The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. Legend has it that the medicinal benefits of the oil were considered so important that Australian soldiers were supplied with some tea tree oil in their World War II military kit.
Similar to other essential oils, tea tree oil is a very complex chemical mixture consisting of about 100 components, the major ones being terpinen-4-ol (40%), γ-Terpinene (23%) and α-Terpinene (10%). Terpinen-4-ol is considered to be the main active component but as a great article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews states "while some TTO components may be considered less active, none can be considered inactive" and most components contribute to TTO's strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects.
Regarding skincare and tea tree oil, its most well-known effect is probably being a well established anti-acne ingredient. Multiple studies confirm that TTO is effective against the evil acne-causing bacteria called P. acnes and the effectiveness of 5% TTO gel is comparable to the gold standard anti-acne treatment, 5% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion. You need to be a bit more patient with TTO, though, as its effects come slower but also with fewer side effects.
Regarding TTO and sensitive skin, we say that you should be careful. Even if your skin is not sensitive you should never put undiluted TTO on your skin. Luckily, it contains only very small amounts of the common allergens (such as limonene), but irritant and allergic reactions still happen, especially by oxidation products that occur in older or not properly stored oil. So if you have some pure TTO at home, know that storage matters, keep it in a cool, dry, dark place and use it up in a reasonable amount of time.
Overall, we do not often give a goodie status to essential oils, but we feel that TTO's unique antibacterial and anti-acne properties with its minimal allergen content warrant an exception. If your skin is acne-prone, TTO is something to experiment with.
Show me some proof
- Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley. "Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties." Clinical microbiology reviews 19.1 (2006): 50-62.
- Bassett, I. B., D. L. Pannowitz, and R. S. Barnetson. "A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne." The Medical Journal of Australia 153.8 (1990): 455-458.
- Hammer, Katherine A., Christine F. Carson, and Thomas V. Riley. "Susceptibility of transient and commensal skin flora to the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil)." American journal of infection control 24.3 (1996): 186-189.
- Enshaieh, Shahla, et al. "The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study." Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 73.1 (2007): 22.
- Carson, C. F., and T. V. Riley. "Safety, efficacy and provenance of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil." Contact Dermatitis 45.2 (2001): 65-67.
- Cal, Krzysztof, and Malgorzata Krzyzaniak. "Stratum corneum absorption and retention of linalool and terpinen-4-ol applied as gel or oily solution in humans." Journal of dermatological science 42.3 (2006): 265-267.