Tea tree oil is an extract from a plant native to Australia. Tea tree oil was used as a topical treatment by the Aboriginal people for centuries.
Why do people use tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil has been used traditionally as a topical antiseptic and antifungal treatment. One study found that a dilution of tea tree oil worked as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide in controlling the symptoms of acne. It may be effective with toenail fungus and possibly athlete's foot, but more research is needed. Studies of tea tree oil for other conditions such as gum disease, vaginal infections, and dandruff have been inconclusive.
Tea tree oil has been proposed as a topical treatment for herpes labialis (the common cold sore), but it does not appear to be effective. Some laboratory studies have suggested that tea tree oil may be effective against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a type of staph infection that's resistant to many antibiotics. Although these studies are promising, more research needs to be done.
How much tea tree oil should you use?
Tea tree oil is only a topical treatment. It should never be taken by mouth.
Because tea tree oil is an unproven treatment, there is no established dose. The concentrations of tea tree oil used in studies have varied depending on the medical condition. For instance, a 5% tea tree oil gel might be used for acne, while a 10% or higher tea tree oil cream might be used for athlete's foot. A 100% tea tree oil solution has been used with toenail fungus. If you use tea tree oil, follow the instructions on the label or get advice from your doctor.
Can you get tea tree oil naturally from foods?
There are no natural food sources of tea tree oil. Because of its toxicity, tea tree oil should never be swallowed.
What are the risks of taking tea tree oil?
- Risks. Topical tea tree oil has been reported to cause allergic reactions that can be severe. Tea tree oil may also cause redness, itching, and blistering. It may aggravate burns and skin conditions like eczema. Using large quantities of tea tree oil on the skin could cause severe side effects.
- For topical use only. Tea tree oil must never be used in the eyes or swallowed. Even in small amounts, swallowing tea tree oil could potentially cause severe reactions, including confusion, loss of muscle coordination, breathing problems, and even coma.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, tea tree oil is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.