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Sometimes it seems like essential oils are magical elixirs that can do just about anything, including promote energy, shorten the duration of colds, and ease menstrual cramps. And as it turns out, there's one in particular that can also do wonders for your skin: tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil, otherwise known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil distilled from an Australian plant called Melaleuca alternifolia, says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist in Boston. It's a popular essential oil, particularly for its many purported skin benefits. It's also a relatively inexpensive product, with the cheapest bottles around $5.
But does it really work? Tea tree oil is an organic, healthy, and harmless ingredient that helps to keep the hair, skin, and nails healthy, says Frieling. How? The oil is proven to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
It’s important to note, though, that tea tree oil should not be applied directly to the skin, explains Frieling. Doing so can cause inflammation, irritation, and burning, adds celebrity facialist Candace Marino.
Before using, dilute it with other lotions or oils, which are typically called carrier oils, like olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, moisturizer, and sunscreen. A good rule of thumb is 12 drops of carrier oil for every one to two drops of tea tree oil, Frieling recommends.
Want to experiment with this coveted essential oil? Here are a dozen proven benefits:
1. Reduces Acne
Tea tree oil contains anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that help reduce acne and soothe irritated skin, says Melissa Quinones, an esthetician at Eternal Hair and Esthetics. It's noncomedogenic, too, meaning it's unlikely to clog your pores and cause additional problems.
2. Prevents Infection in Minor Cuts and Abrasions
Use tea tree oil as an antiseptic to help prevent minor cuts and abrasions from becoming infected, says Frieling.
3. Speeds Healing Time of Small Wounds
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It may also shorten the duration of healing time, thanks to the proven boost in white-blood-cell activity.
4. Treats Nail Fungus
There is some evidence that the topical use of tea tree oil helps get rid of nail fungus. Participants in the study were tasked with applying the oil twice daily for six months, and researchers found that the topical therapy provided "improvement in nail appearance and symptomatology."
5. Improves Symptoms of Athlete's Foot
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Similarly, studies suggest a 50% tea-tree-oil solution significantly improves symptoms—redness, itching, peeling—of athlete's foot.
6. Soothes Psoriasis
7. Relieves Eczema
8. Decreases Body Odor
Some people use tea tree oil as a natural deodorant since it has antibacterial properties that can help reduce odor-causing bacteria, says Frieling.
9. Keeps Bugs at Bay
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There's evidence that tea tree oil may help prevent itchy bug bites. In one study, tea tree oil repelled mosquitos more effectively than deet.
10. Reduces Itchiness Associated With Bug Bites
If you do get bitten, there's evidence that tea tree oil may quell any itchiness, redness, and swelling you experience.
11. Minimizes Dandruff
Participants who used a shampoo containing 5% tea tree oil noticed a 40% improvement in dry, itchy flakes commonly associated with dandruff, according to a study.
12. Gets Rid of Lice
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In one study, tea tree oil was shown to kill both nymph and adult lice, plus reduce the number of lice eggs that hatch.
Tea Tree Oils We Recommend
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.