Tea Tree Oil
The leaves of tea tree or Melaleuca Alternifolia when crushed release essential oils of varying amounts and constituents. Extensively used in aromatherapy, the oil is so potent that it can be diluted up to many times its volume and yet retain the same effectiveness. Although the benefits of tea tree oil are numerous, for beauty treatments it has been found effective in skin and hair care.
Tea tree oil is extracted by steam distillation from the leaves of the Malaleuca alternifolia plant. This plant is a member of the Myrtaceae family – all of which are aromatic and many of which are called tea trees. However, medicinally beneficially tea tree oil is only made from Malaleuca alternifolia. This paper bark is native to the Northern New South Wales region of Australia. The oil ranges from a clear to pale golden colour.
 Where does the tea tree plant grow?
This plant flourishes in swampy, coastal conditions and follows water-courses. Since the discovery of the beneficial uses of tea tree oil, the cultivation of tea tree oil has been given a boost and today it is also grown in California as well as parts of Asia. Since the plant can be readily cultivated from seeds, many people are choosing to grow the plant in their greenhouses and gardens.
 What are the beneficial components of tea tree oil?
There are a number of components in tea tree oil (over 100) that give it its healing properties. However, it is terpinen-4-oil that is believed to give tea tree oil its medicinal value.
 Properties of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is reputed to have the following properties:
- Antiseptic/antibacterial properties: The antiseptic properties of tea tree oil have been anecdotally popular for a relatively long period of time; recent studies show that tea tree oil has been effective in the cure of skin ailments. Traditionally tea tree oil was used on cuts and abrasions by native Australians by mashing up the leaves and using as a mudpack.
In fact, tea tree oil has been shown to be effective in the treatment of moderate acne with fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide. Tea tree oil has become a popular ingredient in creams, lotions, soaps, face and body washes for skin care.
- Antifungal properties: Tea tree oil is known to be an effective antifungal treatment. It is successful in the treatment of toenail fungal infections and athletes foot. It is also a popular remedy for bug bites and bee stings as well and has also been known to soothe sunburn.
- Anti Dandruff remedy: 5% Tea tree oil based shampoos have shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of moderate cases of Dandruff. It is also reported to help fight head lice.
- Anti inflammatory: Tea tree oil is reputed to help alleviate the symptomatic pain of sprains, arthritis and bunions. It is recommended that a few drops of tea tree be diluted in almond oil and massaged into the affected area.
- As an expectorant: Tea tree oil has a camphoraceous odour and when inhaled, tea tree oil is said to act as an expectorant and helps throat and chest infections. Inhaling steaming hot water with a few drops of tea tree oil is known to be a soothing remedy for coughs and stuffy noses.
- Pet care: Tea tree oil is also being used to treat pets with skin infections, parasites, rashes and fleas.
 Emerging benefits of tea tree oil
Though tea tree oil has been used as a remedy for a variety of conditions, there is limited scientific research to definitively prove its effectiveness. Scientists are continuing to research the complete medical capabilities of tea tree oil.
However aborigines in Australia have used tea tree oil leaves for coughs, colds, cuts and sores. Laboratory studies show that tea tree oil “has activity against Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). MRSA is also called the “hospital superbug” which attacks patients with wounds and depressed immune systems. MRSA cannot be treated with conventional antibiotics with the exception of Vancomycin. A recent study at East London University shows tea tree oil as “powerful alternative” to Vancomycin. Further studies on real patients are currently being undertaken as this is one of the most promising uses of tea tree oil.
 Cause of concern
- One study shows that tea tree oil may alter hormone levels. There have been three case reports of topical tea tree oil products causing unexplained breast enlargement in boys. People with hormone-sensitive cancers or pregnant or nursing women should avoid tea tree oil.
- Undiluted tea tree oil may cause skin irritation, redness, blistering, and itching.
- Tea tree oil should not be taken internally, even in small quantities. It can cause impaired immune function, diarrhea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression
- The tea tree oil in commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes is generally considered to be acceptable because it is not swallowed. Avoid homemade tea tree oil mouthwashes.
- Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of overdose: excessive drowsiness, sleepiness, poor coordination, diarrhea, vomiting.
- Don't use tea tree oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Keep tea tree oil out of the reach of children and pets.
 Safety Concerns
As with most products, there are some safety precautions that need to be taken when using tea tree oil based products. Tea tree oil is not meant to be ingested; it is for external use only. There also have been a few incidents of allergic reactions to the external use of tea tree oil. It is recommended that pure tea tree oil is not used undiluted on the skin – instead products containing tea tree oil are a safer remedy.
 Tea tree oil and products
- Consumer products -- Tea tree oil is used in many consumer products like shampoos, hair conditioners, soaps, cosmetics, toothpastes, and even toothpicks.
- Cleaning products-- Because of its solvent properties, it is useful in controlling mold growth. A few drops of tea tree oil can be added to cleaning solutions and used for washing floors and kitchen cabinets.
- Insect repellant -- Tea tree oil is a good insect repellant and can be added to cleaning solutions for floors and kitchen cabinets. Add 10-20 drops of tea tree oil to citronella and apply to the body before going outdoors for a camping or a hiking trip.
- Laundry -- Adding a few drops of the tea tree oil to the laundry can help get rid of the damp smell from clothes.
 Did you know?
- Australian aboriginals used tea tree leaves for healing skin cuts, burns, and infections by crushing the leaves and applying them to the affected area.
- Tea Tree oil is toxic to cats and should not be applied in places where they can lick it.
- Herbdata New Zealand
- Essential Oils Knowledge
- Tea Tree Oil Research Group
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