Tea Tree Oil
Common Names: tea tree oil, tea tree, Australian tea tree oil, tea tree essential oil, melaleuca oil
Latin Names: Melaleuca alternifolia
- Tea tree oil comes from steam distillation of the leaves of the tea tree. The tea tree grows on the swampy southeast coast of Australia.
- The aboriginal people of Australia have traditionally used tea tree oil as an antiseptic (germ killer) and an herbal medicine.
- Today, external use of tea tree oil is promoted for various conditions such as acne, athlete’s foot, lice, nail fungus, cuts, mite infection at the base of the eyelids, and insect bites.
How Much Do We Know?
- A small amount of research has been done on the topical use (applying to the skin) of tea tree oil for health conditions in people. For instance, there have been only a few small studies in humans on each of the following conditions: acne, lice, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, and mite infection at the base of the eyelids. There have been no studies in humans on the use of tea tree oil for insect bites.
What Have We Learned?
- A limited amount of research indicates that tea tree oil might be helpful for acne and athlete’s foot. One small study suggests that tea tree oil might help with nail fungus. But overall, the research is insufficient to allow clear conclusions to be reached about the use of tea tree oil for these conditions.
- Some early research shows that tea tree oil might be promising for treating mite infections at the base of the eyelids (also called ocular demodicosis). The current evidence is insufficient, however, for a clear conclusion.
What Do We Know About Safety?
- Tea tree oil should not be swallowed. Taking it orally can cause serious symptoms such as confusion, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), breathing problems, and coma.
- Most people can use topical products containing tea tree oil without problems, but some people may develop contact dermatitis (an allergic skin rash) or skin irritation on the parts of the body where the product was used.
- Little is known about whether it’s safe to use tea tree oil during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Keep in Mind
- Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.
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- Cheng AMS, Sheha H, Tseng SCG. Recent advances on ocular Demodex infestation. Current Opinion in Ophthalmology. 2015;26(4):295-300.
- Christoffers WA, Blömeke B, Coenraads P-J, et al. Co-sensitization to ascaridole and tea tree oil. Contact Dermatitis. 2013;69(3):187-189.
- Deyno S, Mtewa AG, Abebe A, et al. Essential oils as topical anti-infective agents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2019;47:102224.
- Halteh P, Scher RK, Lipner SR. Over-the-counter and natural remedies for onychomycosis: do they really work? Cutis. 2016;98(5);E16-E25.
- Martin KW, Ernst E. Herbal medicines for treatment of fungal infections: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Mycoses. 2004;47(3-4):87-92.
- Tea Tree Oil. Natural Medicines website. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com on May 1, 2020. [Database subscription].
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