Australian Tea Tree Oil
A Review by Robert Tisserand
The International Journal of Aromatherapy Vol.1, No 1, February 1988
With special thanks to Christopher Dean, of Thursday Plantation and
The Australian Tea-Tree Industry Association, for his help in sourcing material.
Tea-tree (or ti-tree) oil is distilled from the fronds of a tree native
to New South Wales, Australia, and parts of New Zealand. This
tree, melaleuca alternifolia, is a member of the myrtle family, and
is extremely hardy and disease-resistant. The leaves have been
employed medicinally for centuries by New South Wales
Aborigines, and the name is said to stem from a visit by Captain
Cook, whose crew made a tea from the leaves.
Tea-tree oil is water-white in appearance, and has a fresh, spicey,
agreeable odour. Until recently it was hardly known in
aromatherapy outside Australia, but some recent clinical trials in
France have helped to highlight its usefulness. Tea-tree oil turns
out to be one of the most useful of all essential oils, especially as
an antiseptic, and yet it has not previously been discussed in books
The first to recognize the unique qualities of the essential oil was a
government chemist from Sydney, A. R. Penfold. In 1925 he
announced the results of laboratory experiments which showed that
the oil was twelve times stronger than phenol (carbolic acid) which
was then the universal standard for antiseptic substances. This led
to further research and to the increasing use of the oil in medicine,
dentistry and as a home remedy.
In 1930 a report in the Medical Journal of Australia' commented
on its non- toxicity and lack of irritancy. The report noted
enthusiastically that tea-tree oil dissolved pus and left the surfaces
of infected wounds clean so that its germicidal action became more
effective and without any apparent damage to the tissues. 'Dirty
wounds, such as are frequently seen as the result of street
accidents, may be washed or syringed out with a 10% watery
lotion; the solvent properties will loosen and bring away the dirt
which is usually ground in ... healing will readily take place.' in
1936 the same journal reported a very bad case of diabetic
gangrene successfully treated with tea-tree oil. In 1937 it was
pointed out that one of the outstanding features of the oil is that the
presence of blood, pus or other organic matter actually increases
the oil's antiseptic powers by some 10 to 12 per cent.
During the Second World War tea-tree oil was issued in first aid
kits to army and navy units in the tropical regions. At one point
demand so outstripped supply that synthetic antiseptics had to be
substituted. This, coupled with the fervent post-war interest in
antibiotic drugs, led to a decline of interest in tea-tree, which
persisted right up to the 1970s. (2)
In April 1972 the results of a very thorough study were published
on the use of tea-tree oil in many common foot problems. (3) The
study covered sixty patients and concluded that the oil had relieved
or eliminated foot symptoms in fifty-eight of them. of these, results
were graded as excellent in thirty-eight cases. The problems treated
included athlete's foot, corns, callouses and bunions, hammer toes,
skin peeling or cracking, fungal infection under toe-nails and
bromhidrosis.* The study took place over a period of six years, and
treatment times varied from three weeks to four years. In his
conclusion the author observes that, overall, the best results were
obtained in treating bromhidrosis, an unpleasant and embarrassing
condition'. The athlete's foot cases were found to be caused by one
or more of four fungi (including Candida albicans), all of which
responded to tea-tree oil.
Ringworm is a condition closely related to athlete's foot, and
almost as common. Both are caused by similar fungi. There have
been a great many reports of ringworm being rapidly cleared up
with teatree oil, and I have treated two cases, both of which were
clear within three to four days.
Dr Paul Belaiche, Professor of Phytotherapy at the Faculty of
Medicine, University of Paris Nord, published a number of trials
using tea-tree oil in 1985. In his report on skin infections (5) he
finds teatree effective against problems due to straphylococcus,
streptococcus, or candida albicans. Both acne and impetigo are
shown to be clinically vulnerable to the oil, and Belaiche reports
the most convincing results of all in the treatment of fungal nailbed
infections, frequently caused by candida. Eight out of eleven
patients with nailbed infections showed complete recovery with
twice daily application of the oil for one to three months.
*Bromhidrosis is the medical term for 'smelly feet' and is caused
by malodorous perspiration.
In June 1962 an American report was published in obstetrics and
Gynecology on the use of tea-tree oil in trichomonal vagin itis. (4)
Vaginitis simply means vaginal inflammation, which in this case is
caused by Trichomonas, a very tiny animal microbe, a glagellate
creature, which is a common cause of greenish-yellow discharge,
often foul smelling, and soreness in the area. The study comprised
130 women, including ninety-six cases of trichomonal vaginitis,
and also several cases of thrush and cervicitis. As controls the
author treated fifty other cases with standard antitrichomonal
suppositories. The teatree oil was applied diluted by means of
saturated tampons and douches, but was not given orally. Out of
the 130 patients, all were successfully treated, and results were
similar to the control group. Many patients commented on the
pleasant odour of the oil, its cooling soothing effect and its
efficiency in removing obnoxious vaginal odours. None of them
complained of any irritation or burning.
More recently Dr Belaiche conducted two studies featuring tea-tree
oil, the first of these on twenty-eight cases of thrush (infestation of
the vagina with Candidaalbicans). Candida albicans (7) is normally
present in the vagina, but its growth is kept in check by certain
baceria. A common cause of thrush is antibiotic therapy which
results in the beneficial bacteria being destroyed, thus allowing
Candida to flourish. This results in a white discharge, often with
itching, soreness and pain - a very common condition. For this
study tea-tree oil was made into pessaries for insertion into the
vagina once every night. After the first week one patient felt
vaginal burning, so discontinued treatment, but none of the others
had any similar symptoms. After thirty days the twenty-seven
patients were examined, and twenty-three showed a complete cure
with no further discharge or burning. The other four showed a
moderate improvement. Belaiche observes that tea-tree oil is as
effective as several other essential oils, but is notably less
irritating: 'We have been happily astonished at the results obtained
... the essential oil of melaleuca has entered the team of the major
essential oils and emerges as an antiseptic and anti- fungal weapon
of the first order in phytoaromatherapy.'
In Belaiche's second study with teatree oil, twenty-six female
patients, with chronic cystitis were given the oil orally over a
period of six months.' (7) This was a double-blind trial, in which
half the patients were given a placebo which had the odour of teatree.
After six months none of the placebo group showed any
improvement. Out of the thirteen who took tea-tree oil, seven were
cured after six months, which, for such a chronic condition, is a
significant result. As many have done before, Belaiche comments
in his conclusion on the very low toxicity and irritancy of tea-tree
FROM ATHLETE'S FOOT TO AIDS
Tea-tree oil has also been used successfully in the treatment of
many other conditions and is now increasingly employed by herbal
practitioners in Australia, as it is by the layperson. Cuts, wounds,
ulcers, sores, boils, burns, ringworm, athlete's foot, psoriasis
impetigo, nappy rash, anal and genital pruritis, cold sores, lice,
urinary and vaginal infections, genital herpes, throat, bronchial and
sinus infections, bad breath, mouth ulcers, infected gums and many
other conditions have all responded remarkably well to treatment
with this astonishing essential oil.
Why is tea-tree oil so effective? its chemical content is not
dramatically different from eucalyptus or rosemary, except that it
has an unusually high content of terpinen-4-ol, an alcohol, which
constitutes some 35% of the best quality oils. It is also worth
noting that a thorough analysis of the oil in 1978 (8)revealed the
presence of four constituents which have not been found anywhere
else in nature: viridiflorene, present at I %, B- terpineol (0.24%) 1-
terpineol (trace) and allyl hexanoate (trace).
There is no recorded toxicity data on tea- tree oil, but terpinen-4-ol
has a toxicity of 4.3 g/kg, which would indicate a toxicity for the
oil of between 3 and 5, a completely safe rating. Christopher Dean
reports four cases of children swallowing up to 25 mls of the oil
with no significant side effects. in the worst instance mild
diarrhoea and drowsiness was noticed, but both passed within 24
hours. (9) Because of its lower cineol content, teatree oil is
reckoned to be less toxic and less irritant than eucalyptus oil.
Karen Cutter, a leading Sydney naturopath, has taken 120 drops of
teatree oil orally each day for over three months to satisfy herself
that her extreme recommendations for dosage are quite safe. Karen
uses tea-tree oil extensively in the treatment of systemic candida,
particularly when associated with AIDS. Her patients frequently
ingest up to 3 mls (60 drops) daily for periods in excess of six
months. Christopher Dean comments that "it has been most
instructive to see the enormous degree of success which Karen has
achieved with no apparent ill- effects over the past two years." (9)
Research has shown that tea-tree oil is four to five times stronger
than the usual household disinfectants, and yet it stings far less
when applied to minor abrasions, and of course is completely
natural. Teatree oil has passed the Kelsey-Sykes test, which is the
most rigorous antiseptic test in the world today. It has proved
effective, both in vitro and in vivo against candida albicans,
straphylococcus aureus, escherichia coli, trichophytia and
streptococcus, and in vitro against pseudomonas aeruginosa,
proteus vulgaris, pneumococcus, gonococcus, meningococcus,
diphtheric bacterium, and aspergillus niger.
Because tea-tree oil is relative y inexpensive, completely natural,
and the problems it is used for are among the easiest to research, it
would appear to have a very bright future. It has been predicted
that demand for the oil will multiply some fifty times over the next
few year, and it is likely to feature in many natural remedies and
patent medicines for home treatment. It is not a cure-all, but is one
of the most exciting essential oils to emerge in recent years.
As an interesting conclusion, the following sheds some light on the
antitoxic properties of tea-tree oil.
The venom toxicity of the black widow spider may be matched by
that of the funnel web spider found only in New South Wales,
Australia. This spider first made the news in 1927 when a twoyearold
boy was bitten by one and died within ninety minutes.
Since then five other deaths have been reported. The latest was a
seventeen- year-old pregnant woman, who died in Sydney in 1970
after being bitten on the breast.
The following account dates from May 1983, and comes from
Harry H. Bungwahl, New South Wales.
"A rather extraordinary episode happened to me recently involving
teatree oil. I was bitten on the foot by a funnel- web spider... it
happened at night time about I a.m. He gave me a vicious bite, and
it was very painful ... I lay down on the bed and tried to think of
some way to soothe the pain of the bite, which was very severe. I
then thought of the small bottle of tea-tree oil which was in the
bathroom. My wife went and got it and applied some to the bite
and there was an immediate easing of the pain. My wife then went
to ring up Taree Hospital, and while she was doing that I put some
more tea-tree oil onto the bite which, in a short time, stopped being
panful! My son drove me to the Taree hospital - the foot was no
longer painful but my lips and fingers were still tingling . . . the
spider was identified as a male funnel-web spider all right ... I was
given no treatment but was kept under observation for a period of
four hours, and then discharged."
It is interesting that both tea-tree oil and the funnel web spider are
found only in New South Wales.
This review is based on text from Aromatherapy for Everyone by
Robert Tisserand, which is being published in the UK by Penguin
Books, on April 28th 1988.
1. E. Humphrey, 'A New Australian Germicide', Medical Journal of
Australia, )an uary 1930, p.417.
2. A . Penfold, 'Some Notes on the Essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia',
Australian Journal of Pharmacology, March 1937, p.274.
3. M. Walker, 'Clinical Investigation of Australian Melaleuca alternifolia
Oil for a Variety of Common Foot Problems', Current Podiatry, April
4. E. Pena, 'Melaleuca alternifolia Oil: its use for Trichomonal Vaginitis
and Other Vaginal Infections', Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 19 (6)
1962. pp. 793-5.
5. P. Belaiche, 'Treatment of Skin infections, with the Essential Oil of
Melaleuca alternifolia', Phytotherapie, vol. 15, 1985, pp. 15-17.
6. P. Belaiche, 'Treatment of Vaginal Infections of Candida albicans with
the Essential Oil of Melaleuca alternifolia, ibid, pp. 13-15.
7. P. Belaiche, 'Germicidal Properties of the Essential Oil of Melaleuca
alternifolia Related to Urinary Infections and Chronic Ideopathic
Colibaccillus', ibid, pp. 9-11.
8. G. Swords and G. L. K. Hunter, 'Composition of Australian Tea-Tree
Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)', Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry,
vol. 26, 1978, pp. 734-9.
9. C. Dean, Private correspondence with the author, August 1987.
10. C. Dean, A series of private laboratory tests including
Preservative Effectiveness Test (1975) and TGA Test for Hospital Grade
Dirty Conditions (1987).
This article was found online several years ago, as stated at the top, Robert Tisserand, a well known aromatherapist and published author, is stated as the author and compiler of the stats listed in the article.
My personal comment based on personal experience helping others with this amazing essential oil is that although you may find tea tree essential oil in common stores sold for cheap prices, please remember that the old adage "you get what you pay for" is true. When using tea tree or any other essential oil for therapeutic purposes, be sure to use a high quality therapeutic grade essential oil.
When using tea tree oil as described in this article,choose an organically grown variety with a high potency rating
where the terpinen-4-ol content is 35% or higher, with origin from Australian not China.'
If your product doesn't say, ask the seller or company. If they don't know or don't disclose, keep looking.
The essential oils offered on this site by Pamper Me Naturally meet all those qualities.
Not all brands do, so check what you buy..
Then enjoy the absolutely amazing benefits of therapeutic tea tree essential oil.
Suzanne Ader Email at: SkinTestimonial@gmail.com