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Tea tree oil

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil
Tea tree oil composition,
as per ISO 4730 (2004)[1]
Component Concentration
terpinen-4-ol 30–48%
γ-terpinene 10–28%
α-terpinene 5–13%
1,8-Cineole 0–15%
α-terpinolene 1.5–5%
α-terpineol 1.5–8%
α-pinene 1–6%
p-Cymene 0.5–8%
File:Tea tree plantation.JPG
Tea tree plantation, Coraki.

Tea tree oil (TTO), or melaleuca oil, is an essential oil with a fresh camphoraceous odor and a color that ranges from pale yellow to nearly colorless and clear.[2] It is taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to Southeast Queensland and the Northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. Tea tree oil should not be confused with tea oil, the sweet seasoning and cooking oil from pressed seeds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis (beverage tea) or the tea oil plant Camellia oleifera.

Tea tree oil is toxic when taken by mouth,[3][4] but is widely used in low concentrations in cosmetics and skin washes.[1] Tea tree oil has been claimed to be useful for treating a wide variety of medical conditions. It shows some promise as an antimicrobial. Tea tree oil may be effective in a variety of dermatologic conditions including dandruff, acne, lice, herpes, and other skin infections.[5]

History and extraction

The name tea tree is used for several plants, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, from the family Myrtaceae, related to the myrtle. The use of the name probably originated from Captain Cook's description of one of these shrubs, that he used to make an infusion, to drink in place of tea.

The commercial tea tree oil industry originated in the 1920s when Arthur Penfold, an Australian, investigated the business potential of a number of native extracted oils; he reported that tea tree oil had promise as it exhibited powerful antiseptic properties.[6]

Tea tree oil is extracted from Melaleuca alternifolia commercially.

Composition and characteristics

Tea tree oil is defined by the International Standard ISO 4730 ("Oil of Melaleuca, Terpinen-4-ol type"), which specifies levels of 15 components which are needed to define the oil as "tea tree oil." The oil has been described as having a fresh, camphor-like smell.[7]

Tea tree oil contains over 98 compounds, and has six chemotypes, which are oils with different chemical compositions. These include a terpinen-4-ol chemotype, a terpinolene chemotype, and four 1,8-cineole chemotypes. Terpinen-4-ol is the major TTO component responsible for antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.[8] A second component 1,8-cineole, is likely responsible for most allergies in TTO products. Adverse reactions to TTO diminish with minimization of 1,8-cineole content. In commercial production, TTO is prepared as a terpinen-4-ol chemotype.[5]

Medical use

In vitro studies show that tea tree oil is capable of killing Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a laboratory setting.[9] Studies have shown that it demonstrated similar rates of eradication when compared to treatment with mupirocin.[10] A 2005 review stated that there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use for this purpose in a clinical setting.[11] A 2008 article from the American Cancer Society says that studies have found some promise of a possible role for the topical application of tea tree oil as an antiseptic,[3] but that "despite years of use, available clinical evidence does not support the effectiveness of tea tree oil for treating skin problems and infections in humans".[3] A 2012 review by the NIH rates Tea tree oil as "possibly effective" for three applications, saying that "a 5% tea tree oil gel appears to be as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide" for treating mild to moderate acne, that "topical application of 100% tea tree oil solution, twice daily for six months, can cure fungal toenail infection in about 18% of people who try it," and that "a 10% tea tree oil cream works about as well as tolnaftate 1% cream" in treating symptoms of athlete's foot, although being less effective than clotrimazole or terbinafine.[12]

A 2006 review of the toxicity of tea tree oil concludes that it may be used externally in its diluted form by the majority of individuals without adverse effect (provided oxidization is avoided).[13] Tea Tree oil is poisonous when taken internally.[3] Tea tree oil may be effective in a variety of dermatologic conditions including dandruff, acne, lice, herpes, and other skin infections.[5] A 2012 review of head lice treatment recommended against the use of tea tree oil on children because it could cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, because of contraindications, and because of a lack of knowledge about the oil's safety and effectiveness.[14]


Tea tree oil is a commercially refined composition of several naturally occurring chemical compounds and is hazardous if misused. Available literature suggests that TTO can be used topically in diluted form by the majority of individuals without adverse effects. Topical application of TTO can cause adverse reactions at high concentration. Adverse effects including skin irritation, allergic contact dermatitis, systemic contact dermatitis, linear immunoglobulin A disease, erythema multiforme like reactions, and systemic hypersensitivity reactions.[5][15] The National Pediculosis Association in the United States states pure tea tree oil is contraindicated for use by pregnant women and children.[14][16]

Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed.[15] According to the American Cancer Society, ingesting tea tree oil has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. It should be kept away from pets and children.[3] Tea tree oil should not be used in or around the mouth.[4] There is at least one case of poisoning reported in medical literature.[17]

Exposure of tea tree oil to air and light results in oxidation of some of its components. Oxidized tea tree oil should not be used.[18] Some people experience allergic contact dermatitis as a reaction to dermal contact with tea tree oil. Allergic reactions may be due to the various oxidation products that are formed by exposure of the oil to light and/or air.[15][19]

In vitro testing of tea tree oil shows that it contains chemicals which are weakly estrogenic, causing particular concern for use with children. However in tests, the chemicals which show this effect failed to show absorption into the skin, and evidence of a hormonal effect is therefore considered implausible by an EU scientific committee.[1]

In dogs and cats, death[20][21] or transient signs of toxicity (lasting 2 to 3 days), such as depression, weakness, incoordination and muscle tremors, have been reported after external application at high doses.[22] In rats the LD50 is 1.9-2.4 ml/kg.[23]

Undiluted tea tree oil can cause some hearing loss when used in the ears of non-human animals; however, a 2% concentration has not been shown to have any lasting effect. It is not known whether the same is true for humans.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c [1] SCCP/1155/08 Scientific Committee on Consumer Products SCCP OPINION ON Tea tree oil- European Union Commission Health and Consumer Union protection director general- adopted 18th plenary of 16 December 2008
  2. ^ [unreliable source?]"Directory of Essential Oils for Aromatherapy: Tea-Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)". Holistics Online. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Tea Tree Oil". American Cancer Society. November 2008. Retrieved September 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Tea Tree Oil". National Capital Poison Center. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Pazyar, N; Yaghoobi, R; Bagherani, N; Kazerouni, A (Jul 2013). "A review of applications of tea tree oil in dermatology.". International Journal of Dermatology 52 (7): 784–90. PMID 22998411. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2012.05654.x. 
  6. ^ Carson, C. F.; Hammer, K. A.; Riley, T. V. (2006). "Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties". Clinical Microbiology Reviews 19 (1): 50–62. PMC 1360273. PMID 16418522. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006. 
  7. ^ Billee Sharp (18 September 2013). Lemons and Lavender: The Eco Guide to Better Homekeeping. Cleis Press. pp. 43–. ISBN 978-1-936740-11-6. 
  8. ^ Hart, P.H.; Brand, C.; Carson, C.F.; Riley, T.V.; Prager, R.H.; Finlay-Jones, J.J. (2000). "Terpinen-4-ol, the main component of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil), suppresses inflammatory mediator production by activated human monocytes.". Inflammation Research 49 (11): 619–26. PMID 11131302. doi:10.1007/s000110050639. 
  9. ^ Flaxman, D (March 2005). "Is tea tree oil effective at eradicating MRSA colonization? A review.". Br J Community Nurs. 10(3):123-6. Review. PMID 15824699. 
  10. ^ Bradley, Suzanne F (January 2011). "MRSA colonisation (eradicating colonisation in people without active/invasive infection)". Clinical Evidence 2011. PMID 21477403. 
  11. ^ Flaxman, D; Griffiths, P (2005). "Is tea tree oil effective at eradicating MRSA colonization? A review". British journal of community nursing 10 (3): 123–6. PMID 15824699. 
  12. ^ "Tea tree oil". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  13. ^ Hammer, KA; Carson, CF; Riley, TV; Nielsen, JB (May 2006). "A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil.". Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association 44 (5): 616–25. PMID 16243420. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2005.09.001. 
  14. ^ a b Eisenhower, Christine; Farrington, Elizabeth Anne (2012). "Advancements in the Treatment of Head Lice in Pediatrics". Journal of Pediatric Health Care 26 (6): 451–61; quiz 462–4. PMID 23099312. doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2012.05.004. 
  15. ^ a b c Hammer, K; Carson, C; Riley, T; Nielsen, J (2006). "A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil". Food and Chemical Toxicology 44 (5): 616–25. PMID 16243420. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2005.09.001. 
  16. ^ "What the NPA Is Saying About Mayonnaise, Vaseline and Tea Tree Oil". National Pediculosis Association. 4 October 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  17. ^ "Ingestion of tea tree oil (Melaleucaoil) by a 4‐year‐old boy". 
  18. ^ "THE EFFECTIVENESS AND SAFETY OF AUSTRALIAN TEA TREE OIL". Australian Government - Rural Industries and Development Corporation. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  19. ^ Aberer, W (January 2008). "Contact allergy and medicinal herbs". Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft = Journal of the German Society of Dermatology : JDDG 6 (1): 15–24. PMID 17919303. doi:10.1111/j.1610-0387.2007.06425.x. 
  20. ^ "Tea Tree Oil and Dogs, Tea Tree Oil and Cats". Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Tea Tree Oil Toxicity". Veterinarywatch. Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  22. ^ Villar, D; Knight, MJ; Hansen, SR; Buck, WB (April 1994). "Toxicity of melaleuca oil and related essential oils applied topically on dogs and cats". Veterinary and human toxicology 36 (2): 139–42. PMID 8197716. 
  23. ^ [2] Clinical Microbiological Reviews: Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties-C. F. Carson,1 K. A. Hammer,1 and T. V. Riley
  24. ^ "Tea tree oil". Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine from the National Institutes of Health. 27 July 2012. 

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