Essential Oils – Digging Deeper Tea Tree Oil

In our last post, we looked at lavender essential oil. There are many other popular essential oils on the market. This post looks at one of the most common essential oil used and studied: Tea Tree Oil.

What is an essential oil?

Essential oils are compounds extracted from various plant parts, including flowers, leaves, bark, seeds, roots, twigs, and more.
 
Manufacturers typically use essential oils as flavor or aroma enhancers in cosmetics, food additives, soaps, plastic resins, perfumes, and more.

In the case of tea tree oil, it's more commonly used topically on the skin and can contain numerous types of oil.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil, also known as "melaleuca oil" or "ti tree oil," has been used for more than 100 years (1,2).Subscribe for weekly updates_ go.msu.edu_cris-connect Manufacturers produce tea tree oil via a steam distillation technique on the Melaleuca alternifolia (Myrtaceae) tree native to Australia (1,2). 

What do proponents of tea tree oil use claim it does?

People claim tea tree oil possesses anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties. Due to these properties, some people believe tea tree oil can treat skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, dandruff, and more. However, scientific research hasn't fully substantiated many of these claims (1,2). 

Are any of the claims backed by science?

While research is underway, it’s important to note that tea tree essential oil is not an approved medication in the U.S. to treat any medical ailments.

Some studies show that tea tree oil does possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties in specific quantities, at specific purity levels, and/or combined with particular pharmaceuticals (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9).
 
While these studies are promising, it's important to keep in mind that tea tree oil is not a broad-spectrum antimicrobial or antifungal agent, meaning it can only kill distinct types of bacteria and fungi when used in specific settings. Not all tea tree oil is the same composition, which can dramatically impact its effectiveness (1,2). 

It's best to contact a trained medical professional before using tea tree oil, or any essential oil, topically for any of the anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, or antifungal properties.

Feasibility research suggests that tea tree oil could be an effective bacteria-fighting ingredient in food packaging in the future (1,2). 

Is tea tree essential oil regulated?

Essential oil manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products' safety and are required to provide accurate ingredient information. (1,2).
 
However, if manufacturers make claims that are gravely misleading, disingenuous, or otherwise cause harm, the manufacturers violate the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) laws that prohibit false advertising, and that can lead to serious legal repercussions. 

So, suppose claims are gravely misleading, disingenuous, or otherwise cause harm. In that case, the manufacturers violate the FTC's policies. For example, if a company makes medical claims, saying, "tea tree essential oil will cure acne," it can face legal repercussions from both the FTC and the FDA because it's claiming that tea tree oil is a pharmaceutical medication.

Are tea tree essential oils safe?

The ingredients in tea tree essential oils and products that contain tea tree oils can vary greatly. This variation can impact the quality of the oil and how it works. 
Tea tree oil can be toxic when consumed in significant quantities, so you should not ingest tea tree essential oil.

If you're allergic to tea tree, you should avoid products that contain tea tree oil. 

The good news.

Continued innovative research by scientists is finding more uses for tea tree oil. As we continue to research tea tree oil, we will have a greater understanding of how best to incorporate this ingredient into new products.

 

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