Tea Tree Essential Oil is distilled from the bark of the Tea Tree (Melaleuca spp), which is native to Australia. There are several species of tea tree, but most essential oil is made from the bark of the Narrow-Leaved Paperbark Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). Preparations of the bark of this tree have been an important part of Aboriginal medicine for thousands of years.
Tea Tree Essential Oil is used for a wide variety of ailments and it has been shown to have antimicrobial properties. Tea Tree Essential Oil is commonly used as a topical Naturopathic treatment for several kinds of skin infections, including acne. Concentrated Tea Tree Essential Oil is mildly toxic however, and care should be taken to avoid ingestion when applying to acne lesions.
Many people have reported that topical applications of Tea Tree Essential Oil helped to improve their acne symptoms. However, there are only a few real clinical studies about the efficacy of Tea Tree Essential Oil for the treatment of acne. One commonly-cited study found that a topical 5% Tea Tree Oil solution was approximately as effective as topical Benzoyl Peroxide. Basically, the Tea Tree Essential Oil was mildly helpful but did not significantly improve acne symptoms for most patients in the study. On the plus side, Topical Tea Tree Essential Oil had fewer side effects (eg. dry skin, itching, redness) than Benzoyl Peroxide.
The major limitation of Topical Tea Tree Essential Oil is the same as for many other topical acne treatments – the antibacterial compounds do not effectively penetrate the skin and reach the site of infection. This limitation means that Tea Tree Essential Oil (and most other topical treatments) are often ineffective treatments for moderate to severe acne symptoms (Acne Types: 3-4).
The successful use of Tea Tree extracts in indigenous medicine has inspired chemists, biologists and doctors to investigate the efficacy of Tea Tree Essential Oil for the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Several research studies have shown that Tea Tree Essential Oil is toxic to many types of bacteria, including the acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes bacterium. Tea tree oil is commonly used in soaps, lotions and wound dressings in both Naturopathic and modern medical applications.
Some people have reported allergic reactions to topical applications of Tea Tree Essential Oil. This is not unusual, many other essential oils can cause allergic reactions for some patients. Fortunately, a study of over 700 people showed that less than 1% of people had significant skin irritation following the use of a 5% Tea Tree Oil solution. Higher concentrations of Tea Tree Essential Oil are known to cause more frequent and severe side effects. Most naturopathic practitioners recommend diluting Tea Tree Essential Oil to 25% or less, before use.
The bark of the Tea Tree peels away in paper like sheets that can be used for bandages and sleeping mats. In addition, the bark is rich in volatile molecules, which are both pungent and antimicrobial. Numerous studies have that the compounds in Tea Tree Essential Oil are toxic to a wide range of bacteria and fungi. These antibacterial and antifungal compounds originally evolved to protect the Tea Tree from infection and disease. Tea Trees grow in moist and swampy regions in the northern part of Australia, an area where there are a lot of bacterial and fungal plant pathogens.
Standard Tea Tree Essential Oil is a blend of almost 100 different molecules, although most of these are only present in very small quantities. Most of the active compounds in Tea Tree Essential Oil are derivatives of terpene. The major components of tea tree oil are terpinen-4-ol, gamma-terpinene and alpha-terpinene. Terpinen-4-ol is the most well studied of these molecules, and research has shown that it has potent antibacterial properties. Other secondary compounds in tea tree oil are suspected to act synergistically with terpinen-4-0l, to kill bacteria.
Not all Tea Tree Essential Oil is the same because of differences in the source and how it is processed. However, Tea Tree Essential Oil is one of the most popular essential oils and there are international standards for the types of mixtures that can be marketed and sold as Tea Tree Essential Oil.