What is tea tree oil?
First of all, tea tree oil has nothing to do with the tea you drink. It comes from the tea tree, a tree with strong-scented, sticky leaves that grows in Australia. Oil made from these leaves has germ-fighting powers that were first discovered by aborigines, the native people of Australia. Aborigines have long used tea tree oil to treat skin infections—and modern science has shown that it just may work. back to top
What is it used for?
Tea tree oil contains ingredients that combat both bacteria
. Because of this, some people use it to treat a variety of minor (but annoying) infections, from acne
to toenail fungus and athlete's foot. It may also help heal insect stings
and bites. All in all, it can be a handy remedy to have around. back to top
What's the best form to use?
Now that people are catching on to tea tree oil's benefits, you'll notice that a number of commercial shampoos, soaps, and skin-care products boast it as an ingredient. But it's hard to know how much tea tree oil these products actually contain. In some cases, they may not have enough to offer real health benefits.
Here are two alternatives:
How do I use it?
- Pure tea tree oil. Many health-food stores sell a full-strength form of this herb. Buying pure tea tree oil ensures that you're getting 100 percent of its germ-fighting powers. It has a strong antiseptic scent, not unlike that of Pine Sol.
- Tea tree oil gel. Because tea tree oil can clog pores, Australian manufacturers have come up with a gel-based product that is better than the straight oil for treating acne. The gel usually contains 5% tea tree oil. (Don't confuse this herbal gel with body-wash gels, which are usually not good to use on your face.) It's a bit hard to find tea tree oil gel in this country, but not impossible. If you're interested, try asking for it at health-food stores or searching the Internet. back to top
Before you use pure tea tree oil, it's important that you first make sure you're not allergic to it. Allergies are rare, but they do happen. The best way to find out is by doing an "arm test." Moisten a cotton swab with pure tea tree oil and dab a small amount onto your inner arm. If you're allergic, you'll know it: your arm will soon become red or irritated. If this is the case, pure tea tree oil is not for you. If you don't have an allergic reaction, you can go on to use tea tree oil as described below.
- For acne: Many people find that pure tea tree oil is too strong to use directly on blemishes. It's better to use a tea tree oil gel or to dilute pure tea tree oil with grape seed oil, using one part tea tree to one part grape seed oil. You can gently rub the gel or diluted tea tree oil on zits two or three times a day. It will fight infection and may speed healing.
- For dandruff: Many commercial hair products use tea tree oil. To be sure that they're getting the real stuff, some people add 10 to 20 drops of pure tea tree oil to a regular-sized bottle of their favorite shampoo. Tea tree oil may cause your scalp to tingle, an indication that it's working to help fight the flakes.
- For insect stings and bites: Dab some pure tea tree oil on the bite or sting to ward off infection and promote healing. You may want to dilute it with water first—it's very potent!
- For fingernail or toenail fungus: Simply paint pure tea tree oil on the affected nails two or three times a day and let its antifungal powers go to work. back to top
Never swallow tea tree oil. It can be highly toxic if taken internally. Keep pure tea tree oil out of the reach of small children. If someone swallows pure tea tree oil accidentally, call a health care provider or a poison-control center. Be sure to test for allergy to pure tea tree oil before using it on the surface of your body for the first time. Be aware that tea tree oil has a powerful, if clean, scent. Be sure to tell your doctor or health professional if you are using any herb or supplement.
The use of herbs is not recommended during pregnancy and breast-feeding except under the guidance of a health professional. back to top