Complete Guide to Tea Tree Oil

hand holding a brown glass bottle of tea tree oil

Tea tree oils contain powerful germ-fighting compounds


So what exactly is Tea Tree Oil and why would you want to use it?

Tea tree oils, also known as melaleuca oil, is a volatile oil made from the Australian tea tree plant, Melaleuca alternafolia.

It was originally used by the Australian aborigines as a folk medicine. They used it to treat a variety of health conditions. Research have shown it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.


You can use this essential oil for a variety of purposes. I’ve used it to treat acne blemishes and in tea tree oil recipes to make a natural room deodorizer.

Melaleuca oils are getting more popular with consumers. Since it has antiseptic properties, the oil can play a key role in any natural health lifestyle. You can find it being used as an essential ingredient in many household items, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, soaps, shampoos and even skin lotions.


What Exactly is Tea Tree Oil?

large sprig of melaleuca tea tree leaves

Melaleuca Tea Tree Leaves


Tea tree oils are extracted from the leaves of a plant called Melaleuca alternifolia

In the past, tribal medicine men of Australia used to crush the leaves or boil them in water to extract the oil.

Nowadays, we use modern technology, such as steam distillation, to extract and purify the oil. Crop pickers will harvest the leaves while leaving the tree untouched so it can continue to sprout more leaves over time.


The oil’s antimicrobial properties are due to active ingredients called terpenes.  These are volatile organic hydrocarbons that give the oil its antiseptic properties and strong ‘pine’ scent.

The primary terpene in tea tree oils is called Terpinen-4-OL. The other terpenes are alpha-terpineol, linalool, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, 1,8-cineole and beta-myrcene.

A study by the American Society of Microbiology showed that most commercially available tea tree oils typically contain about 30-40% of terpinen-4-OL. Our Guide to Buying the Best Tea Tree Oils highlights the importance of choosing products with a high terpinen-4-OL concentration.

These volatile organic hydrocarbons can easily become vapors or gases. They can travel through the air and also penetrate the pores of your skin. This makes it an ideal product for applying to the skin.


Research published in the 2006 issue of Clinical Microbiology Reviews concluded that terpinen-4-OL can kill bacteria, fungi and yeasts.

How does tea tree oil kill bacteria?

Research by scientists at the Department of Biomedical Research, University of Western Sydney, believe that the oil kills bacteria by damaging their cell walls.

Additional studies have shown it has anti-inflammatory properties, accelerates wound healing and may even exhibit anti-cancer activities.

This plant oil was also found to be effective against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA); a powerful and deadly bacteria normally resistant to many antibiotics.



6 Health Benefits from Tea Tree Oils


1. Fights Fungal Infections:


A review of Appplications of Tea Tree Oil in Dermatology concluded melaleuca oils have broad spectrum antimicrobial activity against fungal and protozoal infections affecting the skin.

And additional studies have shown that these active ingredients can fight fungal growth:

  • Researchers at the University of Western Australia looked at the Antifungal Activity of the Components of Melaleuca Alternifolia Oil and found that all of its components, except for beta-myrcene, had anti-fungal activity.
  • Lab results from a study published in Journal of Skin Pharmacology showed it was able to inhibit the growth of all clinical fungal at concentrations as low as 0.5 – 0.44%.
  • And researchers at the Department of Dermatology, University of San Francisco, found that 80% of patients with toenail fungus were cured using a combination cream of  2% butenafine hydrochloride and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia oil.

How does tea tree oil fight fungal infections?

Lab studies show that it inhibits the growth and spread of fungus by altering the cell membranes and preventing fungal spore growth.

Due to these properties, melaleuca oils could be used as a natural treatment for athlete’s foot and toenail fungus.


2. Treating Yeast Infections:


You can also use this plant oil to treat yeast and candida infections.

Scientists recently discovered that Candida albicans is more sensitive to essential oils, compared to mainstream prescription drugs. And one study cited that it was effective against 32 different types of Candida and 54 strains of yeast.

Fungal infections of the scalp, such as can also be treated. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the causes of dandruff is a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. It lives in the scalp of most adults, but can irritate your scalp causing extra skin cells to grow and flake off.

You could even use tea tree oils for dandruff – a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology concluded that a 5% tea tree oil shampoo is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for dandruff.


3. Help Treat Head Lice and Scabies:


Head lice and scabies are commonly treated with pesticides that kill the eggs and larvae.  While pesticides are effective, some of them may cause unwanted side effects, particularly when used in the presence of younger children.

Melaleuca oil has been shown to have powerful insecticidal properties, without causing any significant side effects:

  • Researchers at Queensland University found a mixture of melaleuca oils and lavender oil was 97.6% effective at killing head lice.
  • A study conducted in Australia showed a 5% solution of tea tree oil was able to kill scabies at a faster rate, compared to a 5% permethrin pesticide.

Using this plant oil to treat infestations, such as head lice and scabies, may offer a safer alternative to using stronger, harsh pesticides.


4. Fight Acne:


You can use melaleuca oils to fight acne.  One of the main causes of acne is the bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes. Antibiotics are commonly used, but they’re becoming less effective due to the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains.

A study in the Indian Journal of Dermatology showed that a 5% topical tea tree oil gel was 3.55 times more effective than a placebo for improving acne lesions and 5.75 times better at reducing acne severity.

Tea tree oil can effectively treat acne in places of the body that may be hard to reach.  Back acne can be troublesome and hard to treat. Our Guide, “How to Use Tea Tree Oil on Back Acne” shows how you can easily treat those hard-to-reach areas.


5. Inflammatory Gum Disease and Bad Breath:


A review of Melaleuca Alternafolia in Dental Plaque and Disease found the oil has significant bactericidal and bacteriostatic effects against the most common bacteria that cause periodontitis and gum disease. This oil also showed anti-oxidant properties and was equally effective as a 0.12% chlorohexidine solution in reducing gum tissue inflammation.

And Japanese researchers found that tea tree oil, manuka oil and eucalyptus oils were all equally effective against the bacteria that causes gum disease and the three main components that cause bad breath.


6. Fight Viral Infections:


In the early 1990’s, researchers first discovered that the oil had anti-viral activity when it was used to prevent viral growth in tobacco plants. 

Since then, the research shows you may be able to use it to treat the herpes virus. While many herpes medications work by preventing the virus from replicating, they may not actually kill the virus.

Researchers found that Terpinen-4-OL inhibits the herpes virus from entering the host cell.  This may help prevent the virus from spreading which could reduce breakouts and lessen symptoms. 

Other plant oils, such as oregano oil have been shown to have anti-viral activity against the HSV virus when applied to the skin.



What About Side Effects From Tea Tree Oils?


While these oils have gained in popularity, you may have concerns about possible side effects.

The most common way to apply the oil is topically to your skin, like an antiseptic. 

In our guide, How to Avoid Side Effects from Tea Tree Oil, we highlight the following rules:

  • Check for possible allergic reactions by doing a small skin patch test first
  • Avoid ingesting any oil
  • Avoid getting oil near or in the eye region

We also discuss the importance of proper storage of your tea tree oil bottles to preserve its antiseptic properties and point out who should avoid using it.

Tea tree oil is a versatile product that can offer you a multitude of benefits.  Please visit our Forum to learn the many different ways other people have used it.



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Author Details
Kevin is a full-time blogger with a passion for functional, whole food nutrition. A former Registered Respiratory Therapist with over 25 years experience in Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, he also has additional training as a Certified Natural Products Advisor. He enjoys a vibrant lifestyle that includes healthy foods, workouts focusing on core strength with flexibility and longboarding to stay fit and agile.