It seems that everywhere you need a natural disinfectant or antimicrobial the words ‘tea tree oil’ seem to be thrown around like candy. Is this essential oil a powerhouse or a fraud?
Tea Tree Oil is native to Australia and was used as a topical treatment by the indigenous people for centuries. But they never consumed it because of it’s inherent toxicity. Kind of makes me worry when I see it listed in my natural mouth wash, but I kept researching.
Topically it has been proven in numerous studies to be quite effective as an antiseptic and against fungal organisms. This is what makes it so helpful in treating nail fungus and athletes foot. But you have to be careful and dilute it because it can be super irritating and can cause blisters to your skin. One study done in the mid 1990’s proved that 5% tea tree oil proved to be equally effective with acne as 5% benzoyl peroxide. When it comes to treating athletes foot the 10% tea tree oil creams relieve symptoms, but the 25% or 50% creams are required to actually cure the infection. The tea tree oil creams aren’t as effective as the medical variety, but it does work for some. Toenail fungus is a whole other beast. Topical treatments, whether they be natural or phamaceutical, require an intense commitment of applying them twice a day for 3 – 6 months. This is mainly due to the fact that toenails grow so slowly, and that toenails infected with a fungus grow even slower. But even then, these topical treatments only work about 20% of the population. For tea tree oil to even stand a change you’ll need to use the 100% concentration.
The most exciting thing I read was that tea tree oil has shown promising results in the treatment of MRSA bacteria. MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) is a ‘super bug’ bacteria that is no longer affected by the majority of our antibiotics. It is very, very common in hospitals today. You can be colonized by this bacteria, meaning that it’s just chillin’ and hanging out, and experience no negative effects. When it starts to cause symptoms is when the problem occurs. Nothing is conclusive yet about the effects of tea tree oil against this ‘super bug’, but just the idea that it is promising is a very exciting fact!
When it comes down to lice, scabies, thrush, yeast infections, ringworm, cough, colds, or congestion many studies have shown that it doesn’t actually do a thing. Nothing above the placebo effect, that is.
My boyfriend uses a soap bar from Chagrin Valley that has tea tree oil in it and it’s really helped with some body acne that he was experiencing – cleared it right up. It is also in all of the herbal healing salves (read: natural polysporin) I have looked into or tried so far, and the ones that I have tried have worked surprisingly well.
Overall, I think it’s a very interesting oil with lots of promise, especially when it comes to MRSA and other resistant strains of bacteria. I’ll definitely keep my eye out for new research studies involving this little powerhouse.
Longe, J., ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition, 2004.
Carson, C. et al, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. American Society for Microbiology, 2006.
May, J, et al. Time-Kill Studies of Tea Tree Oils on Clinical Isolates, The Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 2000.