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Tea tree oil

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description

Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a pale yellow colour to nearly clear essential oil with a fresh camphoraceous odor. It is taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. The indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia use “tea trees” as a traditional medicine by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. They also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. In addition, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments.


From the papers n Pubmed, it would appear that Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal and antiviral activity but is only safe if used externally, in other words, the aborigines knew best, you apply it to infected skin, you use it to fight viruses and fungal infections of the skin, nose and throat, but you must not ingest it.  I have provided more details below, but this quote from Pubmed sums it up, the action is principally dermatological.

Tea tree oil (TTO) is an essential oil, steam-distilled from the Australian native plant, Melaleuca alternifolia. It has a minimum content of terpinen-4-ol and a maximum content of 1, 8-cineole. Terpinen-4-ol is a major TTO component which exhibits strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree oil exerts antioxidant activity and has been reported to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity against bacterial, viral, fungal, and protozoal infections affecting skin and mucosa. Several studies have suggested the uses of TTO for the treatment of acne vulgaris, seborrheic dermatitis, and chronic gingivitis. It also accelerates the wound healing process and exhibits anti-skin cancer activity. This review opens up new horizons for dermatologists in the use of this herbal agent.   PMID: 22998411

 One perhaps overlooked use has been for animals like sheep and cows.  Tea tree oil has been found to be a very effective alternative to artificially manufactured chemicals [some of which are harmful to the environment like copper sulphate solution] in the treatment of lice, hoof rot, and other parasitic and fungal infections.


Tea tree oil is for external use only and should never be ingested as it is toxic.  Aborigines use the leaves fresh and do not use the essential oil because ultimately they do not overdose this way and the oil does not degrade.  In other words there are dangers to using this oil which need to be borne in mind.  The following Pubmed abstract sums it up well

The essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as tea tree or melaleuca oil, is widely available and has been investigated as an alternative antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent. While these properties are increasingly well characterised, relatively limited data are available on the safety and toxicity of the oil.

Anecdotal evidence from almost 80 years of use suggests that the topical use of the oil is relatively safe, and that adverse events are minor, self-limiting and occasional.

Published data indicate that TTO is toxic if ingested in higher doses and can also cause skin irritation at higher concentrations.

Allergic reactions to TTO occur in predisposed individuals and may be due to the various oxidation products that are formed by exposure of the oil to light and/or air. Adverse reactions may be minimised by:

  • avoiding all ingestion,
  • applying only diluted oil topically and
  • using oil that has been stored correctly.

Data from individual components suggest that TTO has the potential to be developmentally toxic if ingested at higher doses, however, TTO and its components are not genotoxic. The limited ecotoxicity data available indicate that TTO is toxic to some insect species but more studies are required.  PMID:  16243420


How it works

see observations for more detail.

References and further reading

  • Food Chem Toxicol. 2006 May;44(5):616-25. Epub 2005 Oct 21.  A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil.  Hammer KA1, Carson CF, Riley TV, Nielsen JB.  Microbiology and Immunology (M502), School of Biomedical and Chemical Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia. khammer@cyllene.uwa.edu.au
  • Int J Dermatol. 2013 Jul;52(7):784-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2012.05654.x. Epub 2012 Sep 24.  A review of applications of tea tree oil in dermatology.  Pazyar N1, Yaghoobi R, Bagherani N, Kazerouni A.  1Department of Dermatology, Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, Ahvaz, Iran. dr.pazyar@gmail.com
  • Control of the chewing louse Bovicola (Werneckiella) ocellatus in donkeys, using essential oils.  Ellse L, Burden FA, Wall R.  Med Vet Entomol. 2013 Dec;27(4):408-13. doi: 10.1111/mve.12004. Epub 2013 Feb 18.  PMID: 23414090
  • Dipping and jetting with tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil formulations control lice (Bovicola ovis) on sheep.  James PJ, Callander JT.  Vet Parasitol. 2012 Oct 26;189(2-4):338-43. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2012.04.025. Epub 2012 Apr 23.  PMID:  225798

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