Tea tree oil (generic name)
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CategoryHerbs & Supplements
Australian tea tree oil, Bogaskin® (veterinary formulation), breathaway, Burnaid®, cymene, malaleuca, Malaleuca alternifolia, Melaleuca alternifolia Cheel, Melaleuca Alternifolia Hydrogel® (burn dressing), melaleuca oil, melaleucae, oil of mela-leuca, oleum, Oleum melaleucae, T36-C7, tea tree oil, Tebodont®, teebaum, terpinen, terpinen-4-ol, terpinenol-4, ti tree, TTO.
Note: Should not be confused with cajeput oil, niauouli oil, kanuka oil, or manuka oil obtained from other Melaleuca species.
Tea tree oil is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia. Tea tree oil is purported to have antiseptic properties and has been used traditionally to prevent and treat infections. While numerous laboratory studies have demonstrated antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil (likely due to the compound terpinen-4-ol), only a small number of high-quality trials have been published. Human studies have focused on the use of topical tea tree oil for fungal infections (including fungal infections of the nails and athlete's foot), acne, and vaginal infections. However, there is a lack of definitive available evidence for the use of tea tree oil in any of these conditions, and further study is warranted.
Tea tree oil should not be used orally; there are reports of toxicity after consuming tea tree oil by mouth. When applied to the skin, tea tree oil is reported to be mildly irritating and has been associated with the development of allergic contact dermatitis, which may limit its potential as a topical agent for some patients.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Although available in many products, little information is available from human studies to evaluate the benefit of tea tree oil used on the skin for the treatment of acne. Tea tree oil may reduce the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions.
Allergic skin reactions:
Early small studies show that tea tree oil applied to this skin may reduce histamine-induced inflammation. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis):
Early studies report that tea tree oil may have activity against several fungal species. However, at this time there is not enough information to make recommendations for or against the use of tea tree oil on the skin for this condition.
Tea tree oil is used in mouthwash for dental and oral health. However, there is currently insufficient evidence in humans to recommend for or against this use of tea tree. Tea tree oil can be toxic when taken by mouth and therefore should not be swallowed.
Early research reports that the use of 5% tea tree oil shampoo on mild-to-moderate dandruff may be effective and well tolerated. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Study results on the effects of tea tree oil mouthwash on gum inflammation and plaque are mixed. Further research is needed before a strong conclusion can be drawn.
Eye infections (ocular parasitic mites):
Early studies found that tea tree oil helped rid the eye area of the mite infection caused by ocular parasitic mites. Large, well-designed clinical trials are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Fungal nail infection (onychomycosis):
Although tea tree oil is thought to have activity against several fungus species, there is not enough information to make recommendations for or against the use of tea tree oil on the skin for this condition.
Laboratory studies show that tea tree oil has activity against some viruses, and it has been suggested that a tea tree gel may be useful as a treatment on the skin for genital herpes. However, there is currently not enough information to make a recommendation for or against this use of tea tree oil.
Early studies have found that tea tree alone or in combination with other agents may be effective against lice. However, large, well-designed trials are still needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) chronic infection (colonization):
Laboratory studies report that tea tree oil has activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It has been proposed that using tea tree oil ointment in the nose and a tea tree wash on the body may treat colonization by these bacteria. However, there is currently not enough information from human studies to make recommendations for or against this use of tea tree oil.
Thrush (Candida albicans of the mouth):
In laboratory studies, tea tree oil has been shown to kill fungus and yeast such as Candida albicans. However, at this time, there is not enough information available from human studies to make recommendations for or against this use of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil can be toxic when taken by mouth and therefore should not be swallowed.
Vaginal infections (yeast and bacteria):
In laboratory studies, tea tree oil has been shown to kill yeast and certain bacteria. However, at this time there is not enough information available from human studies to make recommendations for or against this use of tea tree oil for vaginal infections. Although tea tree oil may reduce itching caused by yeast or bacteria, it may cause itching from dry skin or allergy.