Tea tree oil is extracted and distilled from the leaves of the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It has been used traditionally by the indigenous aboriginals mostly for the treatment of wounds, cuts and burns, and to prevent skin infection. The modern medical use of the oil has begun in 1920 by an Australian physician that have used it as antiseptic.
The Melaleuca oil contains almost 100 components, with 30% terpinen-4-ol, which is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.
Proven benefits of tea tree oil
The list of Melaleuca oil benefits is impressive. The main benefits of tea tree oil in shampoo are a result of its properties as –
- Antibacterial – at 10% concentration, Melaleuca oil is effective for killing bacteria that are normally associated with skin and scalp. Lower concentrations are effective for removing these bacteria from the skin, and the bacteriostatic activity significantly improves when tea tree oil is combined with solubilizer and a preservative.
- Antifungal – tea tree oil has been shown to be effective against several different disease causing fungi. Specifically, it was shown to be effective in low concentrations against some of the Malassezia species that cause dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis. Thus, antidandruff shampoo that contains Melaleuca oil is often a good natural alternative to the harsher chemical used in conventional shampoo.
- Head lice control – tea tree oil was shown to be effective in killing head lice (adults and nymphs) at 1% concentration with 15 minutes exposure time. For aborting the nits, however, double concentration was needed. These results were obtained in an experiment with the isolated insects and eggs. A lice treatment shampoo (NeutraLice Lotion® Key Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, Australia with 10% tea tree oil and 1% lavender oil) was 97.6% effective in remediating lice infection in children.
In addition, Melaleuca oil is also useful as antiviral (prevention of herpes and hand warts), wound healing, and as a treatment of acne. It also has anti-tumor properties and is effective for control of chronic gingivitis.
Possible risk for using the oil at high concentration
Tea tree oil may cause skin irritation at high doses. In addition, sensitive people may develop an allergic reaction that may appear as local rush, or a more general rush all over the body. Rarely, the allergic reaction may appear as blistering eruption of the skin, or more severe spotting of the skin. You should stop using the product if it causes any allergic reaction, and most probably the symptoms will disappear in a couple of days. See your physician if not.
In addition, ingesting high doses may cause poisoning, especially in children, thus when using tea tree oil shampoo with children monitor your child for proper use to prevent accidental swallowing of large amounts of the shampoo.
The major allergenic molecule in the leaf extract has been identified, and many commercial products contain lower concentrations of it compared to the beneficial components. Additionally, most commercial products contain 5 to 10% tea tree oil, a range of concentrations that is lower than what normally induces any negative symptoms.
Top rated tea tree oil shampoo products
All tea tree shampoo products are good for itchy scalp and dandruff, as tea tree is effective in prevention of dandruff (see above). The less expensive products often contain sulfate-based detergents, thus if you are sensitive to sulfates you may want to avoid those.
Nature’s Gate Tea Tree Calming Shampoo is a natural shampoo that contains a plant based detergents instead of the synthetic sulfate based ones in many other shampoos. In addition to the Melaleuca oil it is also enriched with antioxidants (vitamin C and vitamin E), and contains soy proteins to help strengthening your hair.
Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Shampoo contains tea tree oil as well as lavender oil and other natural plant extracts. It is, however also contains sulfates for lathering. It also contains what germ extract with the chance of containing gluten, so if you are concerned about gluten in your cosmetic product, avoid this brand.
Tea tree oil to combat lice infection
There are several shampoos in the North American market that claim to repel or defend against lice. It may be helpful to try either Babo botanicals lice repel, or Circle of Friends Lice Defense. The active concentration of tea tree oil in these products is lower than the effective 5 to 10%, however, thus, they may work for repelling more than for treating an ongoing infestation. You are more fortunate if you leave in Australia and can use a product such as NeutraLice Lotion. You can make your own lice repelling shampoo by adding pure tea tree oil to your or your kids’ normal shampoo. It is not recommended to use the concentrated oil directly on your head, as some people are allergic to high concentrations of the oil. Diluting it in your shampoo, however, is safe and effective.
Steps for making and using your own lice repelling shampoo –
- Use Good N Natural – 100% Pure Tea Tree Oil – this pure oil is at a very reasonable price.
- Mix well into your shampoo at a ratio of 1 part oil to 9 parts shampoo. Use of sulfate free shampoo is recommended as the harsh detergents may cause irritation. Prepare only the amount you are going to use at a time.
- Massage thoroughly into hair.
- Leave on hair for 10 minutes.
- Rinse well.
- You may need to repeat treatment 2 to 3 more times in the next two weeks to avoid repeat infestation.
You may be interested to read more about healthy and effective shampoo choices.
Image credit – By Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific support –
Barker, Stephen C, and Phillip M Altman. “A Randomised, Assessor Blind, Parallel Group Comparative Efficacy Trial of Three Products for the Treatment of Head Lice in Children – Melaleuca Oil and Lavender Oil, Pyrethrins and Piperonyl Butoxide, and a ‘Suffocation’ Product.” BMC Dermatology 10 (August 20, 2010): 6.
Bassett, I B, D L Pannowitz, and R S Barnetson. “A Comparative Study of Tea-tree Oil Versus Benzoylperoxide in the Treatment of Acne.” The Medical Journal of Australia 153, no. 8 (October 15, 1990): 455–458.
Di Campli, Emanuela, Soraya Di Bartolomeo, Patricia Delli Pizzi, Mara Di Giulio, Rossella Grande, Antonia Nostro, and Luigina Cellini. “Activity of Tea Tree Oil and Nerolidol Alone or in Combination Against Pediculus Capitis (head Lice) and Its Eggs.” Parasitology Research 111, no. 5 (November 2012): 1985–1992.
Greay, Sara J, Demelza J Ireland, Haydn T Kissick, Peter J Heenan, Christine F Carson, Thomas V Riley, and Manfred W Beilharz. “Inhibition of Established Subcutaneous Murine Tumour Growth with Topical Melaleuca Alternifolia (tea Tree) Oil.” Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology 66, no. 6 (November 2010): 1095–1102.
Hammer, K. A., C. F. Carson, and T. V. Riley. “In Vitro Activities of Ketoconazole, Econazole, Miconazole, and Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil Against Malassezia Species.” Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 44, no. 2 (February 2000): 467–469.
Kunicka-Styczyńska, A, M Sikora, and D Kalemba. “Lavender, Tea Tree and Lemon Oils as Antimicrobials in Washing Liquids and Soft Body Balms.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science 33, no. 1 (February 2011): 53–61.
Millar, B Cherie, and John E Moore. “Successful Topical Treatment of Hand Warts in a Paediatric Patient with Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia).” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 14, no. 4 (November 2008): 225–227.
Schnitzler, P, K Schön, and J Reichling. “Antiviral Activity of Australian Tea Tree Oil and Eucalyptus Oil Against Herpes Simplex Virus in Cell Culture.” Die Pharmazie 56, no. 4 (April 2001): 343–347.
Saxer, Urich P, A Stäuble, S H Szabo, and G Menghini. “[Effect of mouthwashing with tea tree oil on plaque and inflammation].” Schweizer Monatsschrift für Zahnmedizin = Revue mensuelle suisse d’odonto-stomatologie = Rivista mensile svizzera di odontologia e stomatologia / SSO 113, no. 9 (2003): 985–996.