Obtained from the leaves of the tea tree plant (Malaleuca alternifolia), tea tree oil is a popular ingredient in body lotions, shampoos, soaps and other beauty products. However, its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties have been used to treat dental problems and cleaning post-surgery wounds since the 1920s.(1) Surgeons believed that it was more effective than carbolic acid, the most commonly used antiseptic of that time.(2,3)
Tea tree oil was named by British explorer Lieutenant James Cook in the 1770s, when he saw native Australians prepare tea that smelled like nutmeg from the leaves of trees growing along the swampy southeast Australian coast.
A study showed that tea tree oil can significantly reduce acne and, though it takes longer to show results, it causes fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide.(4)
Another study, funded by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), found that tea tree oil was safe to use along with conventional treatment for wounds and could even treat severe infections such as those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).(5)
Tea Tree Oil For Ear Infections
Tea tree oil is effective in curtailing the growth of a number of microorganisms causing ear infections, particularly otitis externa (swimmer’s ear which is an inflammation of the ear canal) and otitis media (infection in the middle ear).(6,7) Animal studies have shown that tea tree oil reduced edema induced in the ear by histamines.(8)
How To Use It
- Mix 1tbsp of warm olive oil with eight to 10 drops of tea tree oil in a bowl. Put two to three drops of this mixture into the affected ear using a sterile dropper. Use it twice a day to clear infection.
Advisory: Tea tree oil might cause irritation in people with sensitive skin. Consult your doctor before you start using it.
1. Tea Tree Oil. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; September 2010.
2. Fetrow CW, Avila JR. Professional’s Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2004.
3. Gruenwald J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 3rd ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR; 2004.
4. Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust. 1990 Oct 15;153(8):455-8. PubMed PMID: 2145499.
5. Halcón L, Milkus K. Staphylococcus aureus and wounds: a review of tea tree oil as a promising antimicrobial. American Journal of Infection Control. 2004;32(7):402–408.
6. Zhang SY, Robertson D. A study of tea tree oil ototoxicity. Audiol Neurootol. 2000 Mar-Apr;5(2):64-8. PubMed PMID: 10720822.
7. Farnan TB, McCallum J, Awa A, Khan AD, Hall SJ. Tea tree oil: in vitro efficacy in otitis externa. J Laryngol Otol. 2005 Mar;119(3):198-201. PubMed PMID: 15845191.
8. Brand C, Townley SL, Finlay-Jones JJ, Hart PH. Tea tree oil reduces histamine-induced oedema in murine ears. Inflamm Res. 2002 Jun;51(6):283-9. PubMed PMID: 12088268.