Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia species, which is a small tree native to the Australian continent. The use of tea tree oil dates all the way back to the eighteenth century, the same period in which its mother tree was given a name by sailors. Tea tree oil is described as yellow or clear and smells like a combination of earth and medicine. Tea tree oil is widely used, both by itself and in many skincare products. The reason for this is because the oil has many reported health benefits. Read below for details on some tea tree oil uses in health.
Tea tree oil can be used as a natural deodorant. No matter how natural commercial deodorants are marketed as they typically still contain some measure of potentially harmful chemicals or allergens.
It is suggested the use of chemicals in deodorant may increase the risk of breast cancer. In one review, it was reported women who used deodorant containing aluminum developed breast cancer at younger ages than those who did not. However, the link between breast cancer and aluminum is unconfirmed with the lack of supportive evidence. The use of deodorants containing aluminum has also been linked to increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, a disease that causes loss of memory and other mental functions.
Tea tree oil is regarded as a deodorizing agent due to its astringent properties. Astringents limit the production of sweat from the sudoriparous glands with constriction of the glands' walls. Tea tree oil also aids in killing off the bacteria responsible for armpit odor. Tea tree oil can be applied alone or in combination with other ingredients.
There are many studies supporting tea tree oil's antiseptic properties, thus indicating it could be a useful agent for fighting against infections. The oil is a major source of phytochemicals called terpenoids, which consist of terpinen-4-ol, terpinolene, 1,8-cineole, alpha-terpineol, alpha-terpinene, rho-cymene, linalool, and gamma-terpinene, among others.
Several components of tea tree oil, including terpinen-4-ol, were shown to be active against microorganisms such as Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus in one review. In another review, tea tree oil was shown to stop the growth of germ tubes induced by Candida albicans. Research from 2001 revealed tea tree oil had greater effects against both herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 compared to eucalyptus oil. The oil eliminated 98.2 percent of virus titers for HSV-1 and ninety-three percent for HSV-2. In addition, both oils were demonstrated to be active before viral infection. Despite the studies, however, research into tea tree oil's antiseptic properties is ongoing. Other than that, tea tree oil is used as a regular ingredient in hand soap.
Improves Wound Healing
Several studies suggest tea tree oil improves wound healing. One study revealed tea tree oil helped heal Staphylococcus aureus-infected wounds faster in nine of ten participants.
A study from 2014 gave promising results as well. In the study, thirty-two elderly participants were divided into two groups. Each participant was affected by either stage two or above methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA-infected wounds. One group had their wounds treated with ten percent topical tea tree preparation dressing, and the others were given a saline gauze dressing. Patients treated with the tea tree oil dressing had their wounds healed in approximately four weeks. In addition, the tea tree oil helped get rid of all the bacteria in fourteen of the wounds. Fair results were also shown in a 2011 uncontrolled case series. Eleven participants with wounds infected by MRSA were treated with water-miscible tea tree oil every day or three times per week. Following treatment, wounds on eight of the participants had shrunk.
Reportedly, tea tree oil also helps treat acne, which is the result of clogged hair follicles and pores. The antibacterial properties can help kill off Propionibacterium acnes, a type of bacteria that contributes to the development of pimples. The oil's astringent and antiseptic elements can also help cleanse the pores and hair follicles of excess oil as well as dirt. Patients have to be careful not to overdo it when using tea tree oil on their skin, as it could cause side effects such as skin irritation or redness. Using excessive amounts of the oil can dry the skin out as well.
In one study, the oil's terpenoids were demonstrated to be active agents against Propionibacterium acnes. Another study suggested a five percent topical tea tree oil gel was effective for treating mild and moderate acne. With a control group also included in the study, results showed the gel was better at treating acne than the placebo.
Like with deodorant, individuals can use tea tree oil to make natural mouthwash. The oil has been shown to reduce mouth bacteria and plaque that can contribute to gum disease, canker sores, tooth decay, and other oral issues.
A review from 2003 revealed less plaque developed during a study documenting tea tree oil's activities with oral health, and a 2004 study revealed a gel containing tea tree oil reduced gingivitis and papillary bleeding in patients. In a 2013 study, tea tree oil gel was found to be effective in reducing chronic periodontitis, an inflammatory gum disease. Both males and females participated and were divided into two groups. Results showed both groups had a significant reduction in the disease. However, the group treated with tea tree oil gel had slightly better results.