WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Tea tree oil, also referred to as melaleuca oil, comes from the leaves of the Australian tree called the Melaleuca alternifolia. This is commonly confused with the tea plants that are used to make black and green teas, but the two are completely unrelated. It’s a natural and essential oil that has a distinctive odor and color range that goes from a pale yellow to clear.
WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Historically, tea tree oil has been used for countless remedies. Its commercial use began back in the 1920’s as an antiseptic, and it’s widely used today in cosmetics and skin washes. It should only ever be used topically (applied to the skin) and is commonly thought to cure things like acne, athlete’s foot, lice, fungal nail infections, and ringworm. It’s also used as a topical antiseptic for insect bites and stings, mouth and nose infections, cuts and burns, among others. Some people add it to their bath water in hopes of treating bronchial congestions and coughs.
IT’S NATURAL — DOESN’T THAT MAKE IT SAFE?
The short answer to this question is no. As we mentioned above, tea tree oil should only be used topically. It should never enter the body — when used in cosmetics and washes, it is used in extremely small concentrations. The reason tea tree oil has proven to be effective for so many ailments, is because the chemicals that form the essential oil are believed to be strong enough to kill fungus and bacteria.
So what does that mean for human consumption? Tea tree oil should never be consumed and is considered to be extremely hazardous — it becomes toxic when swallowed. According to the American Cancer Society, if you ingest the oil you may become confused or drowsy. They’ve reported cases of hallucinations, comas, severe rashes, weakness and vomiting. It should never be used around the mouth, and must always be stored safely out of reach for children and pets.
SHOULD I TRY IT FOR MY OWN AILMENTS?
This is a completely personal choice, and not something we can answer here today. Most people can safely use a topical tea tree oil ointment, cosmetic or wash, but there have been reactions and sensitivities reported — it’s definitely not suitable for everyone. If, for example, you suffer from adult acne and are considering trying tea tree oil to treat it, we always recommend visiting your nearest dermatology center to seek a professional opinion. Tea tree oil has use in many dermatological applications, and a professional analysis will ensure it’s used safely and effectively.