Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a plant extract from Australia that's been used as a topical treatment for centuries.
Products containing tea tree oil are registered with the medicines regulator MHRA as traditional herbal remedies for the relief of symptoms of minor skin conditions, such as spots, pimples and blemishes.
Tea tree oil uses
Tea tree oil has been used traditionally as a topical antiseptic and antifungal treatment. One single blind, randomised trial, involving 124 patients with acne found that tea tree oil worked as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide in controlling symptoms.
Some research suggests it may also be effective with toenail fungus and athlete's foot, but more research is needed. Studies of tea tree oil for other conditions - like gum disease, vaginal infections and dandruff - have been inconclusive.
Laboratory studies have also found that tea tree oil may be effective against certain viruses, as well as head lice. Tea tree oil has also been proposed as a topical treatment for herpes. Laboratory studies have shown that tea tree oil was effective against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) - a type of staph infection that's resistant to many antibiotics. While these studies are promising, more research needs to be done.
Tea tree oil dose and instructions for use
Tea tree oil is only a topical treatment - it should never be taken by mouth.
Because tea tree oil is an unproven treatment, there is no established dose. The concentrations of tea tree oil used in studies have varied depending on the medical condition. For instance, a 5% tea tree oil gel might be used for acne, while a 10% or higher tea tree oil cream might be used for athlete's foot. A 100% tea tree oil solution has been used with toenail fungus. If you use tea tree oil, follow the instructions on the label or get advice from your GP, pharmacist or herbal specialist.
Tea tree oil food sources
There are no natural food sources of tea tree oil. Because of its toxicity, it should never be swallowed.
Tea tree oil supplement information
Tea tree oil is sold as solutions, creams, gels, ointments, toothpaste and mouthwash. Like any supplement, keep tea tree oil supplements in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight.
Tea tree oil warnings
- Risks. Topical tea tree oil has been reported to cause allergic reactions that can be severe. Tea tree oil may also cause redness, itching and blistering. It may aggravate burns and skin conditions like eczema. Using large quantities of tea tree oil on the skin could cause severe side effects.
- For topical use only. Tea tree oil must never be used in the eyes or swallowed. Even in small amounts, swallowing tea tree oil could potentially cause severe reactions, including severe rash, nausea, confusion and coma.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, tea tree oil is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.