Tea tree oil comes from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia plant, and some people call it melaleuca oil. Australians have made use of the medicinal properties of tea tree oil for centuries -- legend has it that during World War II, the Australian army required soldiers to carry a bottle. While there are more than 100 natural chemicals in the oil, the primary active ingredients in tea tree are monoterpenes, hydrocarbons, and sesquiterpenes, which give the essential oil its antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.

Effective on Skin Conditions

Tea tree oil can help control skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema. Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, and studies show the oil has anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, the use of tea tree oil over 12 weeks showed significant improvement in acne outbreaks. In another study conducted in 2011, the topical use of tea tree oil was more effective at controlling eczema than common pharmaceutical recommendations such as clobetasone butyrate and zinc oxide.

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Assists in Healing Wounds

For centuries, Australian aborigines have applied tea tree oil from crushed leaves to heal cuts, burns, and bites. Studies show that thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil heals and shrinks wounds when applied topically. A nearly 100-year-old study in the British Medical Journal found tea tree oil was non-caustic to the skin while still proving 11 times more effective than carbolic acid for killing bacteria. The oil can help soothe insect bites and sunburns, as well.

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Effective at Treating Infections

In one study, tea tree oil was an effective therapy for chronic infections such as Staphylococcus aureus or staph infection. Promising lab studies show antimicrobial properties can inhibit the growth of several dangerous bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Escherichia coli, which cause diseases such as strep throat and urinary, bloodstream, and sinus infections. The oil can also help treat pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

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Natural Sanitizer

Thanks to its antiseptic properties, tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant. You can reduce exposure to bacteria by applying it to anything that needs cleaning and sanitizing. Tea tree is also an effective agent for cleaning household surfaces such as doorknobs, kitchen counters, and light switches; it removes stains and dirt and disease-causing microbes. It makes a great hand sanitizer, too.

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Tee Tree Oil and Dental Care

The terpenes and cineole in tea tree oil enhance healing qualities and disinfect. As such, the essential oil is an alternative treatment for dental issues. Studies show the oil inhibits the adhesion of Porphyromonas gingivalis, which destroys the tissues supporting teeth and can cause tooth loss. The oil also has strong antiseptic properties that may help prevent periodontopathic bacteria and, subsequently, periodontitis or gum disease. People with oral thrush can reduce their symptoms with the use of a mouth rinse containing tree oil. Manufacturers often add tea tree oil to natural toothpaste, dental floss, and mouthwash.

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Antifungal Properties of Tea Tree Oil

Researchers have studied the antifungal qualities of tea tree oil. One 2013 study indicates the oil reduces Trichophyton rubrum, which can cause nail fungus and athlete's foot. In an earlier study, pure oil was as effective as an over-the-counter medication in treating toenail infections. Researchers also tried adding tea tree oil to a medical cream containing butenafine hydrochloride. The enhanced cream cured toenail fungus in 80 percent of test subjects.

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Hair Health

Both the hair and scalp can benefit from tea tree oil because it soothes the scalp and removes dandruff. Moreover, anyone who catches head lice can use this essential oil to kill parasitic insects and eggs. One study shows using tea tree oil on the scalp for five days can effectively eradicate lice.

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Odor Control

The antibacterial properties of tea tree oil can effectively control body odor, which develops due to bacteria in the mouth and on the underarms and feet. Many personal care products contain tea tree oil, and some people make their own natural deodorant by mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with baking soda, cornstarch, and coconut oil.

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Natural Skin Care

Tea tree oil is a natural skin moisturizer and cleanser. The terpenes are natural solvents that remove makeup, and the oil moisturizes. To make your own cleansing moisturizer, simply squeeze a bit of your normal moisturizer into your hand and mix in one or two drops of tea tree oil. To make your own makeup remover, add four to five drops of the tea tree oil into approximately two tablespoons of coconut or olive oil.

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While tea tree oil is generally safe when used topically, it should never be ingested. People using tea tree mouthwash should take care not to swallow it. Before using the oil topically, it is a good idea to test it on a small patch of skin to ensure no allergic reaction. Topical products should contain no more than ten percent of the oil, as higher concentrations can cause negative reactions. Keep the oil away from the eyes and sensitive body parts. When buying tea tree oil, make sure the bottle lists the contents as 100 percent Melaleuca alternifolia oil.

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