Tea tree oil is one of the most popular essential oils, thanks to the impressive assortment of ways it can be used, ranging from household disinfectant to decongestant. Otherwise known as melaleuca oil or sometimes Australian tea tree oil, this invigorating, all-natural essential oil has a refreshing camphor-like aroma. The tea tree (botanical name Melaleuca alternifolia) is native to New South Wales and Southeast Queensland, Australia. It got the name we know it by today in the 18th century when sailors used the leaves to brew tea. Tea tree essential oil, derived from those leaves, is now used the world over as a skin care treatment, household cleaner, and more.
How Does Tea Tree Oil Work?
Many of the most common uses for tea tree oil stem from its potent antimicrobial activity as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. Basically, it’s really good at killing little nasties that can cause problems like colds and coughs, bad breath, infections, acne, and more.
Researchers have found that the active compounds in tea tree oil include:
- Terpene hydrocarbons
Of the over 100 known active compounds in tea tree oil, alpha-terpineol and terpinen-4-ol seem to be the primary two responsible for its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.
You can benefit from these effects by using tea tree oil topically or by inhaling it.
11 Top Uses for Tea Tree Oil
Many top uses for tea tree oil have to do with the treatment of different kinds of skin inflammation and infections. It can also be a potent immune system booster, which is why people sometimes add a few drops to a hot bath or a diffuser to help clear up coughs and congestion.
Because the use of tea tree oil has strong scientific support, it’s even used in some health care settings as an alternative to conventional antibiotic treatments for issues like fungal infections and contact dermatitis.
And as you may have noticed, the alternative medicine and beauty markets are flooded with products—soaps, creams, deodorants, oral pastes, rinses, face masks, etc.—that use tea tree oil as an active ingredient. A testament to its healing strength, even in trace amounts tea tree oil provides noticeable soothing properties in certain first aid products like creams and ointments.
The following is a list of 11 of our favorite common uses of tea tree oil.
1. Clear Up Acne
Perhaps the most popular use for tea tree oil is the treatment of acne, and for good reason! One study found that 5% tea tree oil gel matched the performance of 5% benzoyl peroxide, one of the most effective over-the-counter acne treatments available.
Tea tree oil does seem to work more slowly, but it also appears to cause less irritation, making it a better option for those with sensitive skin. The study indicates that using tea tree oil twice daily leads to visible reductions to acne symptoms in about a month and a half.
A tea tree oil, lemongrass, and lavender oil mix in a witch hazel solvent base is a great option for treating acne-prone skin.
2. Clean Your House Naturally
Thanks to its antimicrobial activity, tea tree oil makes for a great, all-natural household cleaner that kills off dangerous bacteria as effectively as harsher conventional products.
A modest mix of rose water or other natural botanically-infused liquids with tea tree oil makes for a less toxic home surface cleaner and mild deodorizing disinfectant. Yoga practitioners enjoy an aromatherapeutic workout when yoga mats are cleaned regularly with the solution.
Monitor the proportion of tea tree oil you add in so as not to damage your furniture, rugs, carpets, pillows, or clothing. Certain strains of the oil are more yellow than others and may stain at higher concentration levels. Over time, the oil and infused water mixture separates and the tea tree oil oxidizes. To prevent damage, periodically test various solution levels before more prolific use.
3. Keep Your Scalp and Hair Healthy
Tea tree oil can seriously enhance the health of your scalp and hair. Research demonstrates that a 5% tea tree oil shampoo can help treat unpleasant symptoms such as:
You can use tea tree oil to soothe your scalp by purchasing a shampoo or hair mask that already contains it, or by making your own. As an added bonus, boosting your shampoo regimen by adding one or two tea tree oil drops results in a pleasant, stimulating sensation while you suds your locks.
4. Eliminate Bad Breath
Incorporating tea tree essential oil into your oral cleaning routine, perhaps alongside peppermint oil, can significantly reduce bad breath.
Tea tree oil can also improve your overall oral health. Some research shows tea tree oil gels and mouthwash can reduce gum bleeding and inflammation as well as plaque formation. Combining tea tree oil with clove and holy basil essential oil appears to increase its ability to prevent plaque buildup.
5. Fight Off Colds and Coughs
Combining tea tree oil with a waxy base substance, like waxalene or coconut cream, works great as a decongestant to help clear up lungs and sinuses. Add a few drops of the essential oil to vaporizers when fighting off the cold, the flu, or sinus infections.
6. Freshen Your Laundry
If you’ve let your laundry sit, tackle must and mold with tea tree oil. Add 5-10 drops directly to your laundry detergent and let its antibacterial compounds go to work.
Alternately, use tea tree oil solutions to spot clean rugs, athletic equipment, and other soft surfaces.
7. Prevent and Treat Insect Bites
You can use tea tree oil topically to both prevent and treat insect bites. Insect repellents often contain concerning chemicals that, while they may keep bugs away, might not be so great for your overall health. Tea tree oil can work just as well without any unwanted consequences.
And if you do get bit, you can dab tea tree oil—either undiluted or mixed with a neutral carrier oil—onto the bug bite site to calm the itching and swelling.
8. Cure Athlete’s Foot
Studies show tea tree oil can relieve symptoms of athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) such as:
9. Deodorize Your Rooms
The seasoned aromatherapist knows that tea tree oil is an invaluable aid to promote healing and purification during massages or cleansing rituals.
Essential oil burners under a controlled flame are great for releasing more concentrated amounts of the oil into the air during healing sessions or for room detoxification purposes.
10. Get Rid of Nail Infections
Researchers have found that the topical application of tea tree oil can get rid of fungal nail infections (onychomycosis). It also improves the appearance and reduces symptoms while eradicating the underlying nail fungus infection.
11. Make Your Own Deodorant
The antimicrobial compounds in tea tree oil can kill the bacteria responsible for body odor, making it the perfect ingredient in a natural, DIY deodorant. Simply mix 2-3 drops with coconut oil, baking soda, and any additional essential oils you desire for fragrance purposes.
Does Tea Tree Oil Cause Side Effects?
When used incorrectly and in high doses, tea tree oil has been linked to side effects including:
- Skin irritation
One way to minimize your risk of these side effects is to mix tea tree oil with less penetrating liquid solvents, like witch hazel, before applying directly to the skin.
And remember, tea tree oil should not be taken by mouth. Ingested undiluted tea tree oil can cause far more serious side effects, like confusion, balance problems, rashes, and even comas.
Tea tree oil contains powerful chemicals, so be sure to practice caution when using this essential oil for any purpose. If you’re curious about uses for other essential oils, check out our articles on cinnamon oil and patchouli oil, both of which also offer wonderful health benefits worth exploring.