Tea tree oil is an essential oil derived from the native Australian Melaleuca tree. It has been used by Australian natives for thousands of years as a miracle cure for wounds and skin infections. Only recently has it been studied extensively by scientists and researchers to determine its true capabilities and possible healing powers. While tea tree oil has many rumored healing tendencies, scientific proof is not readily available to support all of the claims regarding its healing nature. However, several studies have proven that tea tree oil does possess natural healing tendencies and more extensive research is being planned.
Scientific research regarding tea tree oil was first documented in the 1920s by Dr. Arthur de Ramon Penfold, an Australian government chemist. Through studies and tests, he determined that tea tree oil was thirteen times stronger than the common disinfectant of the time, carbolic acid. In 1930, an article was published by E.M. Humphrey that stated tea tree oil was up to sixty times more efficient against certain strains of bacteria when compared to basic hand washing.
More recent research has determined that terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant scientific component of tea tree oil, making up at least 30% of the essential oil derived from steam distilling of the leaves. This component has shown intense broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity in scientific experiments.
There is a dedicated research team set up at The University of Western Australia who thoroughly examine the functions of tea tree oil based on its specific scientific components. The research group was established in the early 1990s and leads the world in tea tree oil research by composing several study groups each year. The team focuses on documenting the activity of tea tree oil against different types of both common and rare fungi and bacteria. They have also conducted studies with the intent of determining if different strains of bacteria are able to develop a resistance against tea tree oil when used as a topical medication. Tests have also been administered to see whether tea tree oil is effective enough to eliminate germs when used as a basic hand wash.
Possible Cancer and MRSA Treatment
The University also houses research focused on the effects of tea tree oil on cancer cells. In 2012, almost thirty thousand dollars was provided in the form of grants for doctoral graduates who were conducting extensive research targeting treatment for common skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma. If the trials prove that tea tree oil is an effective treatment against cancer cells, it could provide a course of treatment that would erase the need for surgical treatment.
While tea tree oil is not a common treatment prescribed by oncologists, studies have shown that the essential oil is effective at radically shrinking tumors, sometimes within days. Tea tree oil seems to possess anti-cancer effects that activate the human immune system, helping the body naturally fight cancer cells. This leaves doors open for many other studies and research sessions that could possibly provide a safer and less invasive cancer treatment for patients with certain types of cancer.
Current research is being conducted on tea tree oil and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). MRSA is a bacterium that is highly resistant to available antibiotics and leaves patients with few treatment options. In test tube studies, tea tree oil was proven to be an effective treatment but not as effective as other antibiotics. When the same studies were conducted using tissue cultures, almost half the cases were cleared of MRSA by tea tree oil. While further research is necessary, initial findings support the use of tea tree oil for patients who are unresponsive to traditional treatments.
A random controlled study was conducted to see if tea tree oil was an effective treatment for Athlete’s Foot. 158 people were gathered for the study and were all asked to apply a solution twice daily to the affected area for 4 weeks. A third of the group was given a 25% tea tree solution. Another third was given a 50% tea tree solution and the last remaining third of participants were given a placebo. Results showed that in the 50% solution group, 64% of Athlete’s Foot cases were cured. The group using the placebo only experienced a 31% cure rate.
A trial was conducted that contained 125 participants, all suffering from dandruff. The group was split in half, with 63 participants being given a 5% tea tree oil shampoo and 62 participants being given a placebo shampoo. For those using the tea tree oil shampoo, 41.2% saw improvement in their condition, compared to only 11.2% showing improvement in the group using the placebo shampoo.
A common use for tea tree oil is as a topical acne clearer. Scientific testing has proven this to most likely be true. A study conducted in 1990 showed that even though it usually takes longer for skin to clear up when compared to other over the counter products, tea tree oil can clear the skin just as effectively and with less negative side effects, such as irritation to the applied areas.
Studies have also shown side effects of tea tree oil and how caution should be used when using it as any type of treatment. When applied directly to the skin, irritation did occur on occasion. Some individuals involved with the controlled study experienced allergic reactions, especially when an oxidized tea tree oil was applied versus a fresh tea tree oil. Tea tree oil should never be consumed, either through directly drinking the solution or by adding it to any type of food. This is especially true in children, as poisoning can occur. Patients have displayed drowsiness and disorientation and have developed rashes when tea tree oil was consumed as a liquid. Similar studies have shown that when tea tree oil is applied directly to the skin without being diluted there is the chance for side effects but they are usually minimal. In one case however, a young boy did show signs of breast development after using hair styling products and cleansers containing tea tree oil.
Research on tea tree oil will continue in the future and the possibilities of their findings are endless. As with any medication, speak to a personal health care provider before using tea tree oil as a medication. They will be able to help determine if it is safe to use with any current medical conditions and will help to evaluate whether or not it is effective.