The Health Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil—sometimes called melaleuca oil—has been used for centuries to treat wounds and other skin conditions. Over the years, research has supported that tea tree oil may help treat various conditions, such as athlete's foot, acne, and dandruff.

Tea tree oil is distilled from Melaleuca alternifolia, a plant native to Australia. You can buy tea tree oil, dilute it with another oil (like almond oil), and apply it to the skin. Or, you can purchase products that include this essential oil amongst their ingredients.

This article discusses the various uses for tea tree oil and what research has to say about them. It also covers possible side effects, common dosage preparations, and what to look for when buying tea tree oil.

What Is Tea Tree Oil Used For?

Traditionally, Australian aboriginals used tea tree leaves for healing skin cuts, burns, and infections by crushing the leaves and applying them to the affected area.

Research continues to expand on the health benefits tea tree oil may provide. Some notable tea tree oil uses that studies have shown promising results for include:

  • Athlete's foot
  • Toenail fungal infections
  • Acne
  • Dandruff
  • Vaginitis
  • Blood circulation
  • Hand sanitization
tea tree oil
 Verywell / Gary Ferster

Tea tree oil contains constituents called terpenoids, which have been found to have antiseptic and antifungal activity. The compound terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant and is thought to be responsible for most of tea tree oil's antimicrobial activity.

Research on the use of tea tree oil is still limited and its true efficacy is unclear. If you're considering using tea tree oil to treat any medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider first. Tea tree oil should not be used as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of any health condition.

Athlete's Foot

A randomized controlled trial examined the use of 25% tea tree oil solution, 50% tea tree oil solution, or placebo in 158 people with athlete's foot. After twice daily applications for four weeks, the two tea tree oil solutions were found to be significantly more effective than the placebo.

In the 50% tea tree oil group, 64% were cured, compared to 31% in the placebo group. Four people using the tea tree oil withdrew from the study because they developed dermatitis (which improved after discontinuing tea tree oil use). Otherwise, there were no significant side effects.

Toenail Fungal Infections

A randomized, controlled trial published in the Journal of Family Practice looked at the twice-daily application of 100% tea tree oil or 1% clotrimazole solution (a topical antifungal medication) in 177 people with toenail fungal infection. After six months, the tea tree oil was found to be as effective as the topical antifungal, based on clinical assessment and toenail cultures.

Another randomized, controlled trial examined the effectiveness and safety of a cream containing 5% tea tree oil and 2% butenafine hydrochloride in 60 people with toenail fungal infection. After 16 weeks, 80% of people using the cream had a significant improvement compared to none in the placebo group. Side effects included mild inflammation.

A third double-blind study looked at 100% tea tree oil compared with a topical antifungal, clotrimazole, in 112 people with fungal infections of the toenails. The tea tree oil was as effective as the antifungal.


A single-blind randomized trial by the Department of Dermatology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia compared the effectiveness and tolerance of 5% tea tree oil gel with 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion in 124 people with mild to moderate acne.

People in both groups had a significant reduction in inflamed and non-inflamed acne lesions (open and closed comedones) over the three month period, although tea tree oil was less effective than benzoyl peroxide.

Although the tea tree oil took longer to work initially, there were fewer side effects with tea tree oil. In the benzoyl peroxide group, 79% of people had side effects including itching, stinging, burning, and dryness. Researchers noted that there were far fewer side effects in the tea tree oil group.


A single-blind study examined the use of 5% tea tree oil shampoo or placebo in 126 people with mild to moderate dandruff. After four weeks, the tea tree oil shampoo significantly reduced symptoms of dandruff.


Research suggests that tea tree oil is effective in reducing symptoms of vaginitis. In one study involving 210 patients with vaginitis, a tea tree oil preparation was more effective in reducing symptoms like vaginal secretion and itching than other herbal preparations, especially during mensuration.

Blood Circulation

Tea tree oil has been proposed to improve blood circulation, which could be beneficial in wound healing. In one study, tea tree oil improved skin blood flow significantly more than a control.

Hand Sanitation

Research suggests that tea tree oil has antimicrobial benefits that can be useful for sanitizing your hands. One study showed that a 10% tea tree oil preparation was effective as a hand sanitizer. The authors of the study noted that tea tree oil could be introduced in healthcare practice as a new hand hygiene product.

Tea tree oil has also been used for the following conditions:

Tea Tree Oil Side Effects

Tea tree oil is usually safe if used diluted in small amounts topically (on top of the skin). Occasionally, people may have allergic reactions to tea tree oil, ranging from mild contact dermatitis to severe blisters and rashes.

One study shows that tea tree oil may alter hormone levels. There have been three case reports of topical tea tree oil products causing unexplained breast enlargement in boys. People with hormone-sensitive cancers or pregnant or nursing women should avoid tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil should not be taken internally, even in small quantities. It can cause impaired immune function, diarrhea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression (excessive drowsiness, sleepiness, confusion, and coma). 

Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of overdose, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Severe stomach pain and abdominal cramps
  • Difficulty or slow breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor coordination
  • Excessive sleepiness and drowsiness
  • Paranoia

Avoid tea tree oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Keep tea tree oil out of the reach of children and pets.

Dosage and Preparation

Various doses of tea tree oil have been studied by researchers. For example, to treat acne, a treatment of 5% tea tree oil gel applied daily is used in clinical trials. More concentrated solutions have been studied for athlete's foot, nail fungus, and other conditions.

Tea tree oil, like any essential oil, can be absorbed through the skin. It should not be used full-strength (undiluted) on the skin.

The amount of tea tree oil and the appropriate preparation that is right for you may depend on a number of factors, including your age, gender, and medical health. Always speak to a healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

Tea tree oil is most commonly found as a pure essential oil. It is also an ingredient in creams, ointments, lotions, soaps, and shampoos.

As with any supplement, the NIH recommends that you check the Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain information about the concentration of the product and any ingredients that have been added.

In addition, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia,, and NSF International.

A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

Lastly, tea tree oil should not be confused with Chinese tea oil, cajeput oil, kanuka oil, manuka oil, ti tree oil, and niaouli oil.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I use tea tree oil on my face?

    Yes, but it should be diluted in a carrier oil first. This will help prevent the irritation tea tree oil can cause when applied to delicate facial skin. You should also do a test patch on a less noticeable area, such as the inside of your elbow, before using tea tree oil on your face. 

  • Can you put tea tree oil on your nails?

    Yes, you can put tea tree oil on your nails. Research suggests that doing so may help clear nail fungus. It's typically safe to place two to three drops of diluted tea tree oil on your nails up to twice daily.

  • Does tea tree oil remove dark spots?

    While tea tree oil is helpful for treating active acne breakouts, there is only limited evidence that it can help fade dark spots caused by acne scars or aging.

  • Does tea tree oil treat lice?

    Yes, research shows tea tree oil can both treat and prevent head lice infestations. Tea tree oil has been found effective in killing lice and lice eggs. It is even more effective when combined with lavender essential oil.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.