- Tea tree oil is an essential oil that contains numerous compounds proven to promote skin health.
- When applied topically, this natural substance has no adverse side effects.
- While more research is required, studies have shown tea tree oil to be comparable in efficacy as conventional medications in the treatment of acne.
- This popular essential oil can be used to treat specific skin issues or as part of a daily regimen to promote overall skin health.
Tea tree oil has been used as a home remedy for a host of ailments going back hundreds of years. In recent decades, however, academic research into its ability to help with certain skin issues has confirmed much of the anecdotal evidence surrounding this essential oil, revealing tea tree oil for skin to be a valid alternative to many traditional treatments.
Why Is Tea Tree Oil Used in Skin Care?
Tea tree oil is a popular essential oil that many people prefer as a natural alternative to more conventional skin care treatments. It’s a gentler treatment that has no significant side effects and as such, is less likely to irritate the skin.
This oil is used for a wide variety of health and medicinal purposes, including expediting the healing of acne blemishes, cold sores and surface wounds, as well as to soothe dry, itchy skin.
Tea tree oil can be applied directly to blemishes for immediate relief and curative purposes, or more generally as a twice-daily regimen to improve the overall health and appearance of the skin.
Tea tree oil contains more than 100 different components and is rich in anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, all of which can be utilized to treat many common skin issues, from reducing the severity and duration of acne, psoriasis and eczema outbreaks, to soothing painful genital herpes lesions or healing wounds caused by bacteria.
Among the more medicinally beneficial compounds found in this oil are molecules called terpenes. The terpenes in tea tree oil exhibit antimicrobial properties, with one, terpinen-4-ol, being particularly effective at killing a wide range of skin-harming microorganisms, bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Terpinen-4-ol also increases the activity of white blood cells, which helps the body fight infection while promoting faster healing. These properties play an important role in making tea tree oil an effective remedy for certain bacterial and fungal skin conditions.
While to date studies concerning tea tree oil as it relates to skin health have been relatively limited, those which have been conducted all largely confirm the essential oil’s ability to reduce inflammation.
In one study, this essential oil was shown to be more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams in the treatment of eczema.
Tea Tree Oil Skin Benefits and Uses
There are numerous benefits that result from using tea tree oil for skin issues. In addition to it being a natural substance with no major side effects to be concerned about, it’s efficacy as a treatment for various skin conditions has been established both anecdotally and scientifically. The following are some of the most common skin conditions that tea tree oil can be used to remedy.
Among the most common uses of tea tree oil as it applies to the skin is as a safe, natural remedy to treat mild to moderate acne. It’s a popular option because this essential oil can reduce the number of lesions without affecting the healthy skin microbiome surrounding the blemishes being treated.
Several studies have been conducted to determine how effective a substance tea tree oil is to reduce the severity of acne breakouts, and the results have typically supported this essential oil as a valid acne therapy. For example, one such study determined that applying a 5% tea tree gel to acne lesions was shown effective for mild to moderate acne.
Yet another academic review of this oil as it relates to skin health confirmed it be be as effective at reducing acne as benzoyl peroxide, the most common anti-acne medication currently on the market.
Pros: It is inexpensive and generally as effective as conventional drugs used in the treatment of acne. However, unlike its pharmacological counterparts, tea tree oil is an all-natural product containing no harsh chemicals that can potentially irritate the skin.
Cons: It sometimes takes longer than pharmaceutical counterparts to start producing results.
Little scientific research has been devoted to tea tree oil’s ability to reduce the visibility of acne scars, and there’s little reason to believe it could.
Unlike pimples, most acne scars form deep within the skin and darken with age and exposure to sunlight. While tea tree oil is understood to minimize raised scars (hypertrophic) to a certain degree, it has not been shown to have any direct effect on scars formed beneath the surface layer of skin.
Pros: The anti-inflammatory properties contained in tea tree oil might have an indirect effect on the visibility of acne scars, however, this alone isn’t enough justification to purchase this oil for this purpose.
Cons: It has not been shown to have a direct effect on acne scars.
Hyperpigmentation or dark spots
As it relates to skin health, much of tea tree oil’s medicinal value comes from its ability to prevent and expedite the healing of wounds and blemishes. However, there is also reason to believe it can help with dark spots and certain pigmentation issues.
Some studies have concluded that tea tree oil is as effective at reducing acne lesions as benzoyl peroxide. Antiseptic properties that kill the bacteria associated with cuts and blemishes, lead to faster healing; the faster a wound heals, the less likely it is to leave a dark spot.
Other properties contained in this oil may also aid with pigmentation issues, as dark and red spots are often raised and bumpy due to inflammation. As an anti-inflammatory, it reduces the severity of these spots, potentially minimizing any lingering pigmentation issues caused by them.
Pros: No negative side effects
Cons: As with conventional topical medications used to reduce dark spots and address pigmentation, at best tea tree oil is likely to be only marginally effective for this purpose.
While there have been no published studies conducted on tea tree oil’s ability to reduce skin tags, there are theories and anecdotal evidence to suggest that it might. It is thought that because tea tree oil dries up acne lesions, it will do the same for skin tags.
Dry skin and eczema
Tea tree oil contains several properties that help ease the severity of eczema outbreaks. As an anti-inflammatory it reduces irritation, while its antiseptic qualities soothe the skin.
Tea tree oil is generally considered to be the best essential oil to treat eczema and in at least one study was shown to be more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams in the treatment of this condition.
The anti-inflammatory and other medicinal properties that help make tea tree oil an effective treatment for eczema also provide relief for people with excessively dry skin by reducing the associated itching and irritation.
Studies have shown tea tree oil to be a viable treatment for certain fungal infections, most notably ringworm, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus and candida.
Rashes, cuts and superficial wound healing
Tea tree oil contains several compounds that aid with the healing of scratches and other superficial wounds. While to date relatively little research has been devoted to tea tree oil’s viability as a wound healer, those studies which have been conducted have shown this oil does expedite healing.
The specific properties that are most beneficial in this regard are it’s analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antiseptic and antiviral compounds. Combined, these properties help the oil clean surface wounds and guard against infection, which along with tea tree oil’s tissue regenerating ability, has the effect of promoting faster healing.
How To Apply Tea Tree Oil Topically
Applying pure tea tree oil to the skin is a safe, simple process, with the only important consideration being to dilute it with a carrier oil prior to use.
If not already diluted, the correct ratio is 2 drops of tea tree oil to 12 drops of a carrier oil (such as coconut, jojoba or olive oil).
Regardless of the condition you’re looking to treat, the application process essentially remains the same: thoroughly wash the treatment area and then add a few drops of diluted tea tree oil to a cotton ball and apply.
Another option, instead of going through the diluting process, is to simply add a few drops of tea tree oil to a light facial moisturizer and apply the solution to the area you wish to treat.
This oil can be applied twice a day for maintenance or to address any specific skin condition, in the morning and then again at nighttime. Tea tree oil is safe to use for as long as the condition at hand persists.
Applying tea tree oil to the face
Always wash your face before applying tea tree oil and avoid the eye area when doing so. Never ingest this oil as it’s toxic when swallowed and can potentially result in severe symptoms.
If using tea tree oil to treat acne, do not combine it with benzoyl peroxide until you’ve first performed a patch test. Using this combination may result in irritated skin.
Tea Tree Oil Side Effects
While one of the most attractive elements of using tea tree oil to treat skin conditions is its lack of side effects, there is always a possibility that minor complications could arise, especially if repeatedly used in high concentrations.
Tea tree oil skin irritations
When applied topically, diluted tea tree oil is a safe alternative to conventional skin care treatments. While side effects are rare and typically slight when they do occur, when taken in high concentrations some people can experience mild swelling and skin irritation, while others could suffer an allergic reaction.
For some people with acne-prone skin, this oil can cause skin dryness, stinging, itching, burning and redness.
As such, always perform a preliminary patch test if you’ve never used this essential oil before, and especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies.
Who should avoid tea tree oil?
Anybody who experiences no negative reaction from a preliminary patch test should be able to use tea tree oil safely.
Alternatives to tea tree oil
Some over-the-counter (OTC) alternatives to tea tree oil include oral and topical medications:
Anti-inflammatories: Aspirin, ibuprofen,hydrocortisone and naproxen treat eczema, dermatitis, and allergic reactions
Antifungals: Clotrimazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine, ketoconazole are considered safe and effective for use in the treatment of mild-to-moderate fungal skin infections
Antibacterial/antimicrobial: Neosporin, bacitracin and polymyxin are antibiotics that kill bacteria and are commonly used to prevent infection in minor cuts, scrapes and burns
Antiseptic: Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
Tea tree oil has been used as a home remedy for a variety of ailments going back hundreds of years, to include issues with the skin. As a result, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence supporting its efficacy as a natural remedy to aid with common skin concerns such as acne, eczema, certain fungal infections, as well as its ability to expedite wound healing and lessen the severity of inflammation.
In recent decades, however, some academic research has been conducted into the veracity of the claims made for this essential oil, with much of it confirming (to varying degrees) tea tree oil’s ability to aid with these skin issues.
Nevertheless, while more scientific research will be required before it’s viability as a legitimate antidote can be fully confirmed, it has been scientifically confirmed that the compounds found in the oil have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties that are all well known to play an important role in skin health.
Given it’s a safe, natural treatment with few side effects, and has been shown to be similarly effective as conventional medications in the treatment of acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, tea tree oil is a worthy consideration for anyone seeking an alternative or supplementary treatment to support skin health.
- Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R. Tea tree oil as a novel antipsoriasis weapon. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2012;25(3):162-3. doi:10.1159/000337936
- Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan;19(1):50-62. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16418522
- Li WR, Li HL, Shi QS, Sun TL, Xie XB, Song B, Huang XM. The dynamics and mechanism of the antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil against bacteria and fungi. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2016 Oct;100(20):8865-75. doi:10.1007/s00253-016-7692-4
- Budhiraja SS, Cullum ME, Sioutis SS, Evangelista L, Habanova ST. Biological activity of Melaleuca alternifola (Tea Tree) oil component, terpinen-4-ol, in human myelocytic cell line HL-60. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 Sep;22(7):447-53. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10519561
- Flores FC, De Lima JA, Da Silva CR, Benvegnú D, Ferreira J, Burger ME, Beck RC, Rolim CM, Rocha MI, Da Veiga ML, Da Silva Cde B. Hydrogels Containing Nanocapsules and Nanoemulsions of Tea Tree Oil Provide Antiedematogenic Effect and Improved Skin Wound Healing. J Nanosci Nanotechnol. 2015 Jan;15(1):800-9. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26328444
- Halcón L, Milkus K. Staphylococcus aureus and wounds: a review of tea tree oil as a promising antimicrobial. Am J Infect Control. 2004 Nov;32(7):402-8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15525915
- Koh KJ, Pearce AL, Marshman G, Finlay-Jones JJ, Hart PH. Tea tree oil reduces histamine-induced skin inflammation. Br J Dermatol. 2002 Dec;147(6):1212-7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12452873
- Wallengren J. Tea tree oil attenuates experimental contact dermatitis. Arch Dermatol Res. 2011 Jul;303(5):333-8. doi:10.1007/s00403-010-1083-y
- Malhi HK, Tu J, Riley TV, Kumarasinghe SP, Hammer KA. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. 2017 Aug;58(3):205-210. doi:10.1111/ajd.12465
- Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, Iraji F. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007 Jan-Feb;73(1):22-5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314442
- Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust. 1990 Oct 15;153(8):455-8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2145499
- Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol. 2002 Aug;43(3):175-8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12121393
- Syed TA, Qureshi ZA, Ali SM, Ahmad S, Ahmad SA. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in cream. Trop Med Int Health. 1999 Apr;4(4):284-7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10357864
- Cramer Flores, Fernanda; Fagundes Ribeiro, Roseane; de Bona da Silva, Cristiane. Antifungal activity of nanocarriers containing tea tree oil on the growth of C. albicans: an inhibition profile study. Ciência e Natura, vol. 37, núm. 5, 2015, pp. 1-6 Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brasil. redalyc.org/pdf/4675/467547645001.pdf
- Karen B. Chin and Barbara Cordell.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Dec 2013. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2012.0787