Hello and welcome to my letter T post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I’ll discuss an oil I’ve had for some time, but which I didn’t really know much about: tea tree.
Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) is an essential oil derived from the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to southeast Queensland and the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. This tree, to be clear, is different from Camellia sinensis, the shrub that tea leaves come from.
The common name of “tea tree” is thought to have originated with Captain James Cook, who used to make an infusion with it that he used to drink in place of tea. Commercial use of the oil started in the 1920s with Arthur Penfold, an Australian chemist, seeing its potential as an antiseptic.
Tea tree essential oil has a thin consistency and a clear to pale yellow color. Its aroma is fresh yet camphoraceous. Most people don’t like the scent at first, but are able to develop a tolerance or even liking for the oil’s smell eventually.
In aromatherapy, tea tree essential oil has a wide range of uses. For example, when used topically on the skin, it is thought to help with acne and skin infections, as well as nail fungus. A small study found that indeed, tea tree oil is superior to placebo when treating acne. It can also be used in hair products to combat dandruff and is claimed to treat head lice in children. This, however, is not supported by evidence and is not recommended, as neither its safety nor efficacy are known.
Some authors say that you can safely use tea tree oil undiluted on the skin. However, I think you should always dilute essential oils into a carrier oil when using them on the skin. Indeed, on AromaWeb’s profile, the authors recommend a maximum usage rate of 15%. This does show to me that the oil is significantly more skin-safe than other oils.
That being said, tea tree oil is toxic when ingested. The list of possible effects of poisoning is long and serious. You should not use essential oils internally anyway, but especially not tea tree oil. Do not use it in or near the mouth, ever! Tea tree oil is also poisonous to dogs and cats, even when used externally at high doses. Keep your essential oils away from children and pets.