Branch Out with Tea Tree Oil

How Australian tea tree oil supports healthy skin and hair.

Written By:
Kimberly Williams
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Australia is synonymous with boomerangs, crocodiles and kangaroos. Tea tree oil (TTO) is another offering that is associated with this country, as Australians have used TTO for centuries. Today, TTO is used for everything from dandruff care to wound care.

Less Toil with Tea Tree Oil
What exactly is TTO and how is it produced? Beneficial oil is extracted from this Australian tree’s leaves and terminal branches via steam distillation. After TTO is condensed, the oil is separated from the aqueous distillate (1). Though other methods have been considered for extracting TTO, none have been used on a commercial level.

Many natural personal care product makers use tea tree oil as a key ingredient, in part because it is so effective at supporting healthy skin and hair.

For instance, acne, an inflammatory condition of the sebaceous glands, can be better controlled with the use of TTO. A 2007 study published by Indian researchers demonstrated TTO’s effectiveness at fighting acne (2). During this randomized double-blind clinical trial, 60 participants with mild to moderate acne were separated into two groups and used either a 5% TTO gel or a placebo for 45 days. Researchers then gauged participants’ acne severity by using a standardized index and also counting each person’s pimples. As the trial concluded, clinicians found that TTO gel has more effective properties than the placebo because it reduced the amount of acne lesions along with their severity (2).

Everyone wants lustrous dandruff-free hair, and TTO may help with this embarrassing scalp condition. A study suggests that a 5% TTO shampoo for mild to moderate dandruff may contribute to scalp health (1). The study also showed that TTO was well tolerated by most individuals.

Those who are prone to ear aches as a result of ear infection, as well as those with sinus infections may find relief from using TTO. This essential oil may thwart bacteria, which may be the cause of infection, thereby relieving symptoms (3). It should be noted that a TTO solution should only be applied in diluted form to the outer ear. For instance, one might consider using an olive oil and tea tree oil combination when applying diluted tea tree oil to the outer ear canal (4). Applying undiluted TTO directly to the inner ear canal can compromise ear health (4). So, one should check with a physician before using it for this purpose.

For those with a stuffy nose, TTO may be added to a vaporizer (5). Experts also believe that TTO’s anti-inflammatory properties can help with histamine-induced inflammation which may be caused by various allergies (6).

Proper wound care is imperative when we cut or scrape ourselves. TTO is an antiseptic and can stop germs from hindering the healing process. To that end, TTO has been used for insect bites, and for minor burns and cuts, to name a few (5). Again, one should dilute TTO before applying to the skin to avoid irritation.

As briefly mentioned, TTO is an antifungal, too, especially with regard to dermatophytoses (ringworm) and vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection). One study published in the Journal of Antimocrobial Chemotherapy further explored TTO’s effects on dermatophytes and various filamentous fungi (7). The study was conducted using time-kill methods, in vitro susceptibility assays and assays comparing the susceptibility of germinated and non-germinated conidia to TTO. Although further evidence is needed, data suggest that TTO possesses both fungicidal and inhibitory functionalities (7). And, the National Institute of Health suggests TTO may be effective for athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections. Regarding the latter, studies suggest TTO benefited those with infections as well as using a commercial pharmaceutical cream containing 1% clotrimazole (8).

Proper TTO Use
TTO never should be taken internally, as it can cause stomach discomfort and other problems. Though TTO is beneficial for skin health, it should only be applied to the skin in a diluted form such as by using a cotton swab moistened with water; but remember, never directly in the ear canal (5). Because of the possibility of one’s skin becoming irritated from TTO use, it’s a good practice to complete a spot test before using TTO in greater amounts on the body.

TTO is available in numerous natural skincare products such as shampoo, skin cleansers, lotions and ointments. And, it’s commonplace to see TTO sold as a single-ingredient product in dark glass bottles, as this prevents photodegradation (5). WF

References
1. National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties,” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/, accessed Aug.t 4, 2011.
2. S. Enshaieh, et al., The Efficacy of 5% Topical Tea Tree Oil Gel in Mild to Moderate Acne Vulgaris: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study,” Ind. J. Dermatol. Venereol. Leprol. 73, 22–25 (2007).
3. Livestrong.com, “What Essential Oils Are Good for Sinuses & Ear Aches?” www.livestrong.com/article/186116-what-essential-oils-are-good-for-sinuses-ear-aches, Aug. 8, 2011.
4. Livestrong.com, “Tea Tree Oil for Colds,” www.livestrong.com/article/384760-tea-tree-oil-for-colds, Aug. 4, 2011.
5. American Cancer Society, “Tea Tree Oil,” www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/tea-tree-oil, Aug. 10, 2011.
6. E. Whitmore, “How to Improve Skin with Tea Tree Oil,” http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/problems/treating/improve-skin-with-tea-tree-oil1.htm, Aug. 8, 2011.
7. K.A. Hammer, et al., “In Vitro Activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil Against Dermatophytes and Other Filamentous Fungi,” http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/2/195.full.pdf, August 4, 2011.
8. National Institute of Health, “Tea Tree Oil,” www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/113.html, accessed Aug. 26, 2011.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2011