What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil is a natural oil that is derived from the leaves of the tea tree, a tree named in the eighteenth century by sailors; who noticed that tea made from the leaves of the tree, which grew in the swampy terrain of the southeastern Australian coast, smelled similar to nutmeg. Tea tree is unrelated to tea plants used to produce green or black tea. Chemicals derived from the tea tree oil as shown some benefit for treatment of bacteria and fungal infections, as well as some utility in treatment of allergic skin reactions.
How does tea tree oil work?
Herbal and natural remedies are the basis of modern medicine. Tea tree oil has been used for centuries, without clinical trials and based only on experience. There are chemicals in the oil that may kill some types of bacteria and fungus. These chemicals also have an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces allergic skin reactions.
Uses of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil, when applied to the skin, is useful for treatment of a variety of infectious conditions, including acne, fungal infections of the nails, scabies, athlete’s foot, lice, and ringworm. When used as a local antiseptic, it cleans and reduces the burden of disease-causing microorganisms in cuts and abrasions. Tea tree oil is useful for cleansing and wound care for cuts and abrasions, burns and bite, stings, boils, herpes infections, and infections of the mouth and nose. The oil can be helpful in treatment of toothache, sore throat, and ear infections. There are varying degrees of evidence available to support these practices.
There are several uses of tea tree oil that are supported by evidence that suggests these interventions may be effective, including treatment of nail fungus (onchomycosis) with a topical application of 100% tea tree oil, twice daily for six months. About 18% of patients with nail fungus who have tried this treatment have achieved a cure. More than half of patients reported improved appearance of their nails after three months of treatment, and use of tea tree oil is comparable to treatment of nail fungus with topical antifungal solutions (clotrimazole 1%.) Use of tea tree oil in a diluted concentration is not associated with benefit. Another use supported by evidence is treatment of mild to moderate acne with a 5% solution of tea tree oil get, which appears to work as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide, with less irritation to the skin. After 45 days of twice daily application, tea tree oil has been demonstrated to reduce acne severity. Use of tea tree oil topically in a 10% cream appears to work as well as many common antifungal creams, including Tinactin, for relief of many of the symptoms of athlete’s foot, including itching, burning, and scaling. With use of a concentration of 25% to 50%, there is evidence of cure of the fungal infection (tinea pedis) responsible for the symptoms.
Some uses of tea tree oil are still under investigation
Although there is not enough evidence available to conclusively state tea tree oil is effective in treatment of bacterial vaginosis, experience and early research suggest that tea tree oil may be beneficial. Application of a 5% solution of tea tree oil shampoo has been studied and early results suggest it is helpful for treatment of scalp lesions, greasiness, and itchiness in people with dandruff. Although evidence is mixed, there is some support for treatment of gingivitis with 2.5% tea tree oil. A study showed that brushing the teeth with the gel twice a day reduced bleeding in patients with plaque formation and gingivitis. A mouthwash that contains tea tree oil does not, however, appear to reduce plaque formation. Use of the Tebedont mouth rinse, which contains tea tree oil and xylitol, was shown to reduce plaque in one study. Other potential uses that are in early stages of study include treatment of hemorrhoids with a gel solution; treatment of lice; treatment of thrush in people with AIDS; and treatment of plantar warts. There are, in fact, multiple uses for the oil that are still under investigation. Currently, however, they can’t be recommended until after further study proves they have real benefit.
Possible adverse effects
Although the use of tea tree oil is not associated with significant adverse effects, it does cause skin irritation, inflammation, and swelling in some people. When it is used to treat acne, it may have an irritant effect. There is some question about the use of tea tree oil with lavender oil in young boys who are prepubertal – there may be hormonal effects that can cause abnormal breast growth. Tea tree oil should not be taken by mouth. It is intended for topical use, on the skin. It can cause confusion, unsteadiness, difficulty walking, rashes, and even coma, if taken by mouth.