Known widely for its benefits as a skin and hair care product, astringent, and antiseptic, tea tree essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia. The plant itself is native to Australia, specifically the northern coast of New South Wales, and South Queensland, where it has been used by the aboriginals for centuries as a critical component of their medicine kit. A clear, colorless liquid, tea tree oil has a warm, camphorous, herbaceous, spicy, and medicinal aroma that presents as a strong middle fragrance note. As an essential oil, it has many benefits and applications to our daily lives, and should always be included in any complete natural medicine collection. Its chemical components number over one hundred, the most significant of which include Alpha Pinene, Beta Pinene, Linalool, Limonene, Myrcene, Cineole, Alpha Terpinene, Gamma Terpinene, Para Cymene, Sabinene, Alpha Phellandrene, Terpinolene, Alpha Terpineol and Terpinenol, the most important of which are considered to be the terpene hydrocarbons, sesquiterpenes, and monoterpenes. These aromatic compounds are capable of traveling through the air, and entering the body through pores in the skin and through mucous membranes.
Tea Tree essential oil in history
Tea tree oil’s earliest documented uses in natural medicine might only stretch through the last hundred years or so, but it is likely that Australian natives have known about it for centuries. Since the 1920s, it has been recognized by both natural and conventional practitioners as an antibacterial, antifungal and as being helpful in warding off common viruses. It is only in the last fifty years or so that it has started appearing in cosmetic preparations, where you will find it in facial treatments for acne, shampoos, skin creams, nail treatments, and even laundry detergents. While it is not to be confused with the common tea plant, it is generally accepted that it got its colloquial name from soldiers during WWII, who found that, when steeped, it produced a beverage with a nutmeg-like flavor. It was Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy who can be credited with bringing the plant to a wider audience, as he was introduced to it by Australian natives following his landing in 1770, near present-day Sydney. They showed him how the crushed leaves of the plant could be used to treat cuts and wounds if applied directly. Even the lagoons, around which the trees flourished, were considered to have ‘magical’ healing powers when bathed in. In the 19th century, studies conducted in Australia by Dr. Penfold proved tea tree oil to be significantly stronger than phenol, which was at the time considered to be the standard in treating bacterial infection. During the second world war, an outbreak of foot fungus had badly affected Australian soldiers, and it was suggested by an aboriginal that tea tree oil should be applied. Doctors proceeded to treat the outbreak with tea tree oil, and the infection was gone in short order. For the remainder of the war, soldiers were each issued their own bottle of tea tree oil in their kits, where it was to be used for burns, cuts, fungal infections, insect bites, and abrasions of any kind.
Tea Tree oil uses
Acne: tea tree oil’s astringent qualities help to rid the skin of excess oil, tighten pores and stimulate surface detoxification. Proven in many studies to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide.
Hair care: an excellent treatment for dandruff when included in shampoos or scalp preparations. Also helpful in balancing excessively oily hair and scalp.
Oral health: used in mouthwash, tea tree is effective in treating gingivitis, gum disease, thrush, and mouth ulcers.
Respiratory health: when vaporized, directly inhaled, or steeped into a warm beverage, tea tree oil can help ease sore throats, as well as the symptoms of coughs, colds, flu, and sinusitis, where it can open breathing passages to ease congestion as well as prevent the uptake of viral/bacterial infection in the throat, lungs and bronchi.
Household cleaning: an excellent surface disinfectant, tea tree oil kills many types of bacteria on contact, and prevents their return.
Insecticide: effective in repelling mosquitoes, as well as ants, spiders, flies, and other insects in and around the home.
Psoriasis/ eczema: helps to reduce the irritation, inflammation and curb the spread of psoriasis flare-ups.
Diaper rash: helps to ease the discomfort and arrest the development of irritation and infection caused by diaper rash. Be sure to use tea tree oil well-diluted if using on infants and children.
After-shave: often included in after-shave treatments to reduce irritation and tighten pores.
Anti-fungal: helps to reduce and prevent the spread of nail fungus, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and other fungal infections of the skin. Tea tree oil can also be used in the garden to combat mold and fungus on plants that are prone to such outbreaks.
Mold retardant: used in the home, will kill mold on contact and prevent its return.
Deodorant: use to combat body odor, including foot odor; also an excellent way to cleanse the air around you, in a sick room or hospital setting.
Anti-bacterial: kills and repels many types of common bacteria, in the home or on the skin.
Antiseptic: use directly on cuts and abrasions of the skin to prevent infection and speed the healing process.
Head lice: can be effective when included in an anti-lice treatment. Will also help to ease the itching and discomfort caused by lice.
Anti-parasitic: keeps the bedbugs at bay, repels ticks and other parasitic bugs, and helps in the treatment of scabies.
Insect bites and stings: disinfects, reduces swelling and inflammation caused by insect bites.
Tea tree essential oil can be toxic in high concentrations, and it is not recommended for internal use unless you are under the direct supervision of a qualified medical practitioner who is certified in aromatherapy using essential oils. May cause severe skin irritation if not properly diluted: always heed recommended dilution factors before applying directly to skin. Test on a small, insensitive area of the skin so you know your tolerance. Avoid contact with the eyes, inner ears, and mucous membranes. In those with acne, it can lead to skin over-dryness, itching, or burning.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.