Edited By: Dr. Asha Jyoti Bharati
Tea tree oil of family Myrtaceae is a pale yellow essential oil derived from leaves of different Melaleuca species like Melaleuca quinquenervian, M. alterniolia, M. linariifolia M. dissitiflora, M. leucadendra. The oil is mainly extracted by steam distillation.
The first study of Tea tree oil dated back in 1895 for the treatment of Candida. It is also referred to as ‘The most versatile healer of nature’ (1).
Melaleuca plant has been used for almost 100 years. It is now available worldwide such as Australia, Europe, and North America both as neat oil which accounts for 99% of commercial oil production.
The physical and chemical properties of tea tree oil are regulated by an international standard and possess a sharp camphoraceous or spicy odor followed by a menthol-like cooling sensation (2).
Terpene hydrocarbons, mainly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and their associated alcohols are the main components of Tea tree oil. Various bioactive compounds such as terpinen-4-ol, γ-terpinene, p-cymene, α-terpinene, 1,8-cineole, α-terpineol, and α-pinene are also present (3).
Uses of Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is used as a disinfectant, antiseptic as well as antimicrobial. The oil is also used in household and cosmetic products like shampoos, massage oils, skin and nail creams, hair care products, acne treatments, mouthwashes, laundry detergents and tea tree oil-impregnated toothpicks (4).
Health benefits of tea tree oil
1. Anti-parasitic properties of Tea tree oil
Trypanosoma and Leishmania are parasitic protozoa which cause sleeping sickness in humans and sometimes result in a fatal disease. However, tea tree oil contains terpinen-4-ol (monoterpene alcohol) kill bloodstream forms of T. brucei without affecting human cells (5).
Tea tree oil contains terpinen-4-ol, terpinolene, and alpha-terpineol which exhibit virucidal activity against herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) and Influenza virus. This oil reduces plaque formation and virus replication before or during adsorption into the host cell (6, 7).
3. Protect skin against transient flora
Tea tree oil possesses the ability to penetrate the outer layers of skin enhance its antimicrobial activity against transient flora such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa while suppressing but maintaining resident flora. Thus the use of tea tree oil as hand wash detergent may protect from dermatologic problems (8). Tea tree oil and its major active component (terpinen-4-ol) are also protecting against psoriasis (9).
4. Anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil contains a high amount of terpinen-4-ol act as an anti-inflammatory agent and reduces human skin inflammation caused by various chemicals such as histamine, nickel. Thus tea tree oil reduces inflammatory cells and induced contact hypersensitivity in human skin (10, 11).
5. Protects from yeast infection
The main bioactive compound named terpinen-4-ol found in Tea tree oil strongly enhanced fluconazole activity against fluconazole-resistant C. albicans strains. Thus Tree tea oil in combination with fluconazole, may help treat difficult yeast infections (12).
6. Antifungal & Antibacterial properties of Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil exerts antifungal actions against Candida albicans, Candida glabrata and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (13). It also inhibits the growth of plant pathogens and is useful as potential alternative natural fungicides (14).
Tea tree oil monoterpene terpinen-4-ol is beneficial to exhibit antimicrobial and antioxidant activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecium and Staphylococcus epidermidis (15). Furthermore, tea tree oil (5%) body wash is very effective to prevent the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in critically ill patients (16).
7. Tea tree oil is effective against acne
Tea tree oil (5%) for 6 weeks reducing both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions and may be useful for the treatment of mild to moderate acne vulgaris. It also helps to diminish the scar marks left by eruptions, boils, and pox (17).
8. Wound healing properties
Tea tree oil is beneficial on the wound it decreases healing time and promote collagen synthesis and also protects them from infections (18).
9. Treat Periodontitis or gingivitis
Periodontitis or gingivitis is an immuno-inflammatory disease process resulting from the interaction of a bacterial attack and host inflammatory response.
However, tea tree oil contains a high amount of antioxidants which reduce inflammation and promote healing of periodontal tissues thus may use as an antioxidant gel as a local drug delivery system in subgingival sites (19). Moreover, Tea tree oil is very effective against Enterococcus faecalis (pathogen in the root canals) and may be used as an alternative root canal irrigant (20).
10. Insecticidal properties
Tea tree oil kill flour beetle (Tribolium confusum) by damaging the mitochondria of this insect. Thus tea tree oil may be used as insecticidal agents who block the mitochondrial respiratory chain of insect and beneficial for pest control (21). Moreover, tea tree oil shows wonderful effect against head lice and dust mites by acaricidal and pediculicidal activity (22).
11. Protect from dermatitis in dogs
Localized dermatitis, like eczema or skin fold pyoderma, is a very common diagnosis in dogs. Tea tree oil cream is effective to treat chronic dermatitis, allergic dermatitis and skinfold pyoderma in dogs (23).
12. Anti-Dandruff properties
A shampoo containing tea tree oil (5%) was proved effective in 126 patients with mild to moderate dandruff over 4 weeks. Tea tree oil inhibits the growth of Pityrosporum ovale (Yeast) which cause dandruff and reduce itchiness and greasiness without any adverse effects (24).
13. Treat oral infection
Many cancer therapies have a profound negative impact on oral health, causing serious complications like oral fungal infections, caused predominantly by Candida species.
However, tea tree oil acts as antifungal agents which possess antimicrobial and immunomodulatory activities against fungal biofilms and prevent oral candidosis (25).
14. Wart treatment
Tea tree oil application for 12 days successfully eradicated warts due to human papilloma virus (26).
15. Treat Cystitis
Tea tree oil is very effective in urinary tract infection (UTI) associated with pain by fighting against the bacteria that cause bladder infections.
The use of tea tree oil drops in bath water to clean the urethra opening or mix with sandalwood oil and rub the mixture on the abdominal region and on the area near the bladder for 3-4 days is beneficial to get rid of UTIs associated with pain (27).
16. Antiseptic properties of Tea tree oil
Tinea pedis is one type of dermatophyte infection humans began wearing occlusive footwear during summer months. However, tree oil cream (10% w/w) twice daily for a month appears to reduce tinea pedis infection (28).
17. Treat anisakiasis
Anisakis simplex is a gastric, intestinal, and allergic disease caused by parasitic nematode in the form of seafood. However, tea tree oil acts as nematicidal agents which inhibit the larvae of anisakis simplex (29).
Side effect of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil mostly used at a concentration of 5% to 10% and even at this concentration, it has been reported to induce contact sensitization and allergic contact dermatitis reactions.
1. Risk of toxicity
Ingestion of tree tea oil (less than 10 ml) in higher doses can cause skin irritation ataxia and drowsiness at higher concentrations (30).
Oxidized tea tree oil (exposure of the oil to light and/or air) are most prone to induction of allergic contact dermatitis however freshly opened tea tree oil products are less prone to this disease and concentrate form of oil should avoid particularly on damaged or eczematous skin (31).
3. Risk of immediate systemic hypersensitivity reactions
A research study suggested that after the application of tea tree oil a person experienced immediate flushing, pruritus, throat constriction, and lightheadedness. Thus, if you feel any of these symptoms after application of this oil should contact a doctor immediately (32).
4. Irritant and allergic reactions
Neat tea tree oil can cause both irritant and allergic reactions, therefore, irritant reactions may frequently be avoided through the use of lower concentrations of neat oil and aged or improperly stored oil should not use (33).
How to use tea tree oil
Tea tree oil drops can be mixed with a carrier oil or moisturizer and apply directly on the skin or other areas.