What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil (TTO), also called melaleuca oil, is made from the leaves of the tea tree plant (Melaleuca alternifolia), a member of the myrtle tree family, which is native to eastern Australia. The name was coined by British explorer Capt. James Cook in the 1770s when he saw native Australians brewing tea using the leaves from the tree. Later on, he gave it to his crew to help alleviate scurvy.
The tea tree plant is highly prized by primitive Australian communities for its unique healing ability. Numerous indigenous communities along the east coast of Australia have long historical use of tea tree as an antiseptic for skin conditions. They simply crushed the tea tree leaves and applied them to cuts, burns, and infections.
It was only in the 1920s, after Arthur Penfold, an Australian chemist, published research on tea tree oil’s antiseptic properties that this oil’s benefits became widely known. Through modern distillation methods, manufacturers are now able to produce tea tree oil with a clear to pale yellow color, and a fresh, camphor-like scent.
4 Tea Tree Oil Uses You Can Try at Home
Tea tree oil has been long valued for its antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. In the 1920s, it was used in dentistry and surgery as an antiseptic and was further used to help clean wounds and suppress infections during World War II. It was believed to be 13 times more effective than carbolic acid (an antimicrobial, anesthetic, and itch-relieving agent), as presented by Dr. Penfold in his 1923 study.
TTO has become more popular within the last few years and is now added to personal care and cosmetic products such as skin and nail creams, soaps, shampoos, and lotions. Tea tree oil has many uses around the home, too, including:
- Toothbrush cleaner — To disinfect your toothbrush, soak it in a glass of water with 10 drops of tea tree oil. Rinse after a few minutes.
- Mold treatment — Add two drops of tea tree oil to a cup of water, transfer to a spray bottle, shake well and then spray on moldy areas such as shower walls. Do not rinse, and wait for a few days until the scent fades. For an all-natural disinfectant, you can also sprinkle a few drops of tea tree oil along with baking soda on your bathroom or kitchen surfaces.
- Natural pest control — Tea tree oil’s terpinene-4-ol content has insecticidal effects that may naturally repel flies and other insects. I recommend making a natural insect repellent by mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with coconut oil.
- Laundry freshener — Adding a few drops of this oil during the wash cycle may help remove the musty scent in your laundry, especially the towels.
3 Proven Benefits of Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has gained a reputation for being a useful and beneficial herbal oil, from removing makeup to helping alleviate warts.
Numerous studies have been conducted to prove the potential benefits of tea tree oil for health conditions, such as:
- Minimizing acne — A comparative study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that TTO, similar to benzoyl peroxide, may help minimize acne lesions or hair follicles clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Although the onset of action in tea tree oil was slower, it caused fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide.
- Easing fungal infections — A study published in the Tropical Medicine and International Health Journal found that 2 percent butenafine hydrochloride and 5 percent TTO combined in cream may help mitigate toenail onychomycosis.
- Eliminating harmful bacteria — A 2008 study found that TTO, in the form of body wash, may help mitigate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a kind of bacteria that causes sepsis, pneumonia, and bloodstream and skin infections.