In an age when consumers are increasingly looking back to the earth for their food, so, too, are they looking there for medicine. And leading the pack of natural skin care treatments on the rise? Tea tree oil. The tea tree, or melaleuca, originally found along Australia’s swampy coastline, has made a name for itself as a naturopathic treatment of skin ailments, from acne to fungus. Due to its natural antibiotic and anti-fungal properties, this essential oil is both showing up in pharmaceutical products worldwide and being used on its own as an at-home remedy.
While medical doctors may not prescribe tea tree oil directly, many acknowledge its benefits. Dermatologist Dr. Shauna Schneider has worked with an abundance of medications derived from plants that have medicinal qualities. Specifically in tea tree oil, she notes, “The antibiotic and anti-fungal properties give it an effectiveness that is close to some of the traditional prescription products that a dermatologist recommends.”
So, knowing that tea tree oil’s main properties lend themselves to a host of ailments, what can tea tree oil treat?
You may have noticed some of the best face cleansers include tea tree oil as its leading ingredient. According to the Therapeutic Research Center, the primary ingredient of tea tree oil is terpinen-4-ol. Studies have found that this compound fights pathogenic acne-causing bacteria all the while preserving the skin’s natural flora. In other words, when diluted, tea tree oil is safe enough for direct topical application and does its job without throwing off the skin’s natural ability to heal itself. Especially for those seeking natural acne remedies, tea tree oil is a safe and effective option.
“Tea tree oil may be effective in some of the mild inflammatory ailments that impact the skin,” Dr. Schneider says. According to the Therapeutic Research Center, tea tree oil can reduce both histamine-induced inflammation, such as that from a bee sting and general fluid retention (oedema) like that commonly seen in pregnant women.
Tea tree oil has shown effectiveness in inhibiting the growth of candida, a yeast which, upon overgrowth can cause infection such as candidiasis, typically found in the mouth, intestinal tract and genitals. While it is never recommended to ingest tea tree oil, some women have reported efficacy in treating vaginal yeast infections with a topical ointment comprised of aloe vera and tea tree oil.
While most assume dandruff is caused by a dry, itchy scalp, it can also be caused by an imbalance of yeast in the scalp. Tea tree oil’s ability to keep the fungus at bay lends itself to the curing of certain forms of dandruff.
Athlete’s Foot is a common condition that results from Trichophyton fungi thriving in moist places, like shoes, and feeding on dead skin. In addition to disinfecting the area, tea tree oil destroys fungi. For a foot fungus of any kind, a variety of tea tree oil treatments have been recorded as effective, including foot baths, rubs and compresses with varying levels of concentration.
One 2006 study notes that humans have not shown signs of building resistance to tea tree oil’s efficacy as they have to antibiotics, leading the medical community to believe that it may be key for the long-term treatment of skin ailments. Dr. Schneider recommends trying tea tree oil on a trial basis and seeing a dermatologist if the ailment persists.