Oils with medicinal properties are often extracted from several parts of plants. Most plant-based oils are volatile in nature; these are also called as essential oils. However, such oils must not be confused with essential fats or fatty acids. Essential fats meet the various nutritional needs of your body. But, plant-based essential oils are distilled from steam or by brewing leaves of plants, thus containing the essence of herbs. Tea tree oil is one such oil; popular due to its refreshing fragrance. Use of tea tree oil for medicinal purpose is gaining wide acceptance over the last few decades. Though this oil is largely considered as safe for topical applications, it may trigger a few undesired and adverse side effects. It is hence a wise thing to know more about the common side effects of tea tree oil.

Tea tree is considered to have originated from New Zealand and Australia. It is only in the 1920s its use for medicinal proposes gained traction. The tea tree has multiple sub-species; the most commonly grown species are found as part of Australian vegetation. Once its oil gained international popularity, several regions all over the world also started developing their own unique varieties of this plant. A few noteworthy species are grown in far-eastern countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia as well as in some mid-eastern nations like Egypt, Tunisia, etc. Worldwide market for tea tree oil stands at more than $50 million each year and is seen to grow at a very healthy pace.

This oil is considered to have a few therapeutic properties, especially to treat fungal growth in nails, skin conditions such as acne, etc. It is also used to manage skin-deep injuries, cuts, nicks, boils, itchiness, etc. It is believed to possess properties to treat herpes, dandruff, bites of small insects, bacterial or fungal infections as well as scabies. You need to remember that tea tree oil however needs more scientific evidence to confirm its capabilities to treat conditions such as growth of fungus, treatment of lice (on head), etc. If you are aiming to use this oil on children or younger adults, it is important to take needful medical advice. Your doctor may recommend against using tea tree oil on children aged 13 years or less. It is hence a safe practice to store this oil away far from the reach of pets and children.

It is equally important to note that tea tree oil is neither patented nor cleared for medical use by regulating agencies like food and drug administration (FDA). However, countries such as New Zealand and Australia have accorded clearances to use this oil. For example, in a few Australian provinces, tea tree oil forms part of a list of drugs used in unconventional treatment protocols such as aromatherapy.

Side effects of tea tree oil

Foremost of all precautions, tea tree oil must not be ingested. As an extended precautionary measure, it must not be taken closer to any of your oral parts or nearer to your mouth. The best of its properties show up when this oil is used soon after being distilled. Tea tree oil stored for a longer duration is likely to cause a few allergic reactions as well as adverse side effects. Cases of poisoning triggered by tea tree oil are observed mostly among younger adults and children.

Tea tree oil is strictly used for external applications. It can lead to near-fatal or fatal outcomes if ingested. The most common side effects it can trigger include dizziness, weariness, abdominal conditions such as vomiting or nausea, rashes on skin, loss of consciousness or coma. In some provinces of Australia, tea tree oil related allergies or poisoning constitute more than 15% of the total number of poisoning accidents. If you notice symptoms like being unresponsive, feeling sleepy or vertigo, it can be due to poisoning. Among pets – especially dogs, ingestion of tea tree oil led to weakness, shaking, weariness, or an acute spell of drooling.

Topical application of tea tree oil may also trigger a few allergies. The chemical structure of its compounds can change substantially when the oil ages. Oil stored for long can lead to discomforts such as hypersensitivity, contact-dermatitis, etc. Most of these allergies are linked to rapid oxidation of its active ingredients; as a matter of precaution, you must stay away from using oxidized versions of tea tree oil.

In some rare instances, use of tea tree oil among men has led to enlargement or softening of breasts. Such effects are largely attributed to hormonal imbalances this oil is likely to trigger. For almost the same reasons, teens – especially boys, before their puberty – are not advised to use this oil. Boys who used the oil reported development of larger breasts. A few clinical studies are actively underway to explore the odds as well as the extent of endocrinal disruption this oil can cause.

Though tea tree oil is considered safe for topical use, a few people have reported adverse skin reactions like inflammation, itchiness as well as discoloration of skin. As a remote occurrence, some users have experienced an acute burning sensation, drying of skin, etc. When the oil is inhaled as part of aromatherapy, a few side effects has been observed. These can include nausea, acute headaches, confusion, vertigo, etc. Last but not least, upon ingesting this oil you may experience a severe loss of consciousness, impairment of motor functions, lack of proper coordination, being in a confused state of mind, episodes of dizziness or drowsiness.

Safe use of tea tree oil

Despite lack of scientific evidences, the oil is used for athlete’s foot, fungal growth in your nails (of the toes), infection of the eye triggered by mites, skin conditions like acne, etc. For athlete’s foot (which is clinically referred as tinea pedis), a superficial application of creams with 10% tea tree oil is considered as a possible treatment option. Topical application of 10% cream is known to reduce discomforts such as burning sensation, itchiness, scaling and swelling. In order to obtain better relief, you may also be advised to use solutions with 25% tea tree oil. However, the nature of relief is not as complete as obtained by the use of drugs like terbinafine, clotrimazole, etc.

The 5% tea tree oil lotion or gel is used for skin conditions such as acne. The standard dose is two times each day for 6 to 7 weeks. This lotion is found to work better than acne creams or benzoyl peroxide-based gels sold in drug stores. The key benefit of 5% oil or gels is the absence of irritation or burning sensation experienced while applying peroxide-based creams.

Growth of fungus in toes – especially, in the toenails can be painful. If left untreated, fungi can lead to eventual rotting of nails as well as a few other medical conditions. Treatment options include application of 100% solution of tea tree oil two times each day. This application is continued for upto 25 weeks. However, use of this oil in diluted concentrations has yielded limited outcomes. Studies wherein a 10% solution of tea tree oil was applied substantiate the inability to fetch desired results.

Use of tea tree oil needs scientific evidence and further validation

There are a host of medical conditions wherein tea tree oil is used. Initial trials reveal the efficacy of tea tree oil (in a highly diluted form – i.e., as low as 5%) to treat dandruff and other problems of the scalp. More evidences are needed to establish its effectiveness to minimise greasy scalp, itching or lesions in scalp. It may be helpful to know that shampoos are available in drug stores; these hair products are often made with 5% tea tree oil solution.

Another use of tea tree oil needing more evidence is its application on gums as a mouth wash. A few earlier studies indicate possibilities to reduce gum disorders – such as inflammation or gingivitis by rinsing your mouth regularly with a 2.5% solution of tea tree oil. Studies are underway to substantiate the benefits of brushing with gels made of tea tree oil (2.5% gels). The early findings do indicate the scope to reduce internal bleeding from gums; however, the impact on gums’ wellbeing or prevention of oral plaque remains largely unsubstantiated.

A few conditions for which tea tree oil – mostly, at its diluted form – can be a possible treatment option include head lice, vaginal infections, oral thrushes, growth of infections in the inner ears, soreness of throat, itchiness as well as infection caused by ringworms. Among these conditions, preliminary results are very encouraging; the oil is now being used for vaginal infections caused by fungi or yeast, oral thrushes – especially among cancer patients or people living with HIV AIDS and on those who have not responded well to antifungals like fluconazole. Those with thrushes are advised to use the oil as a mouthwash. The recommended use is for a period of 15 to 30 days.
In general, tea tree oil is believed to drive lice away by acting as a lice-repellent. When mixed with aromatic oils such as say, lavender – the results are more pronounced.

In sum, tea tree oil is used for the treatment of skin conditions such as acne, fungal growth in toe-nails, etc. Some people apply it to heal skin-level injuries, itchiness as well as minor boils. A few users believe this oil can reduce discomforts associated with bites of small insects, bacterial or fungal infections, scabies, herpes and dandruff. This oil needs more scientific validation to establish its ability to treat fungal outgrowth, head lice and bad breath.

Most common side effects of topical application include itchiness, discoloration of skin as well as itchiness. Some people have reported burning sensation and dryness of skin. Inhalation of tea tree oil may trigger confusion, nausea, headache, etc. You must never ingest this oil. If swallowed, you may experience side effects like impairment of motor function, being in a confused state of mind, dizziness and at times, coma or a complete loss of consciousness. It is hence a good practice to consult a qualified medical practitioner before starting to use tea tree oil.

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