WHAT IS TEA TREE OIL?
It is an oil with many medicinal properties, as with many oils it is Yellow in colour though pale and not as thick as many other oils but that said it is very strong and has an intense ‘cleanser’/anti-sceptic type scent. It’s one of those oil that appeals to the general public because of its array of uses and mainly because it’s commonly used as a headliner in many cosmetics from shampoo to deodorant. Its ph balance is nearly neutral and as it is non-toxic is safe for humans and animals.
I recently ran out of mine and went to Holland and Barrett to top up. The usual sizes and prices are:
10ml @ £3.99
30ml @ £10.75
60ml @ £19.25
H&B are currently doing a buy-one-get-one-half-price promotion (which applies to all products whether shelf or fridge in my local store at least) and so I was delighted that I could get more for my money. I bought 2 x 30ml (30ml being approx 600 drops) for just over £16. I would have made a much bigger saving buying two of the bigger bottles but as I mostly dilute mine I don’t need that much. A 150ml bottle of diluted oil can last me up to 2 years. I blend 60 drops of essential oil to 150ml carrier oil which is as a general rule of thumb 2% (for small amounts 12 drops to 30ml). I’m no expert and there are different recommendations but 2% is what I’m ok with.
The H&B 100% Pure version comes in a dropper pipette dark glass bottle. Oils need to be kept out of bright light and heat e.g. sunlight and that is where the dark glass comes in as it acts as a filter and stops the oil from breaking down. To expound on that, oils only really need to be kept this way once ready for use/storage because they last a long time and people generally want the quality to be maintained as long as possible but for people who extract their own oils or use oil quickly sunlight is very enriching and purifying (e.g. UV light for purifying filtered water, or sundried fruit/veg) but after a while too much light/heat will go from building to breaking down and so oils are best kept in dark glass bottles (always handy to have some just in case you get an oil in a plastic container).
Advantages: Natural and effective, very versatile.
Disadvantages: Very strong, sometimes need diluting.
Summary: From skincare to household cleaning tea tree oil is handy to have around.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
The Tea Tree plant or Melaleuca Alternifolia of the Malaleuca Tree is native to Australia and for thousands of years have been used by native Australians/Aboriginal people. They have a story about a wonderful lagoon full of tea tree leaves which cured many ills – perhaps it is an allegory for using the tea tree leaves, branches or oil in water for medicinal uses.
CAN IT BE USED UNDILTED?
For many uses it is generally diluted in a carrier oil, a ‘carrier’ or ‘base’ oil is an all round oil that is mild/gentle (though not without their own excellent properties) in which a stronger oil can blend and sit with nicely to make it safer for use. I tend to use sweet almond oil as it is fairly easy to find and inexpensive as well soothing and moisturizing. I’ve read that grapeseed oil and fractionised coconut oil (fractionised meaning it will stay a liquid and won’t constantly turn back to its more solid lard looking state) but I like to eat my grapeseed oil and I only use solid coconut oil (which I also like eat). They are also more expensive than sweet almond oil and as oils tend to last for years if kept in their containers and in cool, fairly dark places I don’t worry about any of them going off/rancid. Other common and affordable carrier oils are jojoba and olive oil.
Tea Tree oil can be used undiluted in very small amounts on localised areas e.g a drop or two on cotton wool to apply to mild spots, shallow cuts and cold sores. It can also be applied directly via the dropper onto more aggressive versions of the former and onto things like blisters, verrucas and warts (I will go into more detail on its uses later).
WHY IS IT CALLED TEA TREE OIL WHEN IT’S NOT A TEA?
I found that confusing as well, at first I wondered if it was the oil from the tea plants we commonly use to get tea from (as seen in the tea fields of Asia often seen in adverts and on packaging) but it’s not, there is a ‘tea oil’ that comes from the seeds of that plant, Camillia Sinensis, but this is not it.
Apparently the generic and confusing name is Captain Cook’s fault. When he ‘discovered’ or travelled to Australia in 1770 he came across groves of these trees and natives making tea out of it and so he called them ‘tea trees’ – or maybe he just saw the steam (distillation) and thought they were making tea when really they were extracting the oil. Supposedly he and his group did make a spicy tea and learned to do so from the Aborigines though on our side of the world it is not recommended to take it internally, neither diluted or and especially not undiluted, but perhaps the Aborigines had/still have a tea making recipe for it.
Anti-bacteriaI, anti-fungal , anti-inflammation, anti-microbial, anti-sceptic, anti-viral and an insect repellent – you can see why it was such a hit in the hot and humid climate of Australia (Queensland and New South Wales) not only with the native peoples but the later settlers.
Balsamic: The Tea Tree plant and oil is balsamic as Capt Cook saw the thick sticky substance all over them, meaning that it heals and soothes/calms/cools. As a balsam it can be used as a base for medicines and perfumes.
Cicatrisant: This might not sound so appealing but sometimes it is necessary for speed. This property means that tea tree oil closes and heals shallow cuts/wounds/non-poisonous insect bites or simply broken skin by the encouraging the formation of scar tissue as a preventative layer against infection. That said it works both ways as it can also be used for scar reduction.
Expectorant: Encourages your respiratory passages to expel liquids/mucus causing or perpetuating things like colds, flu and bronchitis.
Stimulant: It can stimulate hormone secretions, improve blood circulation and encourage it to move to the area where tea tree oil had been added.
Sudorific: Causes sweating which can be very helpful for expelling toxins, hydrating the skin and cooling it.
THINGS I USE IT FOR
SKIN & HAIR:
General Spots: A single drop either on a cotton bud or directly onto the spot should zap it in no time.
Breakouts: A couple of drops added to my cleanser and then a couple added to my moisturiser for good measure. OR regular cleaning and then applying diluted tea tree oil all over the affected area/face.
Acne: I was a bit more liberal with this one, approx 20-30 drops added to a bottle of face wash.
For spots and acne – remember that much of these conditions are caused by lifestyle habits such as diet, cleansing and how much we are out and about in polluted environments, even stress can cause them. Tea Tree oil can help topically by reducing or clearing the symptom but it can also help the skin by boosting your immunity and deeply moisturising. However its efficiency is decreased if the above issues aren’t also changed or reduced.
Lip Balm: I’ve used 1 drop added to chapsticks and left to sink in. 2 drops to little pots of lip balm and mixed. I find this very helpful in cold weather.
Cold Sores: As with all cold sores it takes a bit of work. On new/not fully developed cold sores I’ve directly applied 1 drop to the affected area and repeated 3 times a day. I’ve found it reduced the usual cold sore period of from approx a week to 3ish days. Before I knew about this technique I used to apply salt to the area, leave and refresh it as necessary in an attempt to dry it out and that would usually stop it getting too visibly awful. However now if I have a developed cold sore that for some reason I couldn’t treat early I add two drops of tea tree oil and repeat 3 times a day.
Moisturiser: Tea Tree oil isn’t usually thought of for this property but when diluted it really does soften the skin nicely, and when I want a particularly refreshing and soothing feeling I mix it with diluted lavender oil (also diluted in sweet almond oil).
Sunburn: I don’t often get sunburn but it has happened and I find mixing tea tree and lavender (like above) helps. For this case I tend to use jojoba oil or wheat germ as they are even more moisturising and add 1 drop of tea tree and 1 drop of lavender and dab onto the affected skin. On one occasion I mixed the diluted oil with aloe vera straight from a plant.
Hair: Stress and hair loss = not a good thing, when feeling particularly stressed a good head massage with diluted tea tree oil can help strengthen the follicles and increase blood flow/help it flow freely around the scalp. This has a double benefit for those with dandruff as it moisturises the skin making it less flaky.
MOUTH & THROAT
Toothbrush Cleaner: 1-2 drops onto the toothbrush, leave for 10min and then rinse; monthly or bi-monthly.
Toothpaste: I sometimes add 1 drop to my homemade toothpaste.
Troublesome gums: 1 drop of tea tree oil and 1 drop of peppermint oil in a cup of water, swish and spit, don’t swallow.
Mouthwash: 2 drops and a pinch of salt (sea salt or rock salt) to a cup of warm water, swish and spit, never swallow. For sore throats the mouthwash can be made and repeated 2-3 times a day.
Colds/Sore Throat/Congestion: Steaming the face technique, I use 1.5 to 1.7l (1 kettle) worth of nearly boiled water, fill a pot/bowl with it and add 3-4 drops. Then I sit (stand at first until I get used to the heat!) over the bowl and cover my head and the bowl with a towel and breathe deeply for approx 10-15min. If necessary I do that twice a day; morning and night.
Replacement Vapour Rub: 2-3 drops rubbed/spread onto the chest and inhaled while sleeping, or 1 drop on the pillow. I suppose 1 drop could be put on the nose or above the top lip but I haven’t tried that so don’t know how/if it would work.
Muscle Strain/Soreness: You know the feeling, if you over exert yourself either through general exertion or exercise your muscles can stiffen up for 2-4 days and you feel like you can barely move for the pain. I add 15-20 drops to a full bath of warm-hot water and half a cup of epsom salt.
These are uses I’ve read/heard about but haven’t tried.
Superficial Cuts and Blisters: Clean the area first and then depending on one’s sensitivity, 2-3 drops of oil can be added to a small cup of water and used to soak the cut or be sprayed onto it if you have a spare bottle with a nozzle. OR upto 3 drops can be added directly. OR If a bandage is going to be add upto 3 drops to cotton wool/ball and lay it oil down on the cut and bandage over it.
Insect Bite: 1 drop directly onto the bite.
Bruise: If you don’t have any arnica ice the bruise then gently massage in 2 drops.
Toe Nail Fungus: Up to 2 drops directly to the nail(s) and underneath the tip, allow to dry, apply once daily.
Finger Nail Fungus: Up to 2 drops directly to nail(s) and immediate skin, allow to dry, twice daily.
General House Cleanser: If you have a spray bottle or even just a regular bottle keeping a mix of approx 2 tsps of tea tree oil and 2 cups of water. Shake before using and wipe with a cloth to spread evenly. This can also help to remove mold and deter insects. As a better cleaner (not insect repellent) 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar can be added.
Air Freshener: Soak some cotton balls, tissues, sawdust (large flaky type used for small pet litter not the actual dust type) or clean shredded fabric strips (these are also sold as small pet litter) in tea tree oil. (Soak as in enough for them to retain the oil, not cover them in too much oil where they drip.) Leave some out in a bowl until the air feels/smells fresher and then dispose of them.
Depending on the person and what they use it for the results of tea tree oil may vary but I personally prefer it to using alternatives with long lists of ingredients and processing. At least this way I know what I’m getting and without worrying side effects.
Tea Tree oil has been used since ancient times, with all those people using it and hence providing free results to the doctors and chemists of bygone days or those still living in places out of reach or even modern aromatherapists and homeopaths, I’m happy with that and continue to use it as one of my staple oils.