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Tea Tree Oil



Background

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the tea tree and has been used as a traditional medicine for cuts and wounds by the aboriginal people of Australia.

Today, tea tree oil is often used externally for various conditions such as acne, athlete’s foot, lice, nail fungus, cuts, and insect bites.

Tea tree oil is obtained by steam distillation of tea tree leaves. It is used topically (applied to the skin), and is an ingredient in a variety of skin products.

How Much Do We Know?

Only a small amount of research has been done on the topical use of tea tree oil for health conditions in people.

What Have We Learned?

A limited amount of research indicates that tea tree oil might be helpful for acne, nail fungus, and athlete’s foot.

What Do We Know About Safety?

Tea tree oil should not be swallowed. Taking it orally can cause serious symptoms such as confusion and ataxia (loss of muscle coordination).

Most people can use topical products containing tea tree oil without problems, but some people may develop contact dermatitis (an allergic skin rash) or skin irritation on the parts of the body where the product was used.

Keep in Mind

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Key References

  • Jack AR, Norris PL, Storrs FJ. Allergic contact dermatitis to plant extracts in cosmetics. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2013;32(3):140-146.
  • Tea Tree Oil. Natural Medicines Web site. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com on April 28, 2015. 

-NIH



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