Tea tree oil is an essential oil that can be used for several purposes, including keeping skin, hair, and nails healthy. In addition to its scientifically backed benefits, tea tree oil is inexpensive and safe when used as directed.
What Is Tea Tree Oil and How Does It Work?
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. Although Melaleuca alternifolia is known as the tea tree, it should not be confused with the plant that produces leaves used to make black, green, and oolong tea.
Tea tree oil has been used as traditional medicine by Aborigines for centuries. These native Australians crush tea tree leaves to extract the oil, which is then inhaled to treat coughs and colds or applied directly to the skin for healing.
Today, tea tree oil is widely available as a 100% undiluted or “neat” oil. Diluted forms are also available, ranging f
rom 5–50% strength in products designed for the skin.
Terpinen-4-ol also appears to increase the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs and other foreign invaders (3Trusted Source). These germ-fighting properties make tea tree oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection, and promoting healing.
Read on to learn about the many uses and benefits of this versatile oil.
1. Hand Sanitizer
Tea tree oil makes an ideal natural hand sanitizer. Studies have shown that it kills several common bacteria and viruses responsible for causing illness, including E. coli, S. pneumoniae, and H. influenzae (1Trusted Source). Moreover, a study testing several types of hand wash shows that adding tea tree oil to the cleansers boosted their effectiveness against E. coli (4Trusted Source). Using tree oil as a natural hand sanitizer may help kill several germs responsible for colds, flu, and other illness.
2. Insect Repellent
Tea tree oil may help keep pesky insects away. One study found that 24 hours after being treated with tea tree oil, cows had 61% fewer flies than cows not treated with tea tree oil (5Trusted Source). Furthermore, a test-tube study revealed that tea tree oil had a greater ability to repel mosquitoes than DEET, the most common active ingredient in commercial insect repellents (6Trusted Source). Tea Tree oil has been shown to kill or repel insects. In some cases, it is as effective as or more effective than standard insecticides or repellents.
3. Natural Deodorant
Tea tree oil’s antibacterial effects may help control underarm odor related to perspiration. Sweat itself does not smell. However, when secretions from your sweat glands combine with bacteria on your skin, a moderate to strong odor is produced.
Your underarm area contains a large concentration of these glands and is mainly responsible for what is commonly referred to as “body odor.” Tea tree oil’s bacteria-fighting properties make it an ideal natural alternative to commercial deodorants and antiperspirants. Tea tree oil contains compounds that fight bacteria responsible for body odor. It can be used to make a safe and effective deodorant.
4. Antiseptic for Minor Cuts and Scrapes
Injuries that result in broken skin make it easy for germs to enter your bloodstream, which can lead to infection. Tea tree oil can be used to treat and disinfect minor cuts and abrasions by killing S. aureus and other bacteria that can cause infection in open wounds (1Trusted Source). Applying a mixture of tea tree oil and coconut oil can help prevent minor cuts and abrasions from becoming infected.
5. Boost Wound Healing
In addition to preventing infection in cuts and abrasions, tea tree oil may also encourage wound healing.
Research has shown that tea tree oil helps reduce inflammation and triggers the activity of white blood cells that are instrumental in the healing process (3Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
In a small study of 10 people with wounds, adding tea tree oil to conventional wound treatment led to decreased healing time in all but one participant (9Trusted Source). A few drops of tea tree oil can be added to wound dressing each time a new dressing is applied. Tea tree oil may help speed wound healing by reducing inflammation and increasing white blood cell activity.
6. Fight Acne
In one study, applying a 5% tea tree gel to acne lesions was shown to be more than three times more effective at reducing the number of lesions than a placebo. It was nearly six times as effective in reducing severity (12Trusted Source). In another study, tea tree oil was found to be as effective against acne as benzoyl peroxide, the most common anti-acne medication (13Trusted Source).
Tea tree oil-based acne gels can be purchased at natural grocery stores or from online retailers.
Alternatively, you can make your acne treatment by mixing one part tea tree oil with nine parts water and applying the mixture to affected areas with a cotton swab once or twice a day, as needed. Gels containing tea tree oil have been shown to reduce the number of lesions and the severity of acne in some studies.
7. Get Rid of Nail Fungus
Fungal nail infections are quite common. Although they aren’t dangerous, they can be unsightly. Some medications can treat nail fungus, though some people may prefer a more natural approach.
Tea tree oil has been shown to help get rid of nail fungus when used alone or in combination with other natural remedies (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source). In a controlled study, people with nail fungus used straight tea tree oil or an antifungal medication for six months. At the end of the study, about 60% of people in each group experienced partial or full resolution of the fungus (15Trusted Source).
You can use a few drops of tea tree oil alone or mix it with an equal amount of coconut oil and apply it to the affected area. Be sure to wash your hands immediately after applying to avoid spreading the fungus to other areas. Tea tree oil appears to be as effective against fungal nail infections as antifungal medications applied to the area.
8. Chemical-Free Mouthwash
Research suggests that tea tree oil may fight germs that cause tooth decay and bad breath (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, and 18Trusted Source). One study found that tea tree oil was more effective against plaque-causing bacteria than chlorhexidine, a common disinfectant, and oral rinse. What’s more, its taste was found to be less objectionable (16Trusted Source).
On the other hand, an older study reported that tea tree oil didn’t seem to have much of an effect on plaque formation (19Trusted Source). To make your chemical-free mouthwash, simply add a drop of tea tree oil to a cup of warm water, mix thoroughly and swish in your mouth for 30 seconds or so.
Like other mouthwashes, tea tree oil should not be swallowed. It can be toxic if ingested. Tea tree oil can be diluted with water to create a mouthwash that helps fight bad breath and dental plaque.
9. All-Purpose Cleaner
Tea tree oil makes a great all-purpose cleaner that also sanitizes surfaces. Plus, it does so without leaving traces of chemicals you wouldn’t want your family members or pets coming in contact with.
Here’s an easy recipe for an all-natural, all-purpose cleaner:
Combine 20 drops of tea tree oil, 3/4 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle.
Shake well until thoroughly mixed.
Spray directly onto surfaces and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
Make sure to shake the bottle before each use to mix the tea tree oil with the other ingredients.
Tea tree oil can be mixed with water and vinegar to create a chemical-free, all-purpose cleaner for your home.
10. Soothe Skin Inflammation
Tea tree oil may help relieve inflamed skin. A common form of skin irritation is contact dermatitis, which occurs when the skin comes in contact with an allergen, such as nickel. Exposure to the allergen leads to red, itchy, and sometimes painful skin.
Animal and human research suggest that applying tea tree oil may help reduce the severity of these symptoms (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, and 22Trusted Source). In a study comparing the effects of different treatments for contact dermatitis, tea tree oil was found to reduce symptoms by 40%, which was significantly more than standard medications applied to the skin (22Trusted Source).
Also, tea tree oil may provide relief from bug bite reactions by reducing the itching, redness, and swelling that occurs when your body releases histamine to defend against the insect’s saliva (23Trusted Source).
Use this recipe to relieve inflamed skin:
Combine 10 drops of tea tree oil with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and one tablespoon of melted coconut oil.
Mix well, and store in a sealed container.
Apply to the affected area up to twice a day until symptoms resolve.
Applying a tea tree oil mixture may help combat skin inflammation related to contact dermatitis or insect bites.
11. Control Dandruff
Dandruff, or white flakes of dead skin that fall from the scalp, isn’t dangerous. However, it can be annoying and embarrassing. Although there is little published research on tea tree oil’s effectiveness in treating dandruff, one controlled study suggests that it may be helpful.
In this four-week study, the group who used a shampoo containing tea tree oil had a 40% improvement in dandruff. Moreover, the tea tree group reported significant improvements in dandruff severity, itchiness, and greasiness (24Trusted Source).
To help reduce dandruff, try adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a dollop of shampoo when washing your hair. Although research is limited, one study suggests that tea tree oil may help reduce the severity of dandruff and improve other symptoms.
12. Treat Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot can be frustratingly hard to control. Known medically as tinea pedis, athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection on the feet that can also spread to the toenails and hands. Symptoms include peeling, cracking, blisters, and redness. Antifungal medications are considered standard treatment for athlete’s foot. Yet studies suggest that tea tree oil may be an effective alternative for relieving symptoms (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).
In a controlled study of 158 people, 72% of the tea tree oil group had significant clinical improvement in the athlete's foot, compared to 39% in the placebo group (25Trusted Source).
However, another study found that although tea tree oil helped relieve scaling, inflammation, itching, and burning as well as antifungal medication, it wasn’t as effective at actually getting rid of the fungus (26Trusted Source). Tea tree oil’s antifungal properties may help alleviate symptoms of athlete’s foot.
Here is a natural treatment to relieve the symptoms of athlete’s foot:
Combine 1/4 cup arrowroot powder, 1/4 cup baking soda and 20–25 drops of tea tree oil
Stir to combine, and place in a covered container
Apply to clean, dry feet twice a day
13. Banish Mold on Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh produce is undeniably delicious and healthy. Unfortunately, it’s also susceptible to the growth of gray mold known as Botrytis cinerea, particularly in warm, moist climates.
To protect against mold, add 5–10 drops of tea tree oil to the water before rinsing your produce and drying it thoroughly. Tea tree oil contains compounds that help fight the growth of mold on fruits and vegetables. Adding tea tree oil to the water when rinsing produce may help your produce remain mold-free.
14. Relieve Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition characterized by outbreaks of red, itchy, scaly skin. Although there are medications that can improve symptoms, the condition itself is chronic and there is no known cure.
Tea tree oil contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which, according to emerging evidence, may help ease psoriasis symptoms (29Trusted Source). To provide relief for psoriasis flares, combine 10–15 drops of tea tree oil with two tablespoons of melted coconut oil. Apply this to the affected area 2–3 times per day, as needed. Applying a mixture of tea tree oil and coconut oil may help relieve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Cautions When Using Tea Tree Oil
Research has shown that tea tree oil appears to be safe overall (30Trusted Source). However, there are some things to be aware of before using it. Tea tree oil should not be ingested because it may be toxic if swallowed.
Therefore, tea tree oil should be stored out of the reach of children. In one case, an 18-month-old boy suffered serious injuries after accidentally swallowing tea tree oil (31Trusted Source). Before using tea tree oil for the first time, test a drop or two on a small area of your skin and wait 24 hours to see if any reaction occurs.
Likewise, people with sensitive skin may experience irritation when using undiluted tea tree oil. If your skin is sensitive, it’s best to mix tea tree oil with an equal or greater amount of olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil.
Additionally, using tea tree oil in pets may not be safe. Researchers reported that more than 400 dogs and cats developed tremors and other nervous system problems after receiving between 0.1–85 mL of tea tree oil on the skin or orally (34Trusted Source).
Although tea tree oil is generally safe when used on adults’ skin, allergic reactions may occur in some people. Tea tree oil may be unsafe for young children and pets.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, tea tree oil can be helpful for several reasons. It’s an inexpensive natural alternative to chemical-based skin and nail treatments, personal care products, and disinfectants, among other things. However, tea tree oil is not a magic cure-all. Some people may experience skin irritation or an allergic reaction after using it. Overall, tea tree oil serves many purposes and is a good item to have on hand.
You can have the benefits of tea tree in your home by purchasing our Australian Tea tree soap.