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What's the Deal with Tea Tree Oil?

Posted by Taylor Douglas - Read Time: < 3 minutes

Tea Tree Oil

Derived from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil has been popular for skin use for many years because of its antimicrobial properties. It is popular as the active ingredient in many topical formulations used to treat skin infections. Before this use of the oil became common practice, users inhaled crushed leaves of the plant to treat coughs and colds, sprinkled it on wounds to help the healing process, and even soaked it to make an infusion to treat sore throats and skin ailments. These uses date back all the way to the Bundjalung Aborigines of northern New South Wales. (1)

Later, users found that tea tree oil also possessed anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Let’s dive into each property and see how this is beneficial for you. (2)


Tea tree oil is a safe, natural, and effective antiseptic. This has led to it being popularly used as the main antimicrobial or as a natural preservative in many topical pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The antiseptic property is likely because of its chemical composition of cyclic monoterpenes, especially terpinen-4-ol. Studies have also shown that these monoterpenes damage membranes of bacteria. We need more research to understand exactly how that works. Based on this information, however, we can conclude that tea tree oil is safe to use for cuts and scrapes. (3)


Terpinen-4-ol also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies suggest that tea tree oil can be a treatment for acne, seborrheic dermatitisB, and chronic gingivitis. It may also speed up the wound healing process. (4) Topically applied tea tree oil was also found to reduce histamine-induced skin inflammation more effectively than paraffin oil. This means that tea tree oil can help reduce allergic skin reactions like a rash. (5)

A three-month study of 124 patients compared 5% tea tree oil to 5% benzoyl peroxide, a common agent used when treating acne. The conclusion showed no differences in the results. This means that tea tree oil was just as effective as a well-known acne-fighting ingredient. Another study that included a gel containing 5% tea tree oil applied twice daily for 45 days also confirmed the efficacy of the oil for helping with acne. (6)

Another benefit of tea tree oil is treating eczema and helping to reduce the itching and irritation from dry skin. A study compared traditional topical therapeutic agents, such as zinc oxide and clobetason butryate, to the effects of tea tree oil on contact dermatitis. Tea tree oil reduced allergic contact dermatitis by 40.5%, while zinc oxide reduced 17.4% and clobetason butyrate 23.5%. Tea tree oil was more effective at treating eczema than both of the traditional agents. (7)


Over the years, skin fungal infections, like many other infections, have grown to be more drug resistant. That’s why many people have turned to other remedies like essential oils, which are non-toxic, non-irritating, and non-allergenic, are compatible with drugs, and are suitable skin penetration promoters. Tea tree oil is suitable for helping to treat fungal issues because of its high level of terpinen-4-ol. We can also combine it with common antifungal drugs to help enhance its efficacy, improve skin penetration, and increase its overall therapeutic effect. A study on treating yeast infections proved this. (8)

Tea tree oil has specifically shown antifungal properties towards the yeast Pityrosporum ovale. This makes it possibly useful in the treatment of dandruff. Using 5% tea tree oil shampoo and a placebo, a study concluded that the tea tree oil appears to be effective against dandruff. Compared to the placebo, the shampoo showed significant improvement in overall severity, as well as itchiness and greasiness levels. (9)

As for fungus, in a study for treating tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), patients received applications containing 50% tea tree oil, 25%, or a placebo. There was significant improvement in 68% of the 50% tea tree oil group and 72% of the 25% group, compared to the placebo group at 39%. The 50% group had a total cure rate of 64%. That was more than double compared to the placebo group, thus showing that tea tree oil is effective at helping to treat athlete’s foot. (10)

Other Skin Uses

Those with oily skin have increased pores and acne, as well as increased shine. Because of this, they experience more difficulty when using cosmetics, especially sunscreens. To help, researchers conducted a study with a dermatological emulsion containing tea tree oil and resveratrolA to help evaluate a sunscreen formulation for those with oily skin. The tests concluded that the use of tea tree oil in combination with resveratrol helped reduce acne by reducing oiliness, peeling skin, hydration, and pore sizes. (11)


Whether you’re looking for a remedy for oily skin, acne, fungal issues, or a general natural antiseptic, tea tree oil may be the right oil for you. Thanks to the abundance of studies conducted using the oil, the evidence shows the results are likely to be beneficial. Everyone’s skin is different, but it never hurts to try it out to see if it’s right for you!

Cautions when using Tea Tree Oil

Do not ingest. Tea tree oil may be toxic if swallowed. Before using the oil for the first time, test 1 to 2 drops on a small area of your skin and wait 24 hours to see if a reaction occurs. When using the oil, it is best to mix it with an equal or greater amount of coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil. Do not use tea tree oil on pets. (12)


  1. Resveratrol: A natural compound produced by some spermatophytes such as grape and is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that has been shown to have anti-neoplastic and wound healing properties. (11)
  2. Seborrheic dermatitis: A chronic form of eczema that occurs on the upper back, nose, and scalp. (12)