Tea Tree Oil

The popularity of complementary and alternative medicines has increased in recent decades. One such popular product is tea tree oil, the volatile essential oil derived from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia.

Tea tree oil is widely available over the counter in Australia, Europe, and North America and is marketed as a remedy for various ailments.1

Tea tree oil was officially identified as an antiseptic in 1923 by Dr. Arthur Penfold, who reported that tea tree oil was 11 times stronger in activity than phenol, the standard antiseptic at that time.  Also known as the “magic healing oil,” tea tree oil was supplied to the Australian army during World War II due to its effectiveness against infection from cuts, wounds, and bites.2-6

Tea tree oil belongs to the Myrtaceae family, which grows naturally in Northern New South Wales, Australia. Tea tree oil is composed of terpene hydrocarbons, which are volatile, aromatic hydrocarbons. Tea tree oil is currently used in a number of dermatological preparations to treat skin infections.2

Antiviral Activity of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, including antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus (HSV), the causative virus of cold sores.2

Schnitzler et al. examined the activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil against herpes simplex virus (HSV). In the study, the effects of tea tree oil were investigated by incubating viruses with various concentrations of tea tree oil and then using these treated viruses to infect cell monolayers. After four days, the numbers of plaques formed by tea tree oil-treated viruses and the untreated control virus were determined and compared. Tea tree oil reduced HSV-1 titers by 98.2% and HSV-2 titers by 93.0%. Tea tree oil was shown to have the greatest effect on the free virus (before infection of cells). 7

Another study evaluated the activities of 12 essential oils, including tea tree oil, for action against HSV-1 in Vero cells. Again, tea tree oil was found to exert most of its antiviral activity on the free virus, with 1% oil inhibiting plaque formation completely and 0.1% tea tree oil reducing plaque formation by approximately 10%.8

Tea tree oil exhibits a broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity that is mainly due to its terpinen-4-ol content. The ability of tea tree oil to inhibit respiration and increase membrane permeability in microbial cells is responsible for this activity.9

Tea tree oil is also effective against a range of fungi such as Candida albicans. The antifungal activity is due to the inhibition of respiration in Candida albicans.10

Tea tree oil also possesses anti-inflammatory activity. Studies show that tea tree oil affects a range of immune responses. Tea tree oil can inhibit the production of the inflammatory mediators tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), and IL-10.11

The anti-inflammatory effect of tea tree oil helps to soothe and relieve painful and irritated skin. It may also help to reduce redness and swelling.2

In addition to preventing infection in cuts and abrasions, tea tree oil may also promote wound healing. Tea tree oil helps reduce inflammation and triggers the activity of white blood cells that play a pivotal role in the healing process.12

Topical application of a chitosan-based formulation loaded with a mixture of tea tree and rosemary oils resulted in a significant increase in wound contraction compared to a group treated with other essential oils and the untreated group. Microscopic examination of tissue treated with tree tea oil revealed complete re-epithelialization and activated hair follicles.12

Tea tree oil can help soothe dry skin by reducing itching and irritation. Wallengren et al. found tea tree oil to be more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams in treating eczema.13

Due to its antiseptic properties, tea tree oil can also help heal infections that cause itchy skin. A study conducted on 24 people found that tea tree oil was effective in reducing itchy eyelids. While 16 of the 24 participants were totally free of itching, the remaining showed some improvements.14

  1. Labib RM, Ayoub IM, Michel HE, et al. Appraisal on the wound healing potential of Melaleuca alternifolia and Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil-loaded chitosan topical preparations. PLoS One. 2019;14(9):e0219561.
  2. Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006; 19(1): 50–62.
  3. Hammer K. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (Melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. International journal of antimicrobial agents. 2015; 45(2): 106–110.
  4. Syed TA, Qureshi ZA, Ali SM, et al. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in cream. Tropical Medicine & International Health.1999; 4(4): 284–287.
  5. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, et al. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australian Journal of Dermatology. 2002; 43(3): 175–178.
  6. Yadav E, Kumar S, Mahant S, et al. Tea tree oil: a promising essential oil. oil research. 2017; 29(3): 201–213.
  7. Schnitzler P, Schön K, Reichling J. Antiviral activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil against herpes simplex virus in cell culture. Pharmazie. 2001;56(4):343-347.
  8. Minami M, Kita M, Nakaya T, et al. The inhibitory effect of essential oils on herpes simplex virus type-1 replication in vitro. Microbiol Immunol. 2003;47(9):681-684.
  9. Cox SD, Mann CM, Markham JL, et al. Determining the Antimicrobial Actions of Tea Tree Oil. Molecules. 2001;6(2):87-91.
  10. Cox SD, Mann CM, Markham JL, et al. The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). J Appl Microbiol. 2000;88(1):170-175.
  11. Pearce AL, Finlay-Jones JJ, Hart PH. Reduction of nickel-induced contact hypersensitivity reactions by topical tea tree oil in humans. Inflamm Res. 2005;54(1):22-30.
  12. Labib RM, Ayoub IM, Michel HE, et al. Appraisal on the wound healing potential of Melaleuca alternifolia and Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil-loaded chitosan topical preparations. PLoS One. 2019;14(9):e0219561.
  13. Wallengren J. Tea tree oil attenuates experimental contact dermatitis. Arch Dermatol Res. 2011;303(5):333-338.
  14. Gao YY, Xu DL, Huang lJ, et al. Treatment of ocular itching associated with ocular demodicosis by 5% tea tree oil ointment. Cornea. 2012;31(1):14-17.

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