Does it ever seem to you that—out of the blue—a certain ingredient will be in all the latest beauty products from your favorite skincare brands? Tea tree oil is one such ingredient… But is it a passing fad? Or is it here to stay / worth paying attention to? We break it down.

Origins of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been used as a medicinal treatment for hundreds of years by Aborigines in Australia. So, no, in that sense, it’s not a fad. This was the traditional treatment prescribed for those with coughs, colds, or for wounds that needed treatment and speedy healing.

Tea tree oil comes from the tea tree plant, named by Western sailors in the eighteenth century who discovered that it smelled like nutmeg and decided to try it out as a tea. Thus, the plant’s name. (Note: this is not the same plant that gives us black or green tea.) The Latin name is Melaleuca alternifolia, and tea tree oil comes from the leaves of this small tree that is native to New South Wales and Queensland, Australia.

Beneficial properties of Tea Tree Oil

Containing beneficial compounds (such as terpinen-4-ol), the plant’s oil is known to halt the invasion of germs, bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It does this by appearing to boost white blood cell activity, which helps the body fight off free radicals and other germs. So that’s why you see tea tree oil frequently used in soaps or other cleansing agents—because it’s a jackpot of anti-microbial properties!

Today’s popular uses of this long-time traditional treatment

Studies are still trying to catch up with the many ways in which tea tree oil is being used. But what we do know is that it appears to be an effective treatment for acne.

Beauty experts and medical professionals quote a 5 percent tea tree oil productas an effective dose for treating acne. In fact, this amount appears to work as well as products with benzoyl peroxide. Many users have noted that while it might appear to work less quickly than benzoyl peroxide, it winds up being less irritating to one’s skin. 

Because of the way it can thwart fungi, it’s also considered an effective ingredient to add to products for athlete’s foot and for treating nail fungus infections. For nail fungus infections (hands or feet), WebMD suggests a 100 percent tea tree oil solution application. And because it is an oil, it can help to soften your cuticles and keep them from looking ragged and worn.

As a treatment for athlete’s foot, while it doesn’t appear to cure it, it does help to relieve annoying symptoms, such as itching, burning, and inflammation. Additionally, tea tree oil smells great, so we’re seeing it crop up in products that fight foot odor.

Cuts, abrasions, and wounds can benefit from a small dose of tea tree oil to boost healing time because this oil triggers white blood cell activity, which is essential to kickstarting recovery. It also reduces inflammation, which is a stage of wound healing.

Just watch out for…

If you buy a pure concentration and mix it at home, keep in mind that depending on your dose, you could experience some skin irritation. Make sure to read up on safe doses before mixing any home treatments. Also, medical advice discourages users from taking it orally. If you’re buying OTC products and following listed directions, or if tea tree oil is listed as an ingredient in a beauty product, you likely don’t need to worry about unmanageable side effects.

—Emma Jean

Back to all articles