Tea tree oil is probably something you’ve seen at the beauty counter dozens of times, in skincare creams and ointments. But what is it used for?
What’s tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia shrub (common name tea tree, surprise surprise!). This tree is native to Eastern Australia. The oil is colourless to light yellow, and smells strongly pine-like. If eaten, it’s poisonous to both humans and animals.
In skincare, tea tree oil is useful because it’s antibacterial – pimples contain the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (commonly abbreviated as P. acnes), and killing these reduce acne (many other acne treatments, like benzoyl peroxide and the antibiotics clindamycin and erythromycin, also directly kill acne bacteria). It also kills fungi, which means it’s handy for nail and foot infections too.
How do I use it?
If undiluted, tea tree oil can be irritating, so diluting it in another oil like mineral oil or sunflower oil is the best way to use it. A study found that 5% tea tree oil works as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide – it acts more slowly, but it’s less irritating, so 5% is a good starting point if you’re not sure.
5% tea tree oil means if you want a total of X mL tea tree oil mixture, to get the mL of:
Tea tree oil: multiply the total X by 0.05
Diluting oil: multiply the total X by 0.95
Then mix the two together in a clean bottle to get your mixture!