First off, you should know that this healthy oil has been used for hundreds of years by the Aborigines of Australia. The oil has antimicrobial properties due to the presence of terpenoids (also called terpenes).
Terpenes are chemicals naturally found in plants that have medicinal properties effective against specific strains of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The two most popular products derived from terpenes are turpentine and camphor oil.
The oil is generally used as a topical aid and the most common side effect is mild skin irritation. This effect can be reduced or avoided by using a diluted solution.
Ingestion of terpenes can cause gastrointestinal and central nervous system side effects. You can get tea tree oil mixed in solutions for toothpastes and mouthwashes. The oil should never be ingested and spit out of the mouth after using.
Should you ingest tea tree oil there's a possibility you may experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Severe toxic exposure could lead to dizziness, hallucinations, seizures and coma.
The following research studies highlight the most common allergic reactions and side effect from exposure to tea tree oil.
Crawley, Australia - Researchers at the Microbiology and Immunology Department of the University of Western Australia gathered studies from a variety of research databases to gather all reported side effects and reactions. They concluded that with topical use the oil is generally safe to use. However there are a number of documented effects:
May be toxic if ingested at higher doses.
May irritate the skin at higher concentrations.
Can cause allergies and may occur in people at higher risk for allergic reactions.
Zurich, Switzerland - There have been reports of people experiencing contact dermatitis from cosmetic products containing tea tree oil. Researchers did skin patch tests on 1216 patients using a number of differenct allergens such as perfumes, plants, topical drugs, metals, disinfectants and tea tree oil.
Researchers concluded the potential for tea tree oil allergies is low when using diluted concentrations of the oil on healthy skin.
Based on available research, there is low risk for side effects from tea tree oil. Here are some suggestions for safe use of tea tree oil:
I've read about some people getting allergic rashes from 100% tea tree oil. Test it first to make sure you're not allergic to it. You can also dilute 100% tea tree oil with a 'carrier oil' such as olive oil.
Mouthwashes with tea tree oil are available. Safe to use, but don't swallow it. There have been cases of tea tree oil poisoning. Tea tree oil is best used topically.
Some people wonder if you can use tea tree oil on your pets. There have been reported cases of tea tree oil poisoning in pets. One incident involved a dog suffering a toxic reaction when tea tree oil was applied its fur coat to treat fleas. Be cautious and consult your veterinarian before using tea tree oil on your pet.
Is it safe for ear infections? I wouldn't take the chance of putting the oil directly into my own ears. Consult your doctor before using.
Most tea tree oils come bottled in dark brown bottles to keep out light. Extremes in temperatures and light exposure may cause the oil to oxidize. Only buy tea tree oil packaged in a dark brown glass bottle.
There are no studies or research to confirm the possibility of side effects during pregnancy or when breast feeding. Please consult your physician before using this product if you're pregnant or nursing.
Learn How to Buy the Best Tea Tree Oil for more helpful hints and tips.
A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil. Side effects from Tea tree oil study. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2006 May;44(5):616-25
Allergic contact dermatitis to cosmetics containing Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) Annales de Dermatologie et de Venereologie. 2001 Feb;128(2):123-6