- Tea tree oil has proven antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal benefits, and other medicinal properties that aid with a wide variety of common skin ailments.
- It is an essential oil that has the ability to increase the activity of white blood cells, which help the body fight infection and promote healing.
- Tea tree oil is a natural substance that has no significant negative side effects
- Studies have concluded this oil to be as effective in treating acne as benzoyl peroxide, the most common anti-acne medication on the market.
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea Tree Oil (TTO) is an essential oil sourced from a plant native to Australia called Melaleuca alternifolia. This oil has been shown to contain numerous compounds that promote skin health, and is commonly used as a supplementary or alternative treatment to address a wide variety of dermatological issues.
TTO has a multitude of medicinal uses, from treating acne and dandruff to resolving toenail fungus. Applied topically, it’s commonly used to treat inflammation caused by conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, and contains antifungal properties to address infections such as lice, scabies, athlete’s foot, nail fungus and ringworm.
TTO is a natural antiseptic that can disinfect cuts and abrasions, and soothe burns, insect bites, stings, boils, cold and genital herpes sores, while providing relief from the discomfort associated with these ailments.
Added to bath water, it’s strong yet pleasant odor can help treat bronchial congestion and relieve coughing.
Why and How it Works
TTO contains over 100 separate compounds (primarily monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes), with some found nowhere else in nature. It has been shown to promote healing of certain bacterial, fungal and viral infections, and is a promising topical antimicrobial agent.
Most of tea tree oil’s antimicrobial activity can be traced to a component called terpinen-4-ol which it has a high concentration of (30–40%). Terpinen-4-ol has anti-inflammatory properties and is one reason why this oil is a popular home remedy to reduce inflammation and treat conditions such as acne, psoriasis and eczema.
Terpinen-4-ol has been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi, in addition to increasing the activity of white blood cells, which help the body fight infection and promote healing. It’s these germ-fighting properties which enables this oil to be a natural remedy to treat bacterial and fungal skin conditions, guard against infection, and encourage faster healing of wounds and inflammation.
- Treats oily skin due to its antiseptic properties.
- Relieves Itchy skin; research on its anti-inflammatory properties demonstrate that it is particularly effective at reducing itching eyelids but is commonly used to relieve itching anywhere on the body.
- Soothes dry skin by reducing itching and irritation.
- Treats gingivitis when diluted and used as a mouthwash.
- Improves scalp and hair health by removing dead skin cells and any chemicals from the scalp. Prevents dandruff and aids with the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, a common skin condition in which scaly patches appear on the scalp.
Tea Tree Oil Uses
Skin care applications
Because of its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antifungal properties, TTO is most commonly employed to address skin ailments of an inflammatory nature, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
The oil’s antibacterial properties also make it an effective option to heal wounds caused by bacteria, with one study showing that 90% of participants reported a slight decrease in healing time over those who underwent conventional treatment alone.
While there are few scientific studies to confirm it’s efficacy, TTO has long been a home remedy to treat eczema. It’s anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties help reduce some of the more significant symptoms associated with the condition, alleviating some of the redness, irritation and swelling associated with eczema.
In one study, this oil was found to be effective at reducing itching when used for eczema on the scalp; another study demonstrated that TTO was effective in reducing the symptoms of contact dermatitis 40% – considerably more than standard topical medications.
Clinical studies have shown this oil to be helpful in controlling and eliminating Demodex mites, a genus of mites that live in the skin and are typically found in large numbers on people with rosacea. Terpinen-4-ol is the ingredient in the oil that kills them.
Again, while academic research is limited with respect to TTO’s ability to treat psoriasis, there is some evidence to suggest it’s anti-inflammatory compounds may be helpful to ease the symptoms of this condition.
One of the most common uses of TTO is as a home remedy to fight acne vulgaris. Consequently, more scientific study has been given to determine the ability of this oil to effectively address this condition, and to date the results have been encouraging.
When used to treat mild to moderate acne, TTO can reduce the number of lesions without compromising the healthy skin microbiome near the treatment area.
Numerous studies have demonstrated how TTO reduces the amount and severity of acne breakouts. One such study reported that applying a 5% tea tree gel to acne lesions was three times more effective at reducing lesions than when left untreated, and nearly six times as effective in reducing their severity.
Tea tree oil’s antibacterial and antifungal properties can effectively kill skin-damaging microbes on the scalp while simultaneously helping to restore and maintain the skin’s pH balance.
This oil is widely used to treat various scalp and hair-related problems such as dandruff and scalp dermatitis, as well as to strengthen hair and prevent damage resulting in split ends and frizziness.
The oil moisturizes and soothes dry, itchy scalps, while controlling excess oil production that may be blocking hair follicles and preventing new hair growth.
Because TTO is noncomedogenic, it not only won’t clog pores, but will clean and unclog them; dirty and clogged pores are responsible for dandruff and a cause of hair loss.
To improve the health of your scalp and hair, simply add a few drops of TTO to some jojoba oil and gently massage it into your scalp; wait ten to fifteen minutes and rinse. Alternatively, you can add several drops to your regular hair conditioner.
Because it contains antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, TTO has a particularly wide range of medicinal and basic health care uses. It can be applied to most surface skin conditions with varying degrees of success, but can also be used to:
- Remove makeup
- Soften dry cuticles
- Soothe sunburns
- Treat blackheads
- Promote wound healing (indirectly fade dark spots)
- Prevent keloid scarring
- Treat ingrown hairs and prevent infection
- Fight foot odor
- Relieve athlete’s foot
- Reduce chicken pox sores
- Reduce and relieve cold sores and herpes lesions
- Relieve jock itch
- Treat yeast infections
- Relieve insect bite itch
Tea Tree Oil Products
While TTO is a primary ingredient in some skin creams, ointments, shampoos, hair restoration products and even toothpaste, the most common and practical product to purchase is the pure essential oil, particularly for the purpose of addressing skin problems.
Most of the creams containing this oil are combined with other ingredients, most notably vitamin E and lavender oil, with the intention of enhancing the benefits of this oil.
This oil does vary in quality, so it’s important to look for a reputable brand that is 100% natural, ideally organic and contains no additives. Choose a product that contains a 10–40% concentration of terpinen, the primary antiseptic component of TTO – but if you purchase 100% TTO from a reputable company, this will be a given.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil
TTO must first be diluted in a carrier oil before being applied to the skin. Combine two drops of pure 100% TTO with 12 drops of carrier oil. To determine any sensitivity, first perform a patch test on a discrete area of skin and wait 24 hours.
To use, first wash skin with a mild cleanser. Moisten a cotton ball with several drops of diluted essential oil and apply it to the area of concern.
Alternatively, some may prefer to add a few drops of undiluted TTO to a light facial moisturizer and apply it to their entire face.
As with every other skin issue the oil is used to address, the treatment for acne is also simple. Add a few drops of TTO to a carrier oil – rosehip tends to be popular choice for acne-prone skin as it reduces oil production. Apply to the affected areas with a cotton ball, between two and four times a day, or as you feel necessary.
In general, TTO can be applied morning and night to address any skin concern. It’s considered to be safe to use for as long as the condition at hand persists.
Tea Tree Oil Safety and Side Effects
There are no significant side effects to be concerned about with tea tree oil, other than the need to first dilute it with a carrier oil and perform a patch test before fully applying it to the skin.
Avoid the eye area and never ingest the oil directly, as it’s toxic and could potentially result in severe symptoms.
If using TTO to treat acne, until you’re sure of how your skin reacts to the oil, do not combine it with benzoyl peroxide, When applied topically, diluted TTO is a perfectly safe natural alternative to the typically harsher pharmacological products used to treat the same conditions.
Can TTO be used directly on the skin?
No, unless the product has already been diluted and sold as such by the manufacturer, the oil needs to be diluted prior to application, with the rule of thumb being 10 to 12 drops of a carrier oil (such as olive, almond or coconut) for every two drops of tea tree oil.
Other side effects
TTO causes swelling and skin irritation in some people and may lead to allergic reactions with others, particularly when applied in higher concentrations. As such, always perform a preliminary patch test if you’ve never used this essential oil before, and even more so if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies.
For some people with acne-prone skin, TTO can cause skin dryness, stinging, itching, burning and redness.
A word about ingestion
Do not consume tea tree oil; it’s toxic when swallowed and can potentially lead to severe side effects, including confusion, an inability to walk, rash, and in extremely rare cases, coma. Although some people do incorporate TTO as a mouthwash and/or to treat toothaches and mouth cankers, it is unsafe to ingest.
TTO has been used as a natural remedy to treat a plethora of skin issues going back hundreds of years. As with most essential oils, much of the information concerning its efficacy is anecdotal.
However, studies that has been conducted on TTO to date have largely confirmed it to be a viable remedy for a host of dermatological conditions and has repeatedly been proven to contain antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and antifungal properties.
Given that it’s inexpensive, safe and by most accounts effective, TTO is a worthy consideration for anyone seeking a natural alternative treatment to address a wide variety of skin issues, including acne, psoriasis, eczema and itchy scalps.
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