10 Tea Tree Oil Uses Backed By Experts (2022)

Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil derived from melaleuca alternifolia, a plant native to Australia. It’s a potent essential oil that can provide a wide variety of therapeutic benefits. Topical use is most common, and while it can be used in its pure form, tea tree oil is often diluted with a carrier oil to prevent skin irritation. Tea tree oil has been studied for external use only—do not swallow it, as it can be toxic when ingested orally.

How Does Tea Tree Oil Work?

Tea tree oil is primarily known for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, proving effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses and fungi, including yeasts and dermatophytes (fungus that can cause skin diseases).

“Tea tree oil, an extremely concentrated extract from the leaves of the tea tree, is a popular ingredient in home, skin and general health care products for its variety of uses,” says Rachelle Robinett, herbalist and founder of New York-based functional nature company Pharmakon Supernatural. “The oil is most notably antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant. Like most plants, it works in many ways; however, tea tree tends to be most popular as a topical antiseptic for preventing the growth of problematic microorganisms that can cause or worsen infections.”

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10 Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil, According to Experts

Curious how to integrate tea tree oil safely and effectively into your wellness routine and lifestyle? Check out the 10 expert-backed suggestions below.

1. Tea Tree Oil for Acne

Diluted tea tree oil can be a helpful ingredient in face wash, especially for acne-prone skin. A study in the Medical Journal of Australia found participants benefited more from using a gel containing 5% tea tree oil for the treatment of mild to moderate acne than a lotion containing 5% benzoyl peroxide (a common acne-fighting ingredient used in skincare products). The results suggested tea tree oil helped reduce both inflamed and non-inflamed lesions better than the benzoyl peroxide lotion. The tea tree oil gel did work slower than the benzoyl peroxide lotion, but it also led to fewer side effects[1]Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. Medical Journal of Australia. 1990;153(8):455-8. .

2. Tea Tree Oil for Healthy Hair

This essential oil is often added to shampoo in various potencies to help relieve an itchy scalp, as well as restore hair’s natural luster. Some studies show tea tree oil used in combination with other essential oils like lavender oil may provide young women with relief from mild hirsutism, the growth of coarse, dark hair in areas where women typically grow fine hair or no hair at all[2]Tirabassi G, Giovannini L, Paggi F, et al. Possible efficacy of lavender and tea tree oils in the treatment of young women affected by mild idiopathic hirsutism. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. 2013;36(1):50-4. . Additional research suggests tea tree oil can be beneficial in treating dandruff[3]Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2002;47(6):852-5. .

3. Tea Tree Oil for Improving Circulation

According to naturopathic physician and founder of Wise Woman Herbals Sharon Maire Tilgner, tea tree oil can also be helpful for people with skin wounds, ulcers and bed sores.

“Tea tree is specifically indicated for external use in areas with decreased circulation and stagnation. Many people with diabetes, for instance, use tea tree oil neat (not diluted) on non-healing wounds with miraculous results,” she says. “I believe this [skin response] is due to a mix of antiseptic activity and the increase in local blood flow to the area. Decubitus ulcers or bed sores, another condition related to inadequate blood flow, are also quick to respond to tea tree oil’s healing action.”

4. Tree Tree Oil for Nail Health

Onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the nails, is a common condition that affects about 10% of adults[4]Westerberg DP, Voyack MJ. Onychomycosis: Current Trends in Diagnosis and Treatment. American Family Physician. 2013;88(11):762-770. . Tea tree oil is one of the few homeopathic remedies that can be effective in treating it[5]Syed T, Qureshi Z, Ali S, Ahmad S, Ahmad S. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in cream. Tropical Medicine and International Health. 1999;4(4):284-287. .

Researchers from the Department of Dermatology at the University of California San Francisco tested a cream consisting of 2% butenafine hydrochloride and 5% tea tree oil among 60 participants with onychomycosis. After 16 weeks of use, 80% of participants cured their nail fungus.

5. Tea Tree Oil for Healthy Skin

Many skin ailments can lead to itching—common issues include fungus, athlete’s foot and ringworm. Research suggests tea tree oil can help alleviate these issues, especially when dealing with tinea pedis, or foot fungus. One study of 158 people noted a significant improvement in the presence of foot fungus after applying a diluted solution of tea tree oil for four weeks[6]Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australasian Journal of Dermatology. 2002;43(3):175-8. .

6. Tea Tree Oil as an Oral Wash

Many oral health companies add tea tree oil to their mouthwash products to help clean teeth and gums naturally. It’s also easy to make your own tea tree oil-powered oral rinse at home.

To make your own mouthwash:

  • Add three drops of tea tree oil to a small glass of water.
  • Swirl the mixture in your mouth, then spit out.
  • Repeat every time you brush.

One study in the European Journal of Dentistry on the benefits of tea tree oil against gingivitis, plaque and bleeding gums suggests it can be a natural and effective solution for people who prefer it to traditional mouthwash products[7]Ripari F, Cera A, Freda M, Zumbo G, Zara F, Vozza I. Tea Tree Oil versus Chlorhexidine Mouthwash in Treatment of Gingivitis: A Pilot Randomized, Double Blinded Clinical Trial. European Journal of Dentistry. 2020;14(1):55-62. . However, be mindful not to swallow any tea tree oil-based oral rinse, as it’s not safe to ingest.

7. Tea Tree Oil as an Antiseptic Skin Cleanser

Often used for its widespread antiseptic and antimicrobial benefits, tea tree oil can be used on cuts, burns, abrasions and boils. It can also be effective in treating certain kinds of staph infections. Due to its antiseptic and wound healing properties, many body piercing artists recommend using a diluted form of tea tree oil to help heal and clean piercings as well.

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8. Tea Tree Oil for Respiratory Health

“Combined with lavender oil, tea tree oil is a great inhalation treatment for sinus or lung infections,” says Robinett. Try it in a bath or shower, diffuser or as a facial steam, she suggests.

9. Tea Tree Oil as a Household Cleaner

Adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a natural all-purpose cleaning spray can help boost the cleanliness of your home. (For best results, use the solution the same day it’s prepared.)

To make your own all-purpose cleaning spray:

  • Mix three cups of water and a half-cup of white vinegar in a glass spray bottle.
  • Add 10 to 12 drops of tea tree essential oil.
  • Shake before use.

Generally, it’s best to test the cleaner on small sections of various surfaces before using it throughout your home.

10. Tea Tree Oil for General Wellness

“I use tea tree oil in my body wash and also as an essential oil for diffusing in the home when we want to clean and clear the air,” says Robinett. “The scent is also very invigorating, like peppermint, so it can be great for waking up or simply clearing the senses.”

How to Use Tea Tree Oil Safely

This highly volatile and potent essential oil can be used neat or diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut, olive, jojoba or almond oil, for topical applications. Test the oil on a small patch of skin before applying it more generously. Remember: Do not swallow tea tree oil undiluted, as it can be toxic when ingested orally.

Some adverse reactions can occur when using tea tree oil topically, including:

  • Skin irritation
  • Allergic skin rash
  • Itching
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Dryness

When in doubt or experiencing any of the side effects listed above, check in with your health care provider to determine safe ways to integrate tea tree oil into your wellness routine.

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