Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ingredient Spotlight: Tea Tree Essential Oil

Tea tree essential oil is one of my favorite essential oils. It smells great and has a ton of beneficial properties. Tea tree oil comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia bush, which is native to Southeast Queensland and the Northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. The oil is typically steam distilled from the twigs and leaves of the plant.

Tea tree oil was first shown to have antimicrobial activity in the 1920’s by Arthur Penfold (1,2). It has also been shown to have antiviral (3) and antifungal properties (4). A 2008 study of in vitro toxicity showed a tea tree oil preparation was more effective against head lice than permethrin, a popular pharmaceutical remedy (5). There is also clinical evidence that topical dermatological preparations containing tea tree oil may be more effective than conventional antibiotics in preventing transmission of MRSA (6).

Medicinal Uses:
Aboriginal peoples from eastern Australia treat cold by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves. It has been known by them as a cure-all medicine since ancient times. The Tea tree oil can be used as a cure for almost all sorts of tropical infections and diseases. An infusion can also be made from the leaves to treat sore throats and skin disorders. Tea tree oil can be used topically in a cream to clear up acne (7) and is also good when added to soap. I like to add tea tree oil to my shampoo both for scent and because it is an effective treatment for dandruff.  Check out our Tea Tree Shampoo and Body Soap here. Tea tree oil is also an efficient insect repellent; keeping insects like mosquitoes, fleas, lice, and flies away from the body when applied topically.

Ladybug Soapworks Tea Tree Shampoo and Body Soap

Interesting tidbits:

  • A dilute solution of Tea tree oil can be used to treat fish infections. I have used these products to treat my aquarium and pond if the fish get sick or have a growth and within a couple days of treatment the infection is gone.
  • In World War II cutters and producers of tea tree were exempt from military service until enough essential oil had been accumulated. It was issued to each soldier and sailor for them to treat tropical infections and other problems of warfare, including wounds.

Safety Precautions:
While many authors claim that Tea Tree oil can be applied undiluted to the skin, it is best and safest to first dilute any essential oil in carrier oil before applying it topically. In some rare cases it may be sensitizing to a few people.

  1. Penfold, A. R.; Grant, R. (1925). "The germicidal values of some Australian essential oils and their pure constituents, together with those for some essential oil isolates, and synthetics. Part III". J. R. Soc. New South Wales 59: 346–349.
  2. Halcon, 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. School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
  3. Schnitzler, P; Schön, K; Reichling, J (2001). "Antiviral activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil against herpes simplex virus in cell culture". Die Pharmazie 56 (4): 343–7. PMID 11338678.
  4. "Antifungal effects of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil and its components on Candida albicans, Candida glabrata and Saccharomyces cerevisiae," J Antimicrob Chemother. 2004 Jun; 53(6):1081-5. Epub 2004 May 12.
  5. Heukelbach, J.; Canyon, D. V.; Oliveira, F. A.; Muller, R.; Speare, R. (2008). "In vitroefficacy of over-the-counter botanical pediculicides against the head lousePediculus humanusvarcapitisbased on a stringent standard for mortality assessment". Medical and Veterinary Entomology 22 (3): 264–72. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2915.2008.00738.x. PMID 18816275.
  6. Bearden, D. T.; Allen, G. P.; Christensen, J. M. (2008). "Comparative in vitro activities of topical wound care products against community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus". Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 62 (4): 769–72. doi:10.1093/jac/dkn272. PMC 2721705. PMID 18593725
  7. Bassett, et al, "A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne," Med J Aust. 1990 Oct 15;153(8):455-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed&cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=2145499