Years ago my husband and I were driving through the countryside in Western Australia when a sharp, minty aroma started wafting through the windows of our car. About a mile down the road we detected the source of the intense but pleasant aroma: We had stumbled upon a tea tree plantation. After noticing that the plantation was open to the public, we drove in to check it out — all the while, the intensity of the aroma magnified. To this day I associate the smell of tea tree, or Melaleuca alternifolia, with that drive in Australia.
The essential oil extracted from the tea tree is highly versatile and functions as a one-product first-aid kit. That’s because the oil has promising antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Healing with Tea Tree Essential Oil
While tea tree oil can be used for a host of health concerns, here are a few of its many amazing healing properties:
Multipurpose Antimicrobial: Tea tree has been used for centuries for its potent antimicrobial action, which is supported by many scientific studies documenting its success against Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and E. faecalis. Research published in the journal ScienceDirect showed that tea tree oil is effective against S. aureus and the biofilms it creates. Biofilms are thin, potentially health-damaging layers of microorganisms that secrete substances to help ensure their survival in or on the body. Tea tree essential oil may be applied directly to infections undiluted, with the proper caution, or diluted in a carrier oil. It can also be diffused into the air.
Antifungal Aid: Unlike pharmaceutical drugs that tend to target bacteria, viruses or fungi individually, tea tree has been found to be effective against all three microbes at once. In a study published in the journal Oral Oncology, researchers assessed the effectiveness of tea tree oil against 301 different types of yeasts (which are technically fungi) from the mouths of cancer patients suffering from oral infections, including 41 strains that were known to be resistant to antifungal drugs. Tea tree showed varying degrees of effectiveness against them all. Depending on the type of infection, tea tree oil can be applied to the skin undiluted, in a carrier oil or diffused into the air.
Athlete’s Foot Fighter: In addition to tea tree’s capacity as a broad-spectrum fungal fighter, it shows effectiveness against the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot, which is known as Tinea pedis. In a study published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews, researchers found that 72 percent of patients who used a 25-percent solution of tea tree (diluted 1:3 in a carrier oil) had marked improvement in their condition, compared with only 39 percent of patients in the placebo group. Still, more clinical trials are needed to cement a place for tea tree oil as a topical medicinal agent. Conduct a skin patch test to ensure you’re not sensitive to the oil, then apply 1:3 parts tea tree oil to carrier oil for sensitive skin.
Acne Antidote: Tea tree oil is widely used to address acne. In a study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, researchers set out to determine whether the oil lived up to its reputation. They found that the tea tree oil gel used in the study significantly improved acne. In fact it was several times more effective than the placebo. After conducting a skin patch test, apply one drop of essential oil to a cotton swab and dab directly on pimples. Dilute in coconut or sweet almond oil if you have sensitive skin. Alternatively, add a few drops of tea tree oil to your favorite skin-care product before using.
Vaginal Yeast Infections: In a study published in the medical journal BMC Infectious Diseases, researchers found that a naturally occurring compound known as terpinen-4-ol showed promise for treating vaginal yeast infections, including against those that were resistant to the antifungal drug azole. For a yeast infection remedy, you can visit Dr Michelle Cook. Consult a medical professional before using an essential oil internally.
Using Tea Tree Essential Oil
You’ll find many tea tree essential oil products on the market. Most have been diluted with cheaper oils, alcohol, or may contain harsh solvents used during their processing. This makes it critical to choose an essential oil that has independent third-party laboratory testing. Ingestion of tea tree oil, especially products that aren’t pure, can be harmful. Consult a natural health professional well-versed in using essential oils internally, should you wish to do so.
High-quality tea tree essential oil can be used neat (undiluted); however, if you have sensitive skin, dilute three to five drops of tea tree essential oil in one teaspoon of a carrier oil such as sweet almond or fractionated coconut oil (a liquid version of coconut oil). Always conduct a 48-hour skin test of tea tree essential oil diluted in the carrier of your choice prior to more extensive use. We recommend neat use only be occasional, as repeated or long-term use can result in skin sensitivity.
To benefit from its respiratory healing effects or the ability of tea tree essential oil to disinfect and freshen the air, diffuse five drops of tea tree in an essential oil diffuser (preferably not an oil burner, as heating the oil can destroy its therapeutic properties). Diffuse for up to an hour.
Tea tree is classified as a middle note (compared to a base or top note), meaning that when added to essential oil blends it tends not to be the first scent detected but it will last longer than many other oils. Usually middle notes comprise between 50 and 80 percent of a blend. Tea tree adds a fresh, herbaceous and somewhat pungent quality to essential oil blends.
Tea Tree Salve
This ointment helps soothe and disinfect cuts, scrapes and other wounds. It lasts up to a year.
Yield: about 1/2 cup.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 cup grated beeswax
30 drops tea tree essential oil
1. In a small saucepan over low heat, stir olive oil and beeswax together just until beeswax dissolves. Do not allow oil to become hot. Immediately remove saucepan from heat and add tea tree essential oil. Mix together until evenly combined.
2. Now pour the oil-beeswax mixture into a 4- to 6-ounce glass jar. Use a spatula to remove any remaining cream from saucepan.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., DNM, is the international best-selling author of 60 Seconds to Slim, Be Your Own Herbalist and The Cultured Cook.