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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index of Herbal Medicines, Supplements and Therapies
Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree Oil
The decision to use products containing or claiming to contain tea tree oil should be carefully considered.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Be aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and dietary supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products containing or claiming to contain tea tree oil. Decisions to use herbs or supplements should be carefully considered. Individuals using prescription drugs should discuss taking herbs or supplements with their pharmacists or health care providers before starting.
Scientists have studied tea tree oil for the following health problems:
A small amount of research in humans suggests that applying tea tree oil to acne lesions on the skin may help acne to clear up faster and may also cause fewer adverse effects (skin dryness, itching, stinging, or redness) than do other commonly prescribed acne drugs. Studies, however, have been small, low quality, and not fully convincing. Better studies may provide more definitive answers in the future.
Allergic skin reactions
Early small studies show that topical tea tree oil may reduce histamine-induced skin inflammation. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Tea tree oil is used in mouthwash for dental and oral health. However, there is currently not enough evidence in humans to recommend for or against this use of tea tree bad breath. Tea tree oil can be toxic when taken by mouth and therefore should not be swallowed.
Early research reports that the use of 5% tea tree oil shampoo on mild-to-moderate dandruff may be effective and well tolerated. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Eye disorders (ocular Demodex)
Early studies found that tea tree oil helped rid the eye area of this mite infection. Large, well-designed clinical trials are needed before a recommendation can be made.
Tea tree oil has been studied for treating a variety of infections. Early studies have found that tea tree oil may kill toenail fungus, fungal infections in the mouth and skin, athletes foot, some bacterial infections, vaginal yeast and bacterial infections, and herpes infections. However, there are no clear answers in these areas because studies have been small and low quality. More research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Early studies have found that tea tree alone or in combination with other agents may be effective against lice. However, large, well-designed trials are still needed before a recommendation can be made.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) chronic infection (colonization)
Laboratory studies report that tea tree oil has activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It has been proposed that using tea tree oil ointment in the nose plus a tea tree body wash may treat colonization by these bacteria. However, there is currently not enough information from studies in humans to make recommendations for or against this use of tea tree oil.
Early study suggests that tea tree oil may help gum inflammation and reduce plaque when used in mouthwash. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Tea tree oil has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially very serious and even life-threatening. You should consult a health care provider before using tea tree oil for any unproven use.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Immune system deficiencies
Insect bites and stings
| Leg ulcers|
Muscle and joint distress
Nose and throat irritation
Root canal treatment
Uncomplicated, localized dermatitis
People with allergies to tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) or plants of the Myrtle (Myrtaceae) family, balsam of Peru or benzoin may be more likely to have allergic reactions to tea tree oil. Numerous cases of allergic reactions have been reported. Allergy symptoms may include red, itching rashes, and skin swelling.
Few side effects (other than allergic reactions) have been reported from tea tree oil when it is used on the skin. Systemic hypersensitivity has also been reported. Numerous toxic effects have been reported when tea tree oil is taken by mouth.
Skin rashes, irritation, inflammation of the corners of the mouth, and eczema may occur in people with allergies to tea tree oil when it is used on the skin. Several reports of drowsiness, muscle weakness, muscle tremors, depression, loss of coordination, and difficulty walking have been reported in children when tea tree oil is taken by mouth. Other adverse effects due to oral use of tea tree oil include stomach discomfort and abnormal blood counts.
Pregnancy And Breast-Feeding
Dosing and safety of tea tree oil have not been studied thoroughly in pregnant or breast-feeding women, and its use is not recommended.
Interactions with drugs, supplements and other herbs have not been thoroughly studied. The interactions listed below have been reported in scientific publications. If you are taking prescription drugs, speak with your health care provider or pharmacist before using herbs or dietary supplements.
Interactions With Drugs
Tea tree oil may cause excessive drying of the skin when used with some other drugs that are used to treat acne, such as tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova) or isotretinoin (Accutane). Tea tree oil may interact with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, antifungals, and antineoplastics.
Interactions With Herbs And Dietary Supplements
Tea tree oil may interact with anti-inflammatories, antibacterials, antifungals, antineoplastics, and insect repellants.
The doses listed below are based on scientific research, publications or traditional use. Because most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly studied or monitored, safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients even within the same brand. Combination products often contain small amounts of each ingredient and may not be effective. Appropriate dosing should be discussed with a health care provider before starting therapy; always read the recommendations on a product's label. The dosing for unproven uses should be approached cautiously, because scientific information is limited in these areas.
Because tea tree oil is toxic when taken by mouth, it is only recommended to apply it on the skin.
Adults (Aged 18 Or Older)
Oil: Five percent gel applied to acne daily has been used for up to three months.
Shampoo: Five percent tea tree oil shampoo daily for at least 4 weeks has been used.
For genital herpes
Gel: Six percent tea tree oil gel has been used.
For MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus)
Ointment: Four percent tea tree oil nasal ointment and 5% tea tree oil body wash has been used.
For toenail fungus
Oil: One hundred percent tea tree oil has been applied to the affected area two times daily for six months.
Children (Younger Than 18)
Dosing and safety of tea tree oil have not been studied thoroughly in children, and its use is not recommended.
Although tea tree oil has been suggested for many conditions, it has not been proven for any health problem. It should be avoided in pregnant and breast-feeding women and in children. Because it is toxic if taken by mouth, tea tree oil should be used only on the skin. Side effects may include skin dryness or peeling, and allergies have been reported. Consult your health care provider immediately if you experience side effects.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Tea Tree Oil
Natural Standard has reviewed all of the currently available medical literature to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Arweiler NB, Donos N, Netuschil L, et al. Clinical and antibacterial effect of tea tree oil: a pilot study. Clin Oral Investig 2000;4(2):70-73.
- Bagg J, Jackson MS, Petrina Sweeney M, et al. Susceptibility to Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil of yeasts isolated from the mouths of patients with advanced cancer. Oral Oncol. 2006;42(5):487-92.
- Canyon DV, Speare R. A comparison of botanical and synthetic substances commonly used to prevent head lice (Pediculus humanus var. capitis) infestation. Int J Dermatol. 2007;46(4):422-6.
- Carson CF, Ashton L, Dry L, et al. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil gel (6%) for the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. J Antimicrob Chemother 2001;48(3):450-451.
- Carson CF, Riley TV. Safety, efficacy and provenance of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil. Contact Derm 2001;45(2):65-67.
- Crawford GH, Sciacca JR, James WD. Tea tree oil: cutaneous effects of the extracted oil of Melaleuca alternifolia. Dermatitis 2004;15(2):59-66.
- Dryden MS, Dailly S, Crouch M. A randomized, controlled trial of tea tree topical preparations versus a standard topical regimen for the clearance of MRSA colonization. J Hosp Infect 2004;56(4):283-286.
- Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, et al. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007;73(1):22-5.
- Hur MH, Park J, Maddock-Jennings W, et al. Reduction of mouth malodour and volatile sulphur compounds in intensive care patients using an essential oil mouthwash. Phytother Res. 2007;21(7):641-3.
- Martin KW, Ernst E. Herbal medicines for treatment of fungal infections: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Mycoses 2004;47(3-4):87-92.
- Messager S, Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. Effectiveness of hand-cleansing formulations containing tea tree oil assessed ex vivo on human skin and in vivo with volunteers using European standard EN 1499. J Hosp Infect 2005;59(3):220-228.
- Morris MC, Donoghue A, Markowitz JA, Osterhoudt KC. Ingestion of tea tree oil (Melaleuca oil) by a 4-year-old boy. Pediatr Emerg Care 2003;19(3):169-171.
- Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Chief Editors: Ulbricht C, Basch E, Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference - Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews, USA: Elsevier/Mosby, 2005.
- Soukoulis S, Hirsch R. The effects of a tea tree oil-containing gel on plaque and chronic gingivitis. Aust Dent J 2004;49(2):78-83.
Last updated September 05, 2008
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