chance of infection while promoting healing.
Laboratory studies have shown the Candida organism which causes vaginal yeast infections, as well as thrush, are susceptible to the antifungal actions of TTO.
TTO has been studied as an alternative to antibiotic treatment for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) skin infections. The scourge of hospitals and patients, superbug MRSA can cause potentially fatal complications in vulnerable patients.
TTO can be toxic if taken orally, so should be kept away from children and pets. It can also be mildly irritating to the skin for those with sensitivities, so should not be used undiluted.