Tea tree oil is among the most popular essential oils you can buy. It is great for almost everything. You can use the oil for acne, inflammation, dandruff, lice, insects, spiders and so much more. The list of tea tree oil benefits is long!
But there are some side effects and precautions you should be aware of. The oil is toxic when ingested. It affects animals too. And using the oil undiluted on your skin can cause serious damage.
Trust me on that! I recently used a strong tea tree and tamanu oil blend on my neck. I’ve used tea tree oil for decades but this time I didn’t realize how strong the blend was. A couple hours later, my neck was covered in fine, allergy-like pimples!
Oh, and it took a week to clear up!
Tea tree oil is amazing for so many things, but its power must be respected. It must be properly diluted and used safely. But before I get into more precautions, let me explain the properties and benefits of this great oil.
Properties of Tea Tree Oil
The botanical name for tea tree is Melaleuca alternifolia .
You may sometimes see the oil sold as Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil. That’s fine.
If you see Melaleuca oil though, you should check the botanical name since a few Melaleuca species are sold with this name. Some include cajeput (Melaleuca cajuputi) and niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia).
You may also see tea oil. Tea oil is totally different from tea tree oil. Tea oil comes from the Camellia sinensis or Camellia oleifera plants and is mainly used for cooking.
Color and Smell
Tea tree oil is usually colorless to pale yellow and smells like camphor and eucalyptus.
What is in the oil?
The main compound in this oil is terpinen-4-ol. It can make up about 30% to 50% of the oil. Gamma-terpinene is also a dominant compound.
Other compounds in the oil include eucalyptol, alpha-terpinene, alpha-terpineol, p-cymene, and alpha-pinene. Traces of limonene, sabinene, ledene, aromadendrene, and delta-cadinene have also been reported.
All these chemicals work together to make tea tree one of the best essential oils to buy.
Tea Tree Oil Benefits
The list of tea tree oil benefits show it can:
- kill cancer cells in vitro
- kill microbes
- reduce inflammation and redness
- fights acne
- reduce dandruff
- repel and kill bugs
- get rid of lice
- help with skin problems like eczema and sores
Tea tree oil may be anticancer
Lab studies show the oil has good effects against cancer cells.
This 2010 University of Western Australia study tested the oil and its main compound on mice tumor cells. It found tea tree and terpinen-4-ol had:
significant anti-proliferative activity against two tumour cell lines … [and] … highlights the potential anticancer activity of tea tree oil and terpinen-4-ol.
Another study from 2017 also looked at the anticancer effects of terpinen-4-ol. It listed past studies that showed the compound inhibited human melanoma, lung, and leukemia cancer cells. And it showed the compound killed human colorectal cancer cells too.
But remember these are lab and animal studies. These are not clinical trials. More research needs to be done before we can say tea tree oil can help cancer patients.
The oil is antibacterial
Tea tree oil is one of the best antibacterial essential oils. It’s true.
A 2006 article goes into detail about this tea tree oil benefit. It showed the oil can affect bacteria in two ways. It can stop them from multiplying and it can kill them altogether. But that’s not all. Only low levels of the oil are needed to do this. And even tea tree oil vapors are strong enough to inhibit bacteria.
That’s impressive and powerful! You only need a little to disinfect your space.
Here’s another great post from jenreviews.com that gets into the antibacterial benefits (and other benefits) of tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is antifungal too
The same 2006 study also showed the oil can fight yeasts, dermatophytes, and other fungi. And it can stop them from creating and releasing spores. So it can kill and control any unwanted fungi and mold you may have. Oh and the vapors work on them too!
It kills other microbes too
Yep, it’s true. The oil can kill many other types of microbes like viruses and protozoa. You can say the oil has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity.
And the compounds responsible for these effects are terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, eucalyptol, and alpha-pinene. Since the oil has so many antimicrobial compounds, it is hard for the microbes to become immune to the oil. How cool!
Tea tree oil is great in soap
Since it is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial oil, you can use tea tree oil in soaps and hand washes.
In fact, a 2004 study showed mixtures with 5% tea tree were better to use than regular soft soap for keeping hands clean and hygienic.
There is tremendous research validating these tea tree oil benefits. And terpinen-4-ol is the main anti-inflammatory compound in the oil.
Use tea tree oil for acne
Tea tree’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits help fight acne.
A 2007 study actually compared a 5% tea tree oil gel to a 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion. You know benzoyl peroxide is the main active ingredient in most acne products.
The study found tea tree was better at preventing scaly skin, itchiness, and dryness. And it caused fewer side effects than the peroxide. So the researchers recommended the oil as a suitable treatment option for mild to moderate acne.
And these are proven benefits of tea tree oil for acne! Not hearsay!
The oil helps with dandruff too
Fungus can cause dandruff. And given tea tree’s broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties, it should work to treat dandruff.
A 2002 study investigated this. It asked 126 participants to wash their hair either with a 5% tea tree oil shampoo or a placebo every day for a month.
The group that used the tea tree shampoo saw their dandruff decrease by 41%. The placebo group saw only an 11% reduction. The tea tree users also experienced less itchiness and greasiness of their hair. So the study recommended a tea tree shampoo as an effective means for dealing with dandruff.
It kills and repels bugs
Tea tree is a great repellent and insecticide. It can kill flies, fleas, ants, mosquitoes, roaches, and more. You can make your own insect spray with tea tree oil and use it as an all natural repellent.
Oh, and it works for spiders, mites, and ticks too.
Tea tree oil for lice
There’s a 2012 study in the Parasitology Research (Journal) that proved the oil was very effective against head lice.
At just 1% concentration (1 drop per teaspoon of solution), tea tree caused all the head lice under study to die within 30 minutes. It was also pretty effective against the lice eggs.
So use tea tree oil for lice! It repels and kills them!
And there’s more
Because tea tree essential oil is antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory, it can be used to treat many skin and respiratory problems. So you can use tea tree oil for eczema, rashes, wounds, warts, sores, blisters and burns. It can also treat skin infections, colds, and sore throat. It’s powerful and amazing!
Tea Tree Oil Side Effects and Precautions
I said at the beginning of this post that tea tree must be respected, diluted properly and used safely. So here are a few precautions to follow when using the oil.
Don’t ingest tea tree oil
There are cases of human and animal poisonings from ingesting tea tree oil. Please know the oil is toxic to both humans and animals alike. So do not take it in orally or give it to your pets.
Don’t use undiluted tea tree oil for skin
Learn from my mistake. Do not apply the oil neat. Dilute it. And don’t use a concentration greater than 5%. That is five drops per teaspoon of a carrier oil. An ideal ratio is two drops of the essential oil to one teaspoon of a carrier. Or seven drops of the essential oil to one tablespoon of the carrier.
Do patch test your tea tree oil blend
This is especially important if it’s the first time you are using the oil or if you haven’t used it in a while. To patch test, just dab a little of your carrier – tea tree oil blend on the inside of your elbow or back of your ear. Monitor the spot for a few hours. If it burns, or turns red or breaks out, then you may be sensitive or allergic to the blend. Wash the area immediately. You shouldn’t use the oil if this happens.
Don’t use oxidized tea tree oil on your skin
This 2016 study noted newer tea tree oil is a weak to moderate sensitizer to skin. But oxidation increases the oil’s allergenic potency and allergic contact dermatitis can occur.
So do not use old, oxidized tea tree oil on your skin. The oil should last you one to two years if it is kept in a cool, dark place and is not exposed to sunlight. (I think that’s what happened to my oil!)
Do your research before using it on your boys
There is a lot of debate about this point.
A 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on three young boys who developed breasts after using products containing lavender and tea tree oil.
But the article was met with several comments like this one questioning the thoroughness of the study. They noted some products and plastic bottles contain known hormone disruptors like phthalates. And these may have been the cause of the breast enlargement.
Still, another study from 2016 looked at boys who developed breasts after using a cologne containing lavender oil. Again, the study was met with some disagreement. But clinicians have raised more questions about the estrogenic nature of some of these oils.
I suggest reading these studies and comments. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. And if you do decide to use tea tree on your boys, be mindful of any breast changes they may experience.
Don’t use it on your pets
Some reports show dogs and cats experience depression, weakness, and muscle tremors after having tea tree oil rubbed on their skin.
Do talk to your doctor
This is important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Tea tree essential oil is considered safe to use while pregnant. However, you should still get the all clear from your doctor before using this oil.
Where to buy tea tree essential oil