What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Melaleuca oil or as it is more commonly known tea tree oil is an essential oil derived from the plant Melaleuca alternifolia, native to Australia. Tea tree oil has a long use in traditional medical practices, used by indigenous Australians to treat coughs, healing wounds and as a soothing ingredient for swelling.
As is often the case with plant-derived ingredients the traditional use of tea tree oil in medicinal practices has been echoed by the contemporary research into the ingredient. As a plant-derived ingredient, tea tree oil is made up of a number of different compounds, it isn’t just one single ingredient. One of these compounds, terpinen-4-ol has been found to possess antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin. Other compounds in tea tree oil have been found to have antioxidant properties.
Unfortunately with any complex plant-derived ingredient, it can be difficult to determine whether the ingredient is likely to irritate the skin as the composition of the oil can vary based on soil quality, the climate in which it is grown, and sometimes how it is extracted or harvested.
One of the most important things to remember with tea tree oil, particularly if you plan to use the concentrated oil rather than a formulated product is that you have to dilute the oil. Tea tree oil when used on the skin undiluetd can cause irritation, sensitivity and can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier. While it may be tempting to use the concentrated oil, particularly when you have an active blemish that you just want to go, using undiluted tea tree oil is a definite no-no.
The good: Has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties that may it useful for supporting treatments of blemishes or acne as well as for supporting healing or minor wounds.
The not so good: Can irritate the skin, particularly when overused.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients.
Keep an eye on: Make sure to always dilute tea tree oil in a simple carrier oil such as jojoba or almond oil before using it.
What Are The Benefits of Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil has been found to have anti-bacterial properties, meaning that it can help to kill bacteria. In a recent study, tea tree oil was found to be effective at killing one of the specific bacteria, p.acnes, that is found in acne blemishes. Tea tree oil has also been studied for its use against other bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus or golden staph a hard to treat bacterial infection.
Another way in which tea tree oil may be beneficial or acne is that tea tree oil has been studied for its anti-inflammatory benefits. In a study conducted on tea tree oil and acne, it was found that concentrations of 5% are effective at treating mild-moderate acne.
Tea tree oil is also beneficial in helping to support the healing of minor cuts, scrapes, and wounds. There are many products on the market that use tea tree oil as the main antiseptic ingredient for cleaning wounds for this reason. Again, use a formulated tea tree product, or make sure to dilute the concentrated essential oil before use.
Tea Tree Oil vs. Benzoyl Peroxide
Tea tree oil was compared to benzoyl peroxide, an effective over the counter acne treatment, for its efficacy in treating acne. It was found that a concentration of 5% tea tree oil was comparably effective at reducing blemishes. However, it did take tea tree oil slightly longer to treat the blemishes than benzoyl peroxide. The one benefit of tea tree oil that makes it stand out from other acne treatments is that it is actually a mildly hydrating ingredient, unlike retinoids or benzoyl peroxide which are both drying.
What Are The Other Uses of Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil has also been suggested to be beneficial in treating dandruff as its anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory benefits can be beneficial for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
Tea tree oil is also useful for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces as tea tree oil is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral.
What Are The Side Effects of Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil is generally non-irritating when used correctly. However, people can be allergic to tea tree oil so if you experience itching, swelling, irritation, or redness, stop use and speak with your doctor or dermatologist.
Is Tea Tree Oil Safe?
As is the case with many plant-derived ingredients, it can be difficult to determine the safety and efficacy of these types of ingredients as they are a complex mix of a number of different compounds. However, tea tree oil is probably one of the most well-studied pant-derived ingredients and is generally considered to be safe in its current approved uses and concentrations.
Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50-62.
Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. Effects of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil and the major monoterpene component terpinen-4-ol on the development of single- and multistep antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial susceptibility. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2012;56(2):909-915.