Beth Seigenthaler stumbled across a promotional display for tea
tree oil in her local health food store while she was suffering from a
particularly bad episode of fever blisters. Having had the condition since
childhood, she figured she might as well try the product, which claimed to help
a variety of skin conditions. She found that the pain of the blisters
disappeared immediately, and she healed more quickly than she ever had
"I've used it on other skin conditions, including a plantar
wart and sunburn," says Seigenthaler, who lives in Nashville. "I have bottles
of it at my office, at home, and in the car. I take it on every vacation. I'm a
walking commercial for the product."
There is some scientific evidence to support Seigenthaler's
good experience. A 1990 study published in the Medical Journal of
Australia reported that a solution of 5% tea tree oil treated acne just as
well as 5% benzoyl peroxide.
Tea tree oil comes from the Australian paperbark tree and has
been used traditionally as a folk remedy by Australian aborigines. There are
close to 300 varieties of Melaleuca alternifolia (the Latin name for the
tea tree), but only one produces the medicinal oil. Tea tree oil became popular
in the 1920s after Australian servicemen reported its therapeutic uses. In
1922, the Royal Society of New South Wales reported that the oil was a
particularly effective antiseptic.
Tea tree oil has been used to treat mouth ulcers and abscesses,
conjunctivitis, acne, boils, impetigo, psoriasis, dandruff, vaginitis, thrush,
septic wounds, cuts and abrasions, carbuncles, pus-filled infections, and
ringworm. It is also said to ease the pain of burns and hemorrhoids and help
rid the hair and body of lice and ticks.
According to naturopathic and homeopathic doctor Asa Hershoff,
DC, of Los Angeles and San Francisco, tea tree oil has antibacterial,
antifungal, and antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system.
"It's a reliable antiseptic," says Hershoff, author of
Homeopathic Remedies: A Quick and Easy Guide to Common Disorders and Their
Homeopathic Treatments. "There just aren't that many substances that have
all the therapeutic applications that tea tree oil does." And though tea tree
oil is slower to show benefits than benzoyl peroxide, says Hershoff, it results
in less itching, scaling, and irritation.