Can tea tree oil really do all the things they say it does?


Woman pouring tea tree oil onto spoon

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Tea tree oil is a familiar sight on the shelves of pharmacies, apothecaries and health food stores everywhere. It appears in the form of face washes, lotions, toners, masks, scrubs, shampoos, cleansers, concealers and wipes. Tea tree is an essential oil, meaning it is the extracted “essence” — or unique fragrance — of the particular plant.

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (so named by explorer James Cook because he saw aboriginals making tea from it), and it has been used in folk medicine and home remedies for generations. Tea tree oil contains terpenoids — the group of organic chemicals that also give cinnamon, ginger and eucalyptus their own unique aromas. Tea tree’s aromatic compound is known to have antibacterial properties; many modern proponents of its use in alternative medicine claim its efficacy in a catalog of common complaints.

As with many home remedies, the claims for tea tree oil are based on some of its observable scientific properties, yet the array of uses is recorded as largely anecdotal evidence. We decided to look at the verifiable (and not-so-verifiable) claims made on its behalf.


1. Athlete’s foot

Various creams are available that will relieve the itching and scaling, as well as inflammation and burning of athlete’s foot. Creams with a concentration of 10% tea tree will reduce the symptoms. However, according to WebMD, creams with a much stronger concentration (around 25% to 50%) can clear up the infection altogether.

athlete's foot


2. Acne

Tea tree oil’s antibacterial qualities can help fight even severe acne. In fact, the oil appears to work on your skin as effectively as the commercially available acne treatment benzoyl peroxide. Though tea tree’s results are not as fast as the latter, they generally cause less reddening and irritation. WebMD suggests a 5% tea tree oil gel.


3. Nail fungus

Although it won’t work for everyone, this problem can be treated with the appropriate application of 100% tea tree oil twice a day when combined with effective cleaning and the careful clipping of nails.


4. Bad breath

Oral bacterial infection is one of the many causes of bad breath. The good news is that it’s treatable, and that’s where tea tree comes in. Homeremediesweb.com suggests adding a drop of tea tree oil to the toothpaste on your brush. Needless to say, it’s very important that you not swallow the oil during or after brushing.

bad breath


5. Eyelid infections

There is some early research to show that tea tree oil can be used to treat inflammation of the eyelid. It is important to note, though, that not all eye infections are treatable with tea tree oil. According to allaboutvision.com, it is most effective on demodex blepharitis, which is caused by microscopic mites that clog the roots of the eyelash follicles. They suggest that “a commercial eyelid scrub combined with tea tree oil may be effective for treating this type of blepharitis.” Your eyes are the most precious things you have — always consult your eye doctor before starting any new treatment on them.


6. Dandruff

Dandruff can have many causes: dry skin and eczema, oily skin, fungal infection, contact dermatitis and others. Some people find that adding a drop or two of tea tree oil to their shampoo helps. According to WebMD, “Early research suggests that applying a 5% tea tree oil shampoo three minutes daily for four weeks reduces scalp lesions, scalp itchiness and greasiness.”