Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

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Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Topic Overview

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil can kill bacteria and fungi. It comes from the evergreen leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree. Tea tree oil has been used as complementary therapy in surgery, burn care, and dental care.

Numerous tea tree oil body care products are available, including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, lip balm, topical (used on the skin) cream, and essential oil.

What is tea tree oil used for?

People usually use tea tree oil to treat minor cuts, burns, acne, athlete's foot, mild fungal nail infections, vaginal yeast infections, and lung problems (when they add the oil to a bath or vaporizer). Although there is little research on tea tree oil, some studies suggest that it is safe and often effective for the prevention and treatment of infections.2

Is tea tree oil safe?

Experts consider tea tree oil to be safe as a topical treatment, and you can apply it directly to the skin on a daily basis. When applied to the skin in its pure (100% oil) form, tea tree oil seldom causes irritation. But some people develop an allergic rash (contact dermatitis). If you are concerned that you might develop a rash, try the oil first on a small area of skin. You can also dilute tea tree oil with vegetable, olive, or almond oil.

Tea tree oil is not safe to take by mouth. It is not recommended for use in the ears, because it may cause damage to the inner ear. One study has found regular use of products containing tea tree oil may cause gynecomastia, or breast swelling in boys.1

The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD), within the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada, regulates tea tree oil sales in Canada. Natural health products, including tea tree oil, must be reviewed and approved by the NHPD before they can be sold in Canada.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative product or if you are thinking about combining one with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative product.

References

Citations

  1. Henley DV, et al. (2007). Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. New England Journal of Medicine, 356(5): 479–485.
  2. Murray MT, Pizzorno JE (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree). In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., vol.1, pp. 1053–1056. St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Other Works Consulted

  • Tea tree oil (2004). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Last Revised October 12, 2009

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