Health Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

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African american woman in white robe dispensing oil from a tincture.

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Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil that is made from tea tree leaves (Melaleuca alternifolia), which are native to the swampy southeast coast of Australia.

Tea tree oil has both antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, allowing it to aid in the treatment of common skin and scalp conditions like acne, dandruff, and inflammation. Tea tree oil can often be found as an ingredient in self-care products that target the skin and hair.

Due to its antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil is also often included in topical ointments that treat common fungal and bacterial infections. Some studies have also indicated tea tree oil in the treatment of respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma, although this use is less common.

Along with having many benefits, tea tree oil also has several ways of application, as well as a few risks and side effects to know. 

Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

With both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory abilities, tea tree oil has a variety of potential benefits.  

Slows Bacteria Growth

Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties, meaning it can slow or stop the growth of microorganisms like bacteria or mold.

This benefit is largely due to a compound in tea tree oil called terpinen-4-ol, which is highly abundant in the oil. Terpinen-4-ol has been shown to be effective in fighting against several pathogens, or disease-causing bacteria.

Researchers found tea tree oil as the most effective antimicrobial agent against common pathogens such as E.coli (Escherichia coli), Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and Salmonella (Salmonella enteritidis) when compared with various hemp seed oils and cannabidiols. 

Reduces Inflammation

Tea tree oil has antioxidant properties, which can help reduce inflammation. Antioxidants fight against free radicals, which are molecules that can cause cell damage and lead to disease.

The compound terpinen-4-ol also lends to tea tree’s anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory effect of terpinen-4-ol has been proven to help reduce inflammation of the skin in as quickly as 30 minutes post-application.

May Help Treat Acne 

Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties, meaning it can stop or slow the growth of microorganisms like bacteria. Due to this ability, tea tree oil is thought to help treat acne. 

Acne is often the result of increased oil production and the presence of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). Antiseptics, which are antimicrobial substances, have been shown as an effective way to reduce acne-causing bacteria and inflammation associated with outbreaks.

In older studies where participants were instructed to use topical tea tree oil, results showed a decrease in oil production and P. acnes bacteria as well as a reduction in pore diameter. Tea tree oil was also shown to lessen acne-associated inflammation in an older study of 27 participants.  

May Help Treat Minor Wounds 

When applied topically, research suggests that tea tree oil’s ability to kill bacteria on the skin may help speed wound healing for minor cuts and scrapes. For the same reason, tea tree oil might also aid in the prevention of skin cancer-forming cells or infection as the wound heals.

May Help Treat Dandruff 

Some research has shown tea tree oil’s ability to reduce oil production, one of the main causes of seborrheic dermatitis (a form of dandruff). 

A review of studies suggested tea tree oil’s antimicrobial properties can prevent the growth of microorganisms, another major contributor to dandruff. 

However, more research is needed to make a direct connection between tea tree oil and dandruff reduction. 

May Help Treat Fungal Infections on the Feet and Nails

Tea tree oil may have antifungal properties. Several studies have shown tea tree oil to be effective in treating fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and nail fungus. In some cases, the oil may be a natural alternative to prescription topical ointments for these infections.

May Repel Insects 

Thanks to its antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil has been found to both repel insects and kill the bacteria they carry. Some research has shown tea tree oil to work quicker, for longer, and at lower concentrations than other popular antimicrobials on the market. 

One study on livestock animals found that tea tree oil—even at a low concentration—was able to kill 100% of house flies 12 hours after exposure in comparison to another oil (andiroba oil) at a higher concentration.

However, this research was done using animals, so the effectiveness of tea tree oil as an insect repellent for humans is still largely unknown. 

Tea Tree Oil in Mouthwash

Tea tree oil in the form of mouthwash is sometimes recommended as a treatment for gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums caused by a bacterial infection. This is due to tea tree oil’s ability to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. 

However, tea tree oil can be toxic when swallowed. The National Capital Poison Control Center warns against the oral use of tea tree oil, even in the case of mouthwash.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil should only be used topically, as it can be toxic when swallowed. When used topically, tea tree oil is best used diluted, meaning the essential oil is paired with another oil or cream to reduce its concentration. 

Typically, tea tree oil can be used as an ingredient within another product. The ingredient has been used in a gel, shampoo, body wash, spray, or cream. 


Tea tree oil can be used undiluted, but essential oils can sometimes cause irritation when applied directly to the skin in their original form. It’s best to use diluted tea tree oil. You can combine tea tree oil with a plant-based oil such as olive, coconut, or hemp seed oil, or buy a lotion or other product with tea tree oil. Look for concentrations of 5-50% tea tree oil, and use for up to eight weeks.

Is Tea Tree Oil Safe?

When used as intended, tea tree oil is generally considered to be safe. 

Some research has suggested tea tree oil may disrupt endocrine functions in children and lead to adverse health effects like gynecomastia (an increase in breast tissue in males). However, there is currently no substantial evidence to support this claim. 

Additionally, little is known about how the use of tea tree oil can affect people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Due to a lack of research, it is best to avoid tea tree oil if you fall into either category. 

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regarded tea tree oil as generally safe when used as directed, the organization does note that many plants can become toxic and irritating or lead to allergic reactions when applied to the skin. 

The National Capital Poison Control Center expresses caution when using tea tree oil as directed and strongly urges against its oral consumption, even in the use of dental care, to avoid toxicity concerns if accidentally swallowed. 

What to Look For

When shopping for essential oils, you want to be sure you are purchasing a high-quality natural oil and not a synthetic oil, which is supplemented with artificial components. Synthetic oils often mimic the scents of essential oils, but rarely, if at all, offer the same benefits. 

To ensure your oil is natural, scan the bottle for the oil’s botanical name. In the case of tea tree oil, look for the name Melaleuca alternifolia

Next, look at the bottle itself. Light, heat, oxidation, and moisture can all compromise the quality of the oil and alter its composition. For these reasons, manufacturers tend to bottle essential oils in dark containers with tightly sealed caps. 

Lastly, you’ll want to confirm that your oil has been third-party tested for purity. Essential oils aren’t currently regulated by the FDA, which means they don’t have to meet federal requirements for safety. Before you make a purchase, review the oil company’s website for a certificate of analysis. Third-party testing means the product has been reviewed to make sure it includes the actual ingredients and potency advertised. 

Tea tree oil is also typically available from 5% to 15% for therapeutic purposes, the former recommended to treat acne. For safety, stick to tea tree oil products within this percentage range. Some products, like shampoo, might not list the percentage of tea tree oil featured. However, these are generally considered safe. 

Side Effects of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is generally regarded as safe when used topically, but it can be toxic when taken orally. If accidentally swallowed, it can cause side effects like:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia)
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Coma

When used topically, tea tree oil rarely causes adverse effects. In some cases, higher concentrations may lead to minor reactions like an allergic skin rash known as contact dermatitis or slight irritation in the form of itching, irritation, and redness on parts of the body where the product was applied.  

A Quick Review

Tea tree oil can be topically applied to treat a variety of health concerns. When used as suggested, it can help reduce inflammation, treat acne, and lessen dandruff. While tea tree is generally considered safe when applied topically, it should not be used orally. If you swallow tea tree oil, contact a health care provider immediately.

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