Do you know Melaleuca essential oil? here’s what you need to know about tea tree oil benefits, uses and curiosities and much more.
Tea tree oil (TTO) is an essential oil obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree when this tree reaches a height of 1,5-1,8 m, and is also one of the most loved and known essential oils in business.
The Melaleuca alternifolia tree, of the Myrtaceae family, is a tree of reduced height (5-7 m) that grows in the wet and marshy regions of the sub-tropical coast of New South Wales, Australia, and is also known as the tree tea as its very aromatic leaves have been used for thousands of years by the Australian Aborigines to obtain a spicy infusion, hence the English name of “Tea Tree“. In recent years the tree has been successfully grown in other areas of the world, particularly in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Vietnam, India, Guatemala and China.
Although Australian Aborigines have always used the Tea tree to treat sores and wounds, the first official news about the use of Tea tree essential oil appeared in the 1930’s in the Medical Journal of Australia, where a surgeon declared its effectiveness in cleaning the wounds in surgery and was used by Australian soldiers who fought in the Second World War in case of abrasions or superficial wounds. Recent history is the story of a great commercial success that has favored research on the activities of this essential oil, on possible applications and possible improvements.
Tea tree oil: what it is and what it contains
Melaleuca essential oil is obtained by steam distillation and hydrodistillation of Melaleuca leaves. The color of tea tree oil varies from pale yellow to brown. As for its olfactory notes, the presence of cineol explains the camphoric note while the presence of terpineol explains the pleasantly spicy smell. In perfumery it is used in the spicy and herbaceous accords of men’s or unisex fragrances.
The chemical composition of pure Tea Tree essential oil naturally varies according to the growing area. In southern Australia, essential oil is rich in 1,8-cineol, while going north we switch to oils richer in terpinen-4-ol and poorer in 1,8-cineol. In 1985 Australian Standards for TTO were issued requiring 1,8-cineol levels to be 15% lower and terpinen-4-ol levels to be 40% higher. To achieve the terpinen-4-ol levels required by Australian and international standards, this compound is often added in post production. Melaleuca leucadendron and Melaleuca viridis can be used to “stretch” the TTO. Before the introduction of Australian standards, eucalyptus globulus essential oil, then cheaper, was used as an adulterant due to the high content of 1,8-cineol.
It should also be noted that for some years the market has offered an essential oil of “Ti Tree“, often mistaken for Tea Tree essential oil, while it comes from a completely different species, Cordyline australis.
Tea tree oil benefits and properties
- The pure essential oil of Tea Tree is particularly effective for the germicidal activity that characterizes it with which it associates a pleasant smell and a lack of toxicity and irritating effects on the mucous membranes. Due to its high antiseptic power, it is therefore an ideal disinfectant for the skin and for its broad spectrum of action towards numerous microorganisms, effective on 66 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains (Carson, Cookson, Farrelly et al., 1995 ) and perhaps also on acne bacteria (Basset, Pannowitz, Barnetson, 1990) both for complete harmlessness and skin tolerance. Gustafson and colleagues (1998) studied the mechanism of action of TTO and reported that the attack site of TTO is the cell membrane: this is also confirmed by the fact that Pseudomonas aeruginosa is less sensitive to the antibiotic properties of essential oil than to other bacteria, probably thanks to its more resistant external membrane (Mann, Cox, Markham, 2000).
- In addition to antimicrobial activity, it has antifungal and antiprotozoal activity, including Trichomonas vaginalis. Complementary activities are chemotactic and anti-inflammatory immunomodulating (Camporese A., op.cit. P.129). Its use has proved to be particularly interesting in the treatment of idiopathic chronic colibacillary cystitis, in vaginal Candida infections, in cutaneous infections.
Tea tree oil benefits and uses
How and where to use tea tree oil benefits? You can use tea tree oil:
- for skin: local applications have shown excellent efficacy against various skin and mucous membrane conditions or affecting the skin-mucous membrane. Although it can also be used well on its own, and given its wide use, it is useful to mix it with at least one other essential oil with alcohols to minimize the onset of bacterial resistance. Pure tea tree oil can also be found here in two different proposals.
- against athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis): apply in the form of a 40% solution, on previously washed and dried feet; used daily it leads to excellent results, even if application frequency and constancy (2-3 weeks) is required. A suspension of TTO in water can be used to disinfect socks.
- against onychomycosis (mycosis of the nails): remove excess nail and clean well, apply 100% essential oil, 2-3 times a day for 2-3 weeks. According to Valussi (“The great aromatherapy manual”, M. Valussi), it constitutes an excellent therapy, comparable by impact on the pathogen, subjective symptoms and long-term effects to drug therapy (1% clotrimazole). Mix with other essential oils with alcohols. If you want you can also find on Erboristeria Como the tea tree in this natural compound ready against onychomycosis here.
- on pimples: in case of furunculosis apply to the furuncle without dilution, 2-3 times a day after cleaning the tissue. It encourages faster healing and reduces scar tissue (the result probably due to action on S. aureus). Always try first with undiluted essential oil and dilute only in case of irritation. If medium or moderate acne apply as for furunculosis, but use a 5% dilution.
- on herpes: application as for furunculosis, twice a day. Stop in case of irritation. On Erboristeria Como you will find not only tea tree oil but also Erpexan a natural cream against herpes here).
- against candida: in case of gynecological infections from Trichomonas and Candida, after careful washing and drying of the intimate parts, the affected areas are washed with a 1% TTO solution; following the insertion of a vaginal ovules with 40% solution. In the event of ongoing infectious processes, a daily shower with TTO in 0.4% solution in water with 10% Tween 20 must be associated with this treatment. Also useful in intestinal candida infections. On Erboristeria Como you can find vaginal ovules with tea tree here and vaginal lavage with tea tree here).
- in case of colds: the use is indicated in cases of bronchitis, cough, respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, otitis etc.
- for oral hygiene: excellent in toothpaste, as a mouthwash for gingivitis, oral ulcers, inflammation of the mucous membranes and abscesses, pyorrhea.
- for body hygiene: for its sanitizing properties it is also useful in body hygiene products such as in the axillary deodorant (on Erboristeria Como you can find it here). It is also useful for “smelly feet” (bromhidrosis) to take a foot bath with a few drops of Tea Tree or rub it in 40% solution.
- against lice: The effectiveness of TTO in eliminating pediculosis depends on the ability of some constituents to inhibit acetylcholinesterase. A study (Mills et al., 2004) showed that the constituents of TTO 1,8-cineol and terpinene-4-ol inhibit the activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase at inhibitory concentrations 50 respectively of 0.04 and 10.30 mM . Since various insecticides are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, it is conceivable that this same mechanism is responsible also of the disinfesting action exerted by the TTO in pediculosis. For lice we at Erboristeria Como recommend this this natural and safe product based on other essential oils.
Tea tree oil contraindications
In the case of oral use, caution is recommended given that the official toxicological tests on TTO have been carried out only for dilutions of 1% and the 1.8 cineol has a certain toxicity.
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- Banes-Marshall L., Cawley P., Phillips C.A. (2001), “In vitro activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree), oil against bacterial and Candida spp. isolates from clinical specimens”, Br J Bio Med Sci, 58(3): 139-145.
- Basset I.B., Pannowitz D.L., Barnetson R.S. (1990), “A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne”, Med J Aust, 153(8), 455-458.
- Blackwell A.L. (1991), “Tea Tree Oil and anaerobic vaginosis”, Lancet, 337: 300.
- Buck D.S., Nidorf D.M., Addino J.G. (1994), “Comparison of two topical preparations for the treatment of onychomycosis: Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree), oil and clotrimazole”, J Fam Practice, 38(6): 601-605.
- Carson C.F., Riley T.V. (1998), “Antimicrobial activity of Tea tree oil”, Report RIRDC., Rural Industries ReseArch.
- Cox S.D., Mann C.M., Markham J.L., Bell H.C., Gustafson J.E., Warmington J.R., Wyllie S.G. (2000), “The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil)”, J Appl Microbiol., 88(1): 170-175.
- Cox S.D., Mann C.M., Markham J.L. (2001), “Interactions between components of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia”, J Appl Microbiol, 91(3): 492-497.
- Cox S.D., Gustafson J.E., Mann C.M., Markham J.L., Liew Y.C., Hartland R.P., Bell H.C., Warmington J.R., Wyllie S.G. (1998), “Tea tree causes K+ leakage and inhibits respiration in Escherichia coli”, Letters in Applied Microbiology, 26(5): 355-358.