Today we’re talking about tea tree oil and how you can use it for your skin, hair, and body.
This essential oil is a favorite of many and for good reason.
It has known anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties that come in useful for a variety of conditions, including but not limited to, acne, eczema, dandruff, and even athlete’s foot.
First we’ll give you a brief background on the oil: what it is, where it comes from, and some of its unique properties. Then we’ll show you how to create your own DIY recipes and home remedies using tea tree oil so you can derive all its beauty benefits.
Throughout, we’ll link to studies backing up its effectiveness for whatever use we’re covering. A lot of evidence out there is anecdotal so it’s nice to have more definitive proof that it actually works.
By the end of this post you will know exactly how to utilize tea tree oil (TTO) in your skincare routine, your hair care routine, and other miscellaneous uses for your body.
If this all sounds good, keep reading!
Table of Contents
Tea tree oil is sometimes known by the name of melaleuca oil which it gets from the name of the tree it comes from, the melaleuca alternifolia.
This is a small tree with needle-like leaves which grows to about 20 ft. and is native to New South Wales Australia. This is the only place in the world where it grows, about 230 different species forming the genus.
The oil itself is distilled from the leaves and twigs of this tree. It’s appearance is usually clear and colorless but sometimes has a pale yellow color.
It also exudes a semi-strong medicinal smelling aroma similar to eucalyptus and other astringents.
The use of the oil goes back at least 100 years. It used to be issued to Australian soldiers and sailors during WWII as part of their first aid medical kits because of its ability to treat wounds and infections. It’s also known to be used by the Aborigine population as a traditional remedy.
This is why even today you’ll find melaleuca oil in everything from cosmetic products to disinfectant sprays, cleansers, shampoos, massage oils, lotions, nail creams, mouthwashes and more.
It’s all thanks to its natural anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties which it derives from certain key organic compounds like alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, Terpinen-4-ol, and others. It’s estimated to have more than 100 different plant compounds, some of which are capable of traveling through the air and through skin pores which contributes to its effectiveness at killing germs and so many different strains of viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
How Safe Is It?
Tea tree oil is considered safe and is among the most popular essential oils used throughout the world today.
That said, it’s important you only apply it topically because it is toxic if ingested orally and can be poisonous. This is why, if you’re using TTO to treat gingivitis or tooth aches as outlined below, you make doubly sure that you do not swallow it or you’re going to have a bad time.
Even if applying it to your skin, another key thing to remember is to ALWAYS dilute with a carrier oil. On its own, the oil is too powerful and can irritate or burn your skin if applied undiluted. This is why we always use a couple drops here and there, you don’t need a lot to make it work.
We’ll show you how to dilute carrier and essential oils further below. For more on the topic, we highly suggest reading our post on the oil cleansing method which will teach you how to measure and combine oils together.
Some people develop contact dermatitis as an allergic reaction no matter how much they end up using. If this is you just don’t use it anymore. No need to force the situation. In the end, it’s all about improving and meeting YOUR individual needs.
For the reasons mentioned above we recommend against using TTO on children who are more prone to sensitivity issues and have more fragile skin than adults.
TTO destroys the acne-causing bacteria strain p. acnes which is (partly) responsible for pimples and breakouts by feeding on the sebum your skin naturally produces which begins an inflammatory reaction.
Apply TTO directly onto a pimple using a cotton swab or a q-tip for an all natural acne treatment.
A 12 week study performed in 2016 by Australian researchers compared and tested a tea tree oil gel vs. a traditional face wash without tea tree for their effectiveness at treating mild to moderate facial acne. The participants applied the tea tree product to their face twice daily for the duration of the study. Afterwards, they assessed by the treatment by counting the number of acne lesions on their face. They found the TTO products..
…significantly improved mild to moderate acne and that the products were well tolerated.
They experienced no negative reactions beside minor side effects like peeling, drying, and scaling which healed on their own without further treatment necessary.
Another clinical trial, this time on 124 patients, tested tea tree against benzoyl peroxide, a popular and well-known OTC acne treatment. The results were again encouraging:
…both 5% tea-tree oil and 5% benzoyl peroxide had a significant effect in ameliorating the patients’ acne by reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions (open and closed comedones)…
The only downside was that TTO worked more slowly than B.P. at clearing up the acne. On the upside, the patients experienced less side effects than the ones treated with B.P.
Based on these two studies you can be confident that tea tree is an effective treatment against acne.
Want to get rid of an unsightly wart? Tea tree oil can help!
This peer-reviewed case study demonstrated the first successful treatment of a wart with tea tree oil in a scientific setting. We’ve had anecdotal evidence for years so it’s nice to get some confirmation! The patient had multiple warts on her right middle finger which they treated with TTO once daily for 12 consecutive days. Her skin completely healed, the warts vanished, and they conclude:
“The case highlights the potential use of TTO in the treatment of common warts due to human papilloma virus.”
Try it on your own:
Soak a cotton ball with 2-4 drops of undiluted tea tree oil and hold over the wart for 5 to 10 min. each day, repeating twice daily until it’s gone. You can also use a gauze pad or bandage. Another option is to tape it over the problem area and leave it on overnight while you sleep.
Remember that undiluted TTO is very powerful. You may need to combine it with a carrier oil like jojoba or eucalyptus so your skin can tolerate it. Patch test and if you develop a rash, stop using it!
For Hair & Scalp Health
Tea tree has showed that it can improve symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. This is a relatively common skin condition that causes scaly patches of itchy skin on the scalp along with flakiness and dandruff.
One study tested the efficacy of a shampoo containing 5% tea tree oil against a placebo in 126 male and female patients over the age of 14 with mild to moderate dandruff. They used the shampoo daily for a month and later took a self-assessment scoring themselves on their symptoms.
The results were remarkable. The shampoo with tea tree oil showed a 41% improvement compared to an 11% improvement in the placebo group. The amount of itchiness and greasiness the patients reported lowered significantly although scaliness didn’t improve by much.
The researchers concluded:
Five percent tea tree oil appears to effective and well tolerated in the treatment of dandruff.
Tea tree oil also comes in useful for treating head lice.
A study testing the oil’s insecticidal effects in combination with nerolidol found that a 1:2 ratio produced produce a 100% mortality rate among louse eggs after 5 days of treatment.
Tea tree alone at a 1% concentration killed 100% of the head lice after exposure in a mere 30 minutes.
If you have a 100% pure distillation of the oil, add about 10-20 drops into a handful of your everyday shampoo and then massage it over your scalp leaving it on for about 15 minutes, repeating at least twice daily until the eggs and lice have disappeared.
DIY Tea Tree Oil Hair Mask
Here’s a homemade tea tree oil shampoo for basic cleansing, unclogging hair follicles, and nourishing dry roots:
- Several drops of pure undiluted TTO
- 2 Tbsp aloe vera gel (can also use raw honey)
- 1 cup of plain yogurt or mashed up avocado (this will serve as the base)
- Few drops of Coconut oil
- 5-10 drops of lavender oil, aroma oil, or another oil of choice
Adjust the amounts of each ingredient to your preference. Mix and stir until it develops a smooth and creamy texture. Apply to your scalp and massage using your fingertips leaving it on for about 10 minutes before rinsing with water.
Toenail Fungus, Athlete’s Foot, Ringworm & Foot Odor
Thanks to its demonstrated antifungal and antibacterial activity tea tree oil can be used to treat many types of fungal infections and parasites that commonly affect feet.
One study conducted by Australian researchers tested its efficacy and safety for treating athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) at 25% and 50% concentrations. 158 patients partook in the study and were separated into groups receiving either a 25% solution, 50% solution, or placebo. They applied the solution twice daily to the affected areas for 4 weeks.
The results were promising. Here’s the breakdown by each group:
- For the 50% solution: 68% of patients showed a clinical response.
- For the 25% solution: 72% of patients showed a clinical response
- For the placebo: 39% of patients showed a clinical response.
Four of the patients experienced moderate to severe contact dermatitis which quickly went away after stopping treatment.
Use a cotton swab soaked in 100% TTO and apply it over the affected areas.
For fungi, consider diluting the oil with another natural ant-funal oil like oregano.
For foot odor, mix coconut oil with a few drops of TTO and massage over your foot.
To remove odor from your shoes, add some drops of TTO into a spray bottle filled with water and spray inside to kill the stink. This works because the molecules of the oil can diffuse through the air and still retain their ability.
Bad Breath & Oral Hygiene
We know TTO can kill bacteria. This includes the cavity causing bacteria that lives in your mouth as well was other pathogens that cause your breath to stink and wreak havoc on your teeth.
For this reason it has become a popular home remedy for oral health.
This in vitro study comparing different essential oils like thyme and lavender found tea tree an effective antiseptic against a variety of antimicrobial resistant oral pathogen strains (in order from most to least effective):
- Candida albicans (a common fungal species found in humans)
- Staphylococcus aureus (the acteria responsible for staph infections)
- Escherichia coli (better known as E. coli)
They credit the phenol and terpinoid compounds naturally found within tea tree oil for the positive results. This comes in useful if you’re getting dental surgery like a root canal done. TTO can help reduce the risk of developing a bacterial infection so it’s something to keep in mind.
It’s anti-inflammatory effect on skin may also help in cases of bleeding gums due to gingivitis. Some people like adding tea tree oil to their mouthwash or creating their own homemade toothpaste with TTO as an ingredient alongside coconut oil, baking soda, and clove oil.
Reminder to not ingest. Spit out when finished and rinse with water.
Eczema & Psoriasis
Knowing that TTO has a slight chance of irritating sensitive skin should you use it for eczema, psoriasis, or other inflammatory skin conditions?
This all depends on how your skin specifically reacts to it. For some people, TTO will give you eczema (aka dermatitis) rather than help treat it!
Always remember to dilute with a carrier oil instead of using it at full strength. You should also patch test on a small, discrete part of your skin like that back of your hand, waiting for 24 hours to see how it reacts before applying it topically in larger quantities.
That said, scientific research suggests because of its chemical composition, tea tree oil has many benefits that can reduce irritation, itching, redness, swelling, and help soothe inflamed skin.
Here’s a study which comapred 6 different topical therapeutic agents, one of which included TTO at 20% and 50% concentrations, in the treatment of contact dermatitis (a common form of eczema).
Out of all the agents, TTO reduced allergic contact dermatitis by 40.5% which was the most among all the substances tested.
Compared to zinc oxide, one of the more common ingredients used in eczema treatments they say:
“…tea tree oil seems to be a more effective anti-eczematic agent than zinc oxide…”
So it’s worth looking into.
As for psoriasis, there is limited research that suggests terpinen-4-ol one of the main active ingredients in TTO could be a potential agent to fight against psoraisis.
TTO doesn’t address the problem at its core so don’t expect miracles but it may be able to help relieve symptoms by reducing the chance of a scalp infection, thus reducing the need to scratch scaly patches.
More research needs to be done on this front but it can’t hurt to try. Combine with coconut oil and try applying it to your scalp or the affected areas and see if symptoms improve.
Infections, Minor Cuts & Wounds
Minor cuts and wounds are well treated by tea tree oil especially for preventing infections.
This is because the chemical composition of the oil makes it well suited to fighting microorganisms.
Thanks to a chemical compound called terpin-4-ol, one of tea tree oil’s active ingredients with antiviral properties, it works against many common pathogens.
For example researchers found the oil effective against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is a dangerous virus often contracted post-operation in hospitals. This is supported by a separate study which found TTO to be a viable alternative to vancomycin, the antibiotic used to treat the infection.
Here’s how to treat wounds and cuts with tea tree oil:
- Put two or three drops of TTO in a cup of warm water.
- Using a cotton ball, soak it in the water and then place over your gash.
- Keep it in place for about a minute or two.
- Repeat twice daily until healed.
This also applies to bug bites. You can use TTO as a natural insect repellent superior to many commercial products which contain toxic ingredients. Add a few drops mixed with water in a spray and spritz it onto your skin or use a cotton ball over the bite to help soothe the skin.
Have scabies? One study found a 5% concentration of TTO “highly effective” in reducing mite survival times. Once again they credit terpinen-4-ol as the primary active ingredient for the treatment.
Recommended Tea Tree Oil
If you don’t already have TTO and are unsure what brand to start with, try ArtNaturals 100% Pure Tea Tree Essential Oil.
It uses steam distillation to extract the oil from the leaves which is superior to other methods in preserving the quality of the oil and is also paraben free.
Random Notes / FAQ
Here are some tips to ensure the quality of the oil you’re using remains top notch. These are good things to know before you start using it:
- TTO is a volatile essential oil meaning it can turn rancid when it undergoes the process of oxidization. This is part of the reason why some people experience irritation. Its exposure to the air needs to be minimized.
- For a similar reason as the one above, the bottle or container in which it’s kept needs to be kept away from light. This is why it often comes in an amber colored bottle that better reflects UV rays from the sun to keep the quality of the oil as high as possible for as long as possible. Store it in a cool, dark, and dry place for best results.
- Keep in mind if mixing and matching essential oils that some are better avoided if expecting or pregnant. Do your research. While TTO is generally considered safe it’s recommended not to use it during labor for the risk of the molecules so easily being able to travel through membranes.
- There is some but weak evidence that TTO along with certain other essential oils like lavender may be estrogenic and have been linked to prepubertal gynecomastia in boys. These estrogenic effects were only tested laboratory settings and other research shows no such effect but it’s something to keep in mind.
- As always, we recommend patch testing before adding any new product into your skincare routine. Simply apply it to a small section of your skin like the back of your hand or forearm and wait about 48 hours to see if it experiences a negative reaction (stinging, breakouts, inflammation, etc.) This is much better than using it on your face and regretting it later!