TEA TREE OIL (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Latin: Melaleuca alternifolia                  Melaleuca

WHAT IT DOES: Tea tree oil is sweet and pungent in taste, with a penetrating and drying action.  It is an effective topical anti-bacterial & anti-fungal.

RATING: Silver

SAFETY ISSUES: For external use only.  Poisonous when taken internally.  Strictly avoid contact with eyes or mucous membranes.  Dilute with olive or other oil if skin irritation occurs.

• Standardized oil (full-strength or diluted): apply directly to the affected skin

Tea tree oil derives from the tea tree, native to New South Wales, Australia.  In 1930, a surgeon from Sydney reported that teatree oil dissolved pus, leaving surgical wounds clean without any apparent damage to the tissues.  During World War II it was issued to soldiers for use as a topical disinfectant (reported in Murray, 1991).
Tea tree oil can be applied externally to treat fungal infections, athlete’s foot and abscesses.  It is also used for bruises and insect bites.  It has several qualities that make it more valuable than other anti-microbial oils.  It has a complex chemical structure, making it difficult for microorganisms to develop immunity against it.  It penetrates deeply into the tissue, and does not seem to injure healthy tissue at therapeutic dosage.

Olive oil has a soothing demulcent quality that neutralizes the drying effect of teatree oil.  The old adage for skin conditions is to dry if moist, and moisten if dry.  With moist conditions, use teatree by itself, and for dry conditions, mix it with olive oil.  The best way to get rid of toenail fungus is to mix teatree oil with oregano oil, thyme oil or pure neem leaf, and make a mixture of 5% oils and 95% vinegar. The vinegar also kills fungus, and makes the nail more permeable. Apply twice daily to affected nails for several months. While it may or may not completely kill the fungus, it will certainly slow it down and protect healthy nails.

Research Highlights

• The antiseptic action of tea tree oil is partially due to its ability to activate immune system white blood cells (Budhiraja et al., 1999).

• In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study, patients with a six- to 36-month history of toenail fungal infections were treated with a cream containing 2% butenafine hydrochloride and 5% tea tree oil.  After 16 weeks, 80% of the test group patients (those who used the cream) were cured.  None of the patients in the placebo group were cured.  In a follow-up, none of the test group patients had experienced any relapse, and none of the placebo patients had improved (Syed et al., 1999).

• In another double-blind study, 60% of patients with toenail fungus who used 100% teatree oil had partial or full resolution (Buck et al., 1994).

• In tests of intra-vaginal teatree oil suppository products used to treat yeast infections, all three products exhibited sufficient fungicidal action to be effective (Hammer et al., 1998).

• Patch tests on 28 patients for sensitivity to tea tree oil resulted in three (about 11%) strong reactions (Rubel et al., 1998), indicating a need for caution when first applying the oil.

• Tea tree oil demonstrated effective activity against Candida albicans, Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton tonsurans, Aspergillus niger, Penicillium species, Epidermophyton floccosum, and Microsporum gypsum.(Concha et al., 1998).

• A study at an inner city HIV/AIDS clinic evaluated the effectiveness of oral teatree oil solution on AIDS patients with persistent mouth and throat yeast infections resistant to fluconazole (an anti-fungal agent).  After four weeks, eight of twelve patients demonstrated a positive response, and two were cured (Jandourek et al., 1998).

• One very interesting study tested teatree oil against resident skin flora (the bacteria that are normally present on your skin), and transient flora (bacteria likely to cause disease).  The results indicated that “tea tree oil may be useful in removing transient skin flora while suppressing but maintaining resident flora” (Hammer et al., 1996).

• A single-blind randomized trial tested a 5% tea tree oil gel on 124 patients with mild to moderate acne.  Results showed a significant reduction in the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions with fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide lotion (Bassett et al., 1990).