If you haven't jumped on the essential oil train yet, you may reconsider once you learn about the fascinating benefits of one of the most popular formulas: tea tree oil. With its natural ability to disinfect, fight acne, and provide a calming scent to your home, this multi-purpose superstar offers many benefits. Here, we explore everything that tea tree oil is good for, and what to consider before implementing it into your routine.
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil is an essential oil extracted from the leaves of the Australian-native Melaleuca Alternifolia tree through a steam distillation process, explains Julio Pina, the director of R&D Innovation at Innovation Labs (iLABS). "It's a colorless to pale yellow, clear, mobile liquid with a distinctive aromatic, earthy, pine odor," Pina says.
Today, tea tree oil is commonly found in personal care products and cosmetics, from moisturizers and toners to soaps, shampoos, and countless other goods. You can also purchase tea tree oil on its own, ideal for adding to a diffuser or mixed with other lotions or serums.
What is tea tree oil good for?
Because tea tree oil has been used and studied for decades, there's plenty of research to back up its benefits. Experts shed insight on all the uses and advantages of this potent, effective essential oil.
Tea tree oil can help fight acne.
If you wake up to find a brand new zit on your chin, you need a remedy to heal it fast. Rather than applying a dot of a drugstore acne fighter, consider using a natural solution like tea tree oil. As Pina explains, tea tree oil is beneficial for its antiseptic properties against acne. More specifically, tea tree is a strong fighter against the acne-related bacteria 'Propionibacterium.' In fact, one study compared tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide for their ability to treat breakouts and found that tea tree oil could reduce the inflammation of lesions with minor irritation. Also, Pina says it may even help to prevent and reduce acne scars for clearer skin.
"Try to look for acne formulations that address multiple causes of acne, such as oil control, antibacterial properties, redness reduction, and skin-soothing benefits; the formula should synergistically work together to deliver results," he says. "Utilizing tea tree oil in a formulation can address several acne concerns."
It can kill bacteria.
If you stroll down the cleaning aisle at your local grocery store, you may notice tea tree oil as an ingredient in some cleaners. Or you may also spot tea tree oil in the medicine aisle as part of a cough or cold syrup. This is because tea tree oil has been scientifically proven to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi, according to Renée Moran, DO, owner of Dr. Renée Moran Medical Aesthetics & RM Skincare. This makes it a natural hand sanitizer and disinfectant. "Because of its properties—antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antiviral—it's used universally," she says.
It's multi-purpose in the home.
Scent is powerful, and if you enjoy a home that smells good (and who doesn't), tea tree oil could be just what you need. This musky, pine-like scent provides soothing properties, all while naturally cleansing the air you breathe, explains Kelly Kussman, a fragrance expert and the founder of Cayla Gray. Kussman says the aroma of tea tree oil is fresh, timeless, delicate, and powerful. She recommends using it in a diffuser and as a way to repel mosquitoes, get rid of unpleasant odors, and revive linens and laundry.
It's a soothing nail treatment.
If you frequently get manicures and pedicures, consider giving your nails a small, healing break. During this pause in polish changes, you can use tea tree oil as a nail treatment to treat or prevent fungus, recommends Natalie Aguilar, aesthetician and dermatological nurse. After wiping off old nail polish with acetone, she suggests rubbing tea tree oil all over your bare nails and letting them breathe for a day or two before applying new polish. "It also feels nice to massage residual oil with a foot moisturizer after a long day," she says. "Wiping your bare toenails with tea tree oil can help prevent the yellowing that occurs with constant polishing."
It can help treat dandruff.
Although experts say it's tough to pinpoint one root cause of dandruff, since many factors can be at play, it is commonly thought to be connected to the presence of microorganisms—bacteria, fungus, yeast—that live on the scalp. And due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, tea tree oil has proven to be an promising dandruff kicker. One study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that using shampoo with 5 percent tea tree oil reduced dandruff in one group by 41 percent, compared to the other group who used a placebo. Participants who used the tea tree oil shampoo also self-reported improvements in the area affected, the severity of dandruff, scalp itchiness, greasiness, and scaliness.
What to know before using tea tree oil
Never ingest it.
No matter what an Instagrammer or TikToker says, you should never ingest tea tree oil—it can lead to serious symptoms. Also avoid direct contact with your eye area, Pina warns. Though some people swear by ingesting essential oils, it's considered a dangerous practice by most medical professionals. Pina also recommends checking online if a tea tree oil product has gone through the Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT), a clinical study performed on humans to determine if a product irritates.
Start small to avoid skin irritation.
If you have picky pores that tend to break out or become red when you use a new product, tread carefully with tea tree oil. Aguilar says to begin by applying a small dab behind your ear and wrist. Then, check these areas after 12 and 24 hours for any signs of irritation or allergies.
If you're using tea tree oil on its own, another option is to dilute the formula in a compatible vehicle, like caprylic/capric triglyceride or castor oil, Pina says. "The level of dilution will depend on your skin's tolerance levels, so start with as low as a 1 percent solution and increase to 5 percent."
Store it safely.
Store your solution in an amber glass bottle at room temperature, as tea tree oil is sensitive to air, light, and heat. "To be cautious and prolong the shelf life of your solution, including an antioxidant such as vitamin E, is recommended," Pina says. "Vitamin E will synergistically improve the benefit of tea tree oil while serving as a natural antioxidant and soothing agent."