Tea tree oil is one of the most powerful oils known for its antimicrobial action on various germs and fungi. This, along with its wide range of uses to treat and heal many ailments, makes it one of the most valuable essential oils to have in your home medicine cabinet.
So what exactly is tea tree oil and where does it come from? Read on to know more about how you can get the most out of this naturally potent essential oil.
Origins and history of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has a relatively young history compared to many of the other oils mentioned in ancient myths and legends. Despite its relative novelty, however, this potent antiseptic has been growing in popularity since its rediscovery into the modern world in the early 1900’s.
Tea tree oil finds its roots from the native Bundjalung aborigines of Australia, who have been using the leaves of the tea tree plant as a traditional medicine for many generations. Native women were said to prepare the leaves into various forms ready to suitably treat a number of ailments. Leaves would be crushed and placed under the patient’s nose to relieve cough and colds, or leafy branches would be placed over a fire to allow inhalation of the vapors. At times, the leaves would be soaked or brewed in water to treat sore throat, or to be used as a wash for skin conditions. Poultices of the leaves were also made and applied onto wounds, cuts and stings.
European visitors soon learned about the healing properties of the plant, and among them was Captain James Cook from the British Royal Navy. In his travels throughout the Australian continent, he was then acquainted with particular trees having sticky, strongly-scented leaves. Observing the natives brewing a strong, spicy tea from these leaves, the Captain then referred to the source as “tea tree.” He soon learned about the healing properties of the plant, and how it was used by the Australian aborigines.
Though word of its healing properties reached the Western world, interest in it soon died down and was nearly forgotten. It was not until the early 1900’s that tea tree oil was rediscovered and its significant medicinal benefits studied. Arthur Penfold, an Australian chemist, found out that its germ-killing property was 12 times more potent than phenol, the most widely used antiseptic during that time!
As word spread about this amazing oil, the medical community widely acclaimed the benefits of tea tree oil and its healing properties. Tea tree oil became so popular that it was included in Australian soldiers’ first aid kits during World War II!
Today, tea tree oil maintains its prestige as one of the most popular remedies able to heal and treat various medical ailments.
Source and composition of tea tree oil
Also referred to as melaleuca oil, tea tree oil is distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a shrub-like tree native to the swampy areas of Australia. Its fresh, camphoraceous aroma is due to a mixture of compounds called terpene hydrocarbons that are responsible for its powerful healing properties. Though its active compounds are made up of various components, a substance called terpin-4-ol is seen to be the main component present. All pure tea tree oil products are required to have a certain minimum amount of this component to ensure the product’s potency and antimicrobial activity.
Melaleuca gets its name from two Greek words, namely “melas” meaning black, and “leukos” meaning white. Such a name refers to the tree’s black trunks that starkly contrast with the white young stems and branches.
What are some benefits of tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil’s medicinal benefits have been extensively backed by research for the past 80 years or so. Its ability to kill a wide range of bacteria, fungi, and even viruses, along with its anti-inflammatory and other healing properties, make it one of the most sought after essential oils. These medical uses, coupled with its numerous applications around the home, make it a valuable addition to every household.
1.) It’s a great acne buster
One of the most popular benefits of tea tree oil is its effectiveness against pimples and acne. A study has found that a five percent dilution, it works as well as benzoyl peroxide, one of the widely used anti-acne medications. A few drops of tea tree oil diluted in about 30 drops of witch hazel oil dabbed on the pimple can quickly ease redness and inflammation. It also helps dry up pimples, making them heal much faster. A quick caution is not to overuse it on large areas of skin, as it can be quite drying and can irritate the skin. It’s also best not to go out in the sun, especially when using tea tree oil on your face. You can also keep acne and blemishes at bay by trying out our gentle tea tree face wash and facial scrub recipes below!
2.) It helps clear a sore throat
A sore, scratchy throat usually involves some inflammation and can be very bothersome. To help soothe the pain and soreness, mix together a drop of tea tree oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a glass of warm water. Use this as a gargle about once to twice a day. This helps tone down the swelling and keeps any infection from progressing.
3.) It’s useful in wound healing and skin protection
Tea tree oil’s antiseptic properties come in handy when treating wounds, cuts and abrasions on the skin. Not only does it cleanse the area and keep infections at bay, but also speeds up healing and minimizes scarring. Before applying dilute tea tree oil onto a wound, cleanse the wound first with soap and water. Then, you can apply a mixture containing one drop of tea tree oil diluted in a teaspoon of coconut oil or similar carrier oil. You can also use a wound ointment containing tea tree oil over the abrasion, or smear a bit of the mixture onto a bandage to place directly over the cut. It can also be used to treat other bacterial skin infections like boils.
4.) It relieves skin inflammation like psoriasis and eczema
Inflammatory conditions of the skin like psoriasis and eczema benefit hugely from the topical application of dilute tea tree oil. Its natural ability to keep swelling and inflammation at bay works well to relieve the itching and scaling caused by these conditions. Simply mix together five drops of tea tree oil, five drops of lavender oil, and one teaspoon of coconut or olive oil. Apply this mixture to the affected area about twice to thrice a day or as needed to relieve discomfort and promote skin healing. Doing this can also help soften the “plaques” or tough, scaly areas of the skin in people with psoriasis.
5.) It helps get rid of athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, and other fungal infections
Tea tree oil’s antimicrobial property works on fungi as well! Athlete’s foot, one of the most common fungal infections, often comes with nasty symptoms like itching, burning and scaling of the skin. These symptoms can readily be treated by a few drops of tea tree oil diluted with a teaspoon of witch hazel. You can also add a few drops of oregano oil for added strength. Simply dab some of the mixture on the areas affected. This can also work for other fungal infections like ringworm and jock itch. For toenail fungus, a stronger amount of tea tree oil may be required. Some experts suggest using the oil undiluted, and using a cotton swab to apply it only on the area of the nail infected with fungi. This method, however, should be used with caution, as undiluted oil can cause serious skin irritation. If you notice any pain or stinging, immediately discontinue using the oil undiluted.
6.) It helps relieve cold sores and chicken pox blisters
Tea tree oil can also help kill off certain viruses, especially those that affect the skin. Cold sores and chickenpox are conditions caused by viruses. They usually manifest as skin sores and blisters, and can be itchy or painful. You can use tea tree oil for these sores by mixing about five drops with a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, using a clean cotton swab, dab it directly onto the sore. Do this about three to four times a day. Be sure not to get it into your mouth and also avoid applying on areas near the eyes.
7.) It soothes an itchy scalp and fights dandruff
Like other essential oils, tea tree oil is an effective anti-dandruff treatment, but is most useful especially in severe cases caused by scalp fungi. It helps soothe flaky skin, and in the process, eases itching and drying of the scalp. It’s also a great way to prevent head lice! You can leave on a few drops of diluted tea
tree oil on your hair before shampooing, or add in a few drops to your shampoo. You can also make your own tea tree oil shampoo.
8.) It treats gum inflammation and other oral conditions
Tea tree oil has been found to relieve mild to moderate gum problems like gingivitis. It also keeps bleeding gums, plaque formation, and tooth decay at bay. In mouth wash form, it is also effectively used to kill bacteria in the mouth, and this is useful before any dental surgeries are performed. It also helps heal oral candidiasis and canker sores. If you have any of these conditions, you can make your own tea tree oil mouth wash by simply adding three drops of tea tree oil to a glass of warm water. Swish this around in your mouth at least twice a day and make sure not to swallow it.
9.) It banishes foot odor
Nasty foot odor is oftentimes caused by bacteria or fungi. Tea tree oil’s natural antiseptic properties can help get rid of the annoying smell and keep your feet fresh and clean. A great way to achieve this is to make your own tea tree foot soak. Just mix together five drops each of tea tree oil and lavender oil with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. Then, get a basin and fill with about a gallon of warm water. Mix in the essential oils and vinegar and relax while your feet soak in the cleansing properties of the oils. After about ten minutes, remove feet from soaking and pat dry. You can also try out our easy DIY recipe for an antibacterial and anti-fungal foot spray below!
10.) It can help treat yeast infections
Yeast infections can occur in various body areas and usually cause itching, redness and rashes. Tea tree oil can help clear up external yeast infections by disrupting the outer membranes of yeast cells. If you have an external yeast infection, mix together five drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oils with about one to two tablespoons of distilled water. Then, dip a clean cotton swab in the mixture and apply on the areas affected by the yeast infection. Lavender oil also helps contribute in killing yeast cells.
11.) It works as a mold and mildew deterrent
Molds and mildew are an annoying sight in the home. They are often seen in walls, cabinets, and toilet surfaces, and even on shower curtains and washing machines. Luckily, tea tree oil is a great mold- and mildew-buster! Spraying and wiping these surfaces with a tea tree oil solution works well to remove and prevent their growth. Just mix together five to 10 drops of tea tree oil with a cup of water, load into a spray bottle, and shake well. Spray onto the surfaces affected by mold or mildew and leave on for at least three minutes. Then, wipe the area clean with a damp cloth. Additionally, avoid letting the surfaces remain damp and humid, so air them out as best as you can to discourage further mold growth.
12.) It eliminates body odor
Body odor can happen even to the best of us! Using tea tree oil can help keep embarrassing body odor at bay due to its antimicrobial properties, since body odor tends to occur due to bacteria that grow in damp, sweaty areas like the armpits. A great way to use tea tree oil for this purpose is to make a homemade deodorant containing tea tree oil and coconut oil, which work together to fight odor-causing bacteria. Check our easy recipe below for instructions!
13.) It’s great for all-purpose household cleaning
Tea tree oil’s powerful germ-killing ability makes it a great all-around household cleaner. Be it for counter tops, floors, walls, or the kitchen sink, it’s a great alternative to harsh, caustic chemicals that can be harmful to your family. Simply mix together about 20 drops of tea tree oil with 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup water. Shake well and use this mixture to clean surfaces, counter tops, and appliances. You can also add in eucalyptus oil and lemon oil for extra potency and a refreshing odor. For cleaning large areas like dirty floors, simply increase the amounts. You can also add in baking soda to help dislodge heavy grime or dirt.
14.) It helps relieve sinusitis, colds and other upper respiratory infections
Sinusitis, colds and other respiratory conditions can come with headaches and congestion. With its antibacterial and antiviral properties, tea tree oil helps ward off infections that affect the nose, upper airways and sinuses. The cool, refreshing sensation when inhaled as a vapor lessens congestion and helps in clearing up the passageways to make you feel better. Use only a very small amount in your diffuser for about ten minutes. You can also place a few drops over a small bowl or basin of hot water, cover your head with a towel and lean over to inhale the vapors. Do this for about ten minutes. You can also add in s few drops of eucalyptus oil for a maximum decongestant effect.
15.) It helps get rid of plantar warts
Plantar warts are small, rough growths on the soles of the feet caused by a virus. They are often painful due to their location as the body weight puts pressure on them when standing and walking. Because tea tree oil is antiviral, it can help treat the wart. Many users say that using the full concentration is most effective; however, this can be irritating to the skin and can cause adverse effects. Its best to dilute the oil with a little almond oil, then use a clean cotton swab to dab it only on the wart. Leave it on the wart for about 15-20 minutes to dry, then you can put on socks and shoes as usual. Do this every day for about two to four weeks. A nightly tea tree oil foot soak with Epsom salt can also help.
16.) It fights fungal growth and mildew in plants
Tending a garden is a great hobby, and keeping your plants fungi-free is one way to ensure that they grow well. The problem with plant fungi is that it can take over and spread to other plants if not stopped in their tracks. Because tea tree oil is anti-fungal, it can help keep your garden healthy. To use as a plant and garden spray, mix together about 20 drops in 1/4 cup of water, shake well, and spray lightly onto
plants with fungi and mildew. As a plus, tea tree oil can also repel insects and bugs that tend to feast on plants and leaves. A side note: Be sure to test it on a few leaves first, as some plants may not react well to over spraying with this oil. Also, avoid using it on hot days as the oil can easily burn and dry up the leaves.
17.) It works as a cleaning solution for toothbrushes and retainers
As you would know by now, bacteria love growing in moist areas, and your toothbrushes and retainers are an ideal spot when kept in their containers and cases. Keep icky bacteria at bay by mixing together ten drops of tea tree oil with a cup of water. Swish your toothbrush in this solution about once a week. You can also soak and swish your retainer in the solution for about five minutes every other day. Rinse with water afterward and air-dry before placing back into its container or case.
18.) It can be used to freshen laundry
Heavily soiled clothes can benefit a lot from adding in a few drops of tea tree oil when doing the laundry. It can also be used on clothes that have been locked up in cabinets for a time, making them have that damp mildew smell. Rewashing them just because they don’t smell good takes up time and effort, so a better idea is to freshen them up with tea tree oil. Get wool dryer balls and add about five to ten drops to them. Toss in the dryer with the clothes and enjoy a fresher scent when you get them back out. If you don’t have wool dryer balls, you can use an old cotton shirt and cut it into squares. Add five drops of tea tree oil and toss into the dryer with the clothes. These can be re-used many times, simply add tea tree oil again when they start to lose their scent.
Tea tree oil uses, applications, tips and tricks
There are many great ways to take advantage of the benefits of tea tree oil. Here are some of them.
- Add a drop or two to your toothpaste when brushing for maintaining oral hygiene and keeping mouth sores and plaque at bay.
- Add six drops of tea tree oil to your bath water for a refreshing soak. Plus, this helps keep skin infections from lingering.
- Load a few drops into your diffuser to kill any bad bacteria that may be floating around, especially if someone in your home has a cold, flu, or other upper respiratory infection.
- If you don’t want to make your own tea tree oil cleaner or home spray, simply add a few drops to your cleaning solution to render it antibacterial.
- Add a few drops to liquid Castile soap for an instant antibacterial hand and body soap
Next here are some easy tea tree oil recipes
1.) Gentle tea tree acne-fighting facial wash
- 20 drops tea tree essential oil
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons raw, organic honey
- Melt the coconut oil over low heat. You can also use a double boiler for gentler heating.
- Mix in the apple cider vinegar. Allow the mixture to cool a bit.
- Add in the tea tree oil and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed
- Pour into a clean, dry bottle and store.
- To use this, get a suitable amount and apply on your face. Leave for at least five minutes then rinse off.
2.) Tea tree and oatmeal facial scrub
- 10 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 10 drops of lavender essential oil
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons raw, organic honey
- 1/2 cup raw oats
- Process the oatmeal into a fine powder using a food processor.
- Mix in the nutmeg and honey.
- Add in the essential oils a little at a time while mixing, ensuring that the oats are evenly mixed with the liquid ingredients. You can mash out clumps that may form to ensure thorough mixing.
- Store in a clean, dry container. This is best kept in the fridge, and will stay good for two weeks at most.
- To use the scrub, get a suitable amount and rub onto face gently in circular motions. You can leave it on like a mask for about five minutes, or immediately rinse with warm water.
3.) Natural hand sanitizer
- 25 drops tea tree essential oil
- 9 drops lavender essential oil
- 9 drops clove oil
- 16 tablespoons aloe vera gel
- 1 tablespoon witch hazel
- Get a small, dry bowl and mix together all the essential oils together with the witch hazel.
- In a larger, separate bowl, place the aloe vera gel. Mix in the essential oil solution a little at a time with the aloe vera gel, stirring well after each addition.
- Once all of the essential oil mixture has been incorporated into the gel, ensure that everything has been blended well together.
- Store in a suitable, tightly-lidded container in the fridge. You can place some in a small bottle to carry around with you. Note that this keeps only for a month, so you can make smaller batches if you prefer.
4.) Tea tree antiseptic wound ointment
- 4 drops tea tree essential oil
- 4 drops lavender essential oil
- 4 drops helichyrsum essential oil
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2-3 teaspoons beeswax pastilles (optional, add this in if you want a firmer ointment)
- In a double boiler, melt the beeswax (if using it). Then, add in the coconut oil. Stir together when liquefied.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit (but doesn’t harden).
- Add in the essential oils, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
- Pour into a salve tin or small jar.
- Allow to cool and solidify.
- Use this antiseptic ointment on cuts, wounds and skin abrasions.
5.) Tea tree oil natural deodorant
- 3 drops tea tree essential oil
- 4 tablespoons baking soda
- 4 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
- 6 tablespoons coconut oil
- In a clean, dry medium-sized bowl, mix together baking soda and arrowroot or cornstarch.
- Add in coconut oil using a fork or spatula. Mashing motions can help incorporate the powders into the oil.
- Add in the tea tree essential oil and again mix together thoroughly. You can also add other essential oils if desired.
- You can pack this into an old deodorant container, or store in a lidded glass jar.
- To use, get a small amount from your jar and rub into your underarms. If using from an old deodorant container, make a few swipes directly onto underarms.
6.) Odor-busting antibacterial foot spray
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
- 8 drops peppermint essential oil
- 8 drops rosemary essential oil
- 1/4 cup witch hazel
- 1 cup distilled water
- In a clean bowl, mix together witch hazel and distilled water.
- Slowly add in each of the essential oils drop by drop, stirring continuously as the drops are added to the bowl.
- When all the oils have been added, pour the mixture into a spray bottle and let stand overnight for the oils to thoroughly mix with the water.
- To use, spray onto feet and let dry before wearing socks and shoes. Shake well before using. You can also spray this onto your shoes the night before wearing them to keep bad odors away.
Things to keep in mind when using tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is one of the most potent among all the essential oils. Thus, precautions have to be taken when using this oil. In its pure form, especially with high amounts of its active compounds, it can cause contact dermatitis (a type of allergic reaction) and other forms of skin irritation. This can occur as redness, rashes, tingling or burning. When using tea tree oil, it’s best that you first test a small amount on your forearm to rule out any sensitivity reactions. Also, it’s always best to use tea tree oil that has not been left exposed to air, as fresh tea tree oil is less likely to trigger skin irritations than oil that has been oxidized due to air exposure.
When using tea tree oil for treating conditions, always opt for the lowest concentration that works for you. In many cases, only a few drops are needed to get its therapeutic effect. Never swallow or ingest tea tree oil, as it is a known poison when taken internally. It has been observed to cause confusion, drowsiness, loss of control over movements, and severe rashes. Many of these poisonings have occurred in children, so it’s important to keep tea tree oil in places inaccessible to them. Amounts such as half a cup can even induce a coma in adults when taken internally.
Additionally, tea tree oil can affect the hormones in young boys who have not yet reached the puberty stage. In some cases, it can even lead to gynecomastia in young males, or the enlargement of breast tissue. Because of this, tea tree oil and other products containing the oil should not be given to young boys.
Tea tree oil is very versatile and blends well with various essential oils. These include rosemary, geranium, clove, nutmeg, thyme, cinnamon, lemon, myrrh and lavender essential oils.
With its potent antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil has myriads of applications and uses. Hopefully, this article has helped you discover more about tea tree oil and how it can help in everyday living. Feel free to share any of your thoughts in the comments below!