The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine compiles a set of information about tea tree oil, which comes from leaves of the tea tree and is applied to the skin.
Find out what scientific research has discovered about this wonder oil, and some possible side effects and cautions as stated by NCCAM.
What the Science Says
- A 2004 NCCAM-funded review examined the ability of tea tree oil to kill bacteria and found that in vitro (in a test tube) studies may provide some preliminary evidence for the use of tea tree oil as an adjunctive (additional) treatment for wounds involving difficult-to-treat bacterial infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). However, large, well-designed clinical trials on tea tree oil are lacking, and it remains unclear whether tea tree oil is effective against these emerging resistant strains of bacteria in people.
- Some smaller-scale clinical studies have had positive results for treating athlete's foot, nail fungus, dandruff, and acne, but more large-scale, well-designed clinical studies are needed.
- Tea tree oil may be effective for acne. One clinical trial compared a 5 percent tea tree oil gel to a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide product for the treatment of acne and found that the benzoyl peroxide worked slightly better but that the tea tree oil had fewer side effects.
Side Effects and Cautions
- Tea tree oil contains varying amounts of 1,8-cineole, a skin irritant. Products with high amounts of this compound may cause skin irritation or contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction, in some individuals. Oxidized tea tree oil (oil that has been exposed to air) may trigger allergies more than fresh tea tree oil.
- Tea tree oil should not be swallowed. Poisonings, mainly in children, have caused drowsiness, disorientation, rash, and ataxia-a loss of muscle control in the arms and legs causing a lack of balance and coordination. One patient went into a coma after drinking half a cup of tea tree oil.
- Topical use of diluted tea tree oil is generally considered safe for most adults. However, one case study did report a young boy who had developed breast growth after using a styling gel and shampoo that contained both lavender oil and tea tree oil.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.