Tea Tree Oil

Scientific names: Melaleuca alternifolia

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Little exposure or very minor concerns.

What is Tea Tree Oil?

There are many plants known as tea trees, but the species Melaleuca alternifolia is the source of tea tree essential oil. Native to Australia, the tea tree is an evergreen shrub found in coastal areas. Its narrow needle-like leaves release a distinctive aroma when crushed. The fruits grow in clusters, and its white flowers bloom in the summer.

Slideshow: Flashback: FDA Drug Approvals 2013

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

The indigenous people of Australia have used tea tree oil from crushed leaves as a traditional remedy for coughs and colds, as well as to treat wounds and skin conditions. Tea tree oil was first used in surgery and dentistry in the mid-1920s. Its healing properties were also used during World War II for skin injuries to those working in munition factories. Tea tree oil's popularity has resurfaced within the last few years with help from promotional campaigns, and it is an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, and lotions.

General uses

Despite many commercial preparations promoted for antifungal use, sound clinical trials are limited. Trials have been conducted in conditions including nail infections, athlete's foot, fungal skin infections, acne, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Case reports exist for use in other conditions.

What is the recommended dosage?

Acne: 5% tea tree oil gel applied for 20 minutes twice daily, then washed off. Nail fungal infections: 100% tea tree oil applied for 6 months. Athelete's foot: 25% to 50% tea tree oil for 4 weeks. Decolonization of MRSA: Tea tree oil as a nasal cream (4% to 10%) applied 3 times a day for 5 days or 5% body wash for 5 days.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Tea tree oil should not be swallowed.

Pregnancy/nursing

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and breast-feeding is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

Case reports exist of skin irritation associated with tea tree oil use.

Toxicities

Tea tree oil is poisonous when swallowed. Some cases of accidental and intentional poisoning exist; however, no deaths have been reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers through 2006. Tea tree oil does not appear to cause mutations; however, chemical constituents have been shown to be toxic to cells and embryos.

References

  1. Tea Tree Oil. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; September 2010.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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