18 October 2021 / Caitlin Devlin
Tea Tree Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits
Learn all about this healing oil and its diverse array of benefits.
From fighting infections to preventing bad breath, tea tree is an incredibly versatile oil.
Referred to as ‘a medicine cabinet in a bottle’, tea tree oil is a staple ingredient in many detergents, disinfectants, shampoos, massage oils, and skin creams. The melaleuca plant from which tea tree oil is extracted was grown for its healing properties all the way back in aboriginal times, when indigenous Australians would use it to treat coughs, colds, and skin conditions. The volatile terpene hydrocarbons in the oil allow it to travel through the air and in through the pores of the skin, which gives tea tree oil the ability to treat germs and fight infections aromatically. In fact, it’s so effective that recent research has begun to question whether tea tree oil could eventually play a role in replacing antibiotics.
Tea tree essential oil can help fight infections.
Over the years, there’s been a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that tea tree is effective against a wide range of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. These claims are beginning to be backed up by scientific research.
A large review of the antimicrobial abilities of tea tree oil found that it could potentially be used to fight against infections like strep throat, toenail fungus, and MRSA, and a study in 2002 observed that tea tree oil was able to relieve symptoms of athlete’s foot. Further studies have shown tea tree oil to have an impact on recurrent herpes, influenza and hand warts.
The amazing antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal effects of tea tree oil are attributed to the antimicrobial properties of terpinene-4-ol, one of tea tree oil’s main active components. The antibacterial effect of tea tree oil is especially promising because, unlike antibiotics, tea tree oil can attack infections without any risk of building antibiotic resistance.
It can help treat acne and other skin conditions.
A 2017 study tested the effect of tea tree face wash on acne and found that the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects were able to reduce the appearance of acne on the skin.
Tea-tree oil has also been shown to have a positive effect on dry skin, especially itchy scalps. A study in 2002 showed that tea tree oil was effective against dandruff, and for that reason tea tree can be found in many anti-dandruff shampoos.
Tea tree can be used to sooth sunburn, sores, and insect bites – however, it should always be patch tested on the skin first, as it can cause irritation in some cases.
There is also initial research to suggest that tea tree oil used on the scalp is effective against headlice – a 2012 study found that tea tree oil killed one hundred percent of headlice and destroyed fifty percent of their eggs.
It can relieve congestion.
The leaves of the melaleuca plant have been crushed and inhaled to treat congestion for centuries. This is because of tea tree oil’s strong antimicrobial effects – the antimicrobial activity of the vapours allow the oil to fight bacteria that lead to respiratory tract infections and clear sinuses. To this day tea tree oil remains one of the most popular oils for relieving cough and cold symptoms.
It can improve bad breath.
Tea tree oil can also attack bacteria at the back of the tongue, throat and tonsils, eliminating the main causes of bad breath and improving oral health. This can be especially helpful after oral surgery, such as a root canal, to prevent a bacterial infection.
Oil pulling – a process in which a few drops of tea tree oil are mixed with a vegetable carrier oil and swilled around the mouth – is the best way to feel these effects. It is important not to swallow any of the oil, as tea tree oil can be toxic if ingested and should never be taken internally.
Over the last several hundred years, tea tree oil has been transported across oceans and into warzones due to its powerful antibacterial effects. Nowadays it makes a useful addition to a medicine cabinet or household cleaning kit, although we may see its use in pharmaceuticals rise in the years to come.
Shop our tea tree essential oil here.