It’s no surprise that these days you’ll find tea tree oil in products ranging from deodorant to cosmetics to shampoo to household cleaning products—it’s everywhere! And with good reason. Tea tree oil has long been known for its healing properties and has been used medicinally for hundreds of years.
What is the Tea Tree?
The “tea tree” is a member of the myrtle family and is officially known as the Melaleuca alternifolia, native to the coastal regions of Australia. Originally the leaves were crushed and used as an antiseptic by the Aborigines, applied to injuries and cuts and scrapes on the skin. The “tea tree” moniker is derived from the fact that an English captain noticed Australian Aborigines making tea from leaves of the plant, which he then tried and gave to his crew in an attempt to prevent scurvy. No word on whether or not that was successful.
How Tea Tree Oil Came to Be Famous
Tea tree oil didn’t gain acclaim for its drinkability—it was its healing properties that claimed the spotlight. Surgeons adopted the use of tea tree oil in the 1920s to treat infections after surgery and for cleaning wounds. As a result, tea tree oil became commonplace in Australian society, enjoying a long run as the preferred method for treating cuts, scrapes, and skin infections. It fell out of favor in the 40s when antibiotics like penicillin were discovered, and remained relatively obscure for the next 40 years or so. Once it was discovered that antibiotics aren’t effective with all forms of bacteria, tea tree oil began its comeback.
Uses For Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil can be used at full strength or dissolved in water. You’ll also often find tea tree oil in soaps, creams, shampoos, ointments, and a wide array of products (and growing every day). You’ll probably notice that these products are most often packaged in dark bottles, as light can adversely affect its potency.
Important Facts About Tea Tree Oil
It’s important to know that tea tree oil is never intended to be swallowed or taken internally, although you can add a few drops to a bath or use in a vaporizer and the mist inhaled. In rare cases, allergic reactions are possible, and can result in a mild rash. People who are allergic to members of the myrtle family (myrtaceae) and sensitive to things like clove, allspice, eucalyptus, or guava should avoid the use of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil ages and over time it breaks down and is more likely to cause rashes. For best results, it’s best to always use fresh tea tree oil products that haven’t been exposed to air, light or heat. Concentrated tea tree oil should also be kept away from children and pets.