Tea TreeMelaleuca alternifolia
Captain Cook named this tree after finding that its aromatic, resinous leaves made a satisfying substitute for proper tea. One hundred and fifty years later, an Australian government chemist named A.R. Penfold studied tea tree leaves and discovered their antiseptic properties. Tea tree oil subsequently became a standard treatment in Australia for the prevention and treatment of wound infections. During World War II, the Australian government classified tea tree oil as an essential commodity and exempted producers from military service.
However, tea tree oil fell out of favor when antibiotics became widely available.
What Is Tea Tree Used for Today?
Tea tree oil can kill many bacteria, viruses, and fungi on contact. 1,2,12
Tea tree oil may be as effective as standard antiseptics for removing resistant strains of staph bacteria from the skin of hospitalized patients.
Additionally, tea tree oil has been proposed as a treatment for
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Tea Tree?
In a double-blind,
trial, 158 people with
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled trial followed 104 people with athlete’s foot who were given either a 10% tea tree oil cream, the standard drug tolnaftate, or placebo.
A third double-blind study followed 112 people with fungal infections of the toenails, comparing 100% tea tree oil to a standard topical antifungal treatment, clotrimazole.
In a 4-week, placebo-controlled study of 126 people with mild to moderate
The best evidence for benefits with tea tree oil as a treatment for
Tea tree preparations contain various percentages of tea tree oil. For treating acne, the typical strength is 5% to 15%; for fungal infections, 70% to 100% is usually used; and for use as a vaginal douche (with medical supervision), 1% to 40% concentrations have been used. It is usually applied 2 to 3 times daily, until symptoms resolve. However, tea tree oil can be irritating to the skin, so start with low concentrations until you know your tolerance.
The best tea tree products contain oil from the alternifolia species of Melaleuca only, standardized to contain not more than 10% cineole (an irritant) and at least 30% terpinen-4-ol. Oil from a specially bred variant of tea tree may have increased activity against microorganisms, while irritating the skin less. 10
When used topically, tea tree oil is thought to be safe. However, it can cause allergic inflammation of the skin. 11,13
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
7. Vazquez JA, Vaishampayan J, Arganoza MT, et al. Use of an over-the-counter product, Breathaway (Melaleuca Oral Solution), as an alternative agent for refractory oropharyngeal candidiasis in AIDS patients [abstract]. Int Conf AIDS . 1996;11:109.
11. Lipper U, Walter A, Hausen B, et al. Increasing incidence of contact dermatitis to tea tree oil. Presented at: 56th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; March, 2000; San Diego, CA.
13. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS, et al. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol . 2002;43:175-178.
18. Dryden MS, Dailly S, Crouch M. A randomized, controlled trial of tea tree topical preparations versus a standard topical regimen for the clearance of MRSA colonization. J Hosp Infect . 2004;56:283-286.
20. Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, et al. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol . 2007;73:22-25.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2007 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.