Who of us hasn’t included some kind of oil in our skin care routine at one point or another in our quest to get clear skin? Spots and what they leave behind are what a lot of us contend with. In your journey to getting flawless skin, you may have heard of tea tree oil, best known as a truly tried and tested plant-based spot fighter.

Tea tree oil has an almost endless number of uses and benefits for the skin so that it’s popping up in more and more products, from cleansers to moisturiser and even hair and nail products.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil comes from the tree of the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia. The tree is native to Australia and it grows in the swampy southeast coast. It got its name by eighteenth century sailors, who made tea that smelled like nutmeg from the leaves of the tree, hence its name tea tree. Besides its name, there’s tea tree has nothing to do with normal tea the source material for green or black tea.

Tea tree oil has been used for generations by the indigenous people in Australia as traditional medicine. Initially, the native Australians used to crush the tea tree leaves to extract the oil and then inhale it for colds and coughs. They also applied it directly to the skin.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

The oil is an essential oil, obtained by steam-distilling the leaves. The oil is also called melaleuca oil. It has a pale yellow colour. It has a strong, almost medicinal, scent. Some people describe it smells like camphor others think it smells akin to eucalyptus or peppermint.

How does tea tree oil work

It’s made up of a mix of over 100 compounds. Its primary active ingredients are called terpenoids. It’s thanks to these terpenoids that tea tree oil is known to be antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity.

The most abundant compound is terpinen-4-ol. It’s thought to be responsible for most of tea tree oil’s antimicrobial activity. It also appears that it increases the activity of your white blood cells, which help fight germs. But as is with plants, it works in many ways.

How can tea tree help

Besides being famous for being anti-microbial, tea tree oil also is anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

Fight acne

The terpenoids can both reduce the bacteria on the skin’s surface that contribute to acne growing and calm the skin and reduces redness going hand in hand with breakouts.

A boon is that it’s not picky on what kind of breakout its clearing, unlike other anti-acne ingredients. It’ll work both on comedonal acne (blackheads, whiteheads, small blemishes) and inflammatory acne (big, red pimples).

Although it may not work as fast as benzoyl peroxide, it’s gentler on your skin. But you have to use it in the right concentration. That is, the product needs to be formulated with 5% of tea tree oil. Lower concentrations may show effects in research (in a Petri dish) but won’t necessarily correlate with how it affects human skin.

Dry skin

Oftentimes, dry skin can irritated and inflamed because the barrier function is impaired. In such cases, tea tree oil can calm your skin and reduce itching and irritation.

Oily skin

Tea tree is unique in that it helps both dry and oily skin but in different ways. For people with oily skin, it cleanses and balances out your skin. Moreover, it helps to prevent any irritation that can come about when your skin produces too much sebum.

Danger zone

Before you swan dive into a bottle, remember essential oils are never used undiluted. Pure tea tree oil is potent so you don’t want to use it on your skin at full strength. Also important to know is that it should never be ingested as its toxic when swallowed.

Although most people can use it topically without any problems, for some it may cause a reaction. So it’s best to first do a patch test.

If you want to experiment with tea tree oil, you should start slow with 1 part of the essential in 30 parts of carrier oil. This translates into 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil. When you and tea tree oil get along well, increase the potency, drop by drop. A carrier oil can be something like jojoba or coconut oil.

For the ones who lack the time do to the concocting, you can find tea tree oil in products such as

  • Cleansers – especially those for oily skin or acne-prone skin
  • Body milk – since it can help stop the itch
  • Shampoos – to help dry scalp
  • Deodorants – it can help control bacteria that cause body odour

Remember, the most effective products contain about 5% tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil is often formulated with other ingredients but there aren’t any known drug interactions with tea tree oil (yet).

Other uses

Now we get to the seemingly endless ways you can use tea tree oil aside.

Keep your mitts clean

Known for its antiseptic effects, you can turn up your favourite soap a notch. Or add a few drops to your hand sanitiser, if you’re on the road.

Show the stop sign to bugs

You get a two-pronged approach: it acts as a deterrent and keeps bloodsucker away. And, it soothes bug bites stopping the itch.

Keep your gnashers clean

Since tea tree oil works as an antiseptic and kills bad bacteria while being soothing, it’s perfect to add to DYI toothpaste and mouthwash. Remember do not swallow the product since tee tree oil can be toxic.

Keep fresh

Not only as a deodorant for our bodies, but tea tree oil also works very well as a natural laundry and shoes freshener. It helps to prevent your laundry to smell musty or get mouldy.


Tea tree oil can be used both by people with dry and oily skin. But if you know you got sensitive skin take caution when you use it with anything that can cause reactions such as benzoyl peroxide.

You may not see progress as fast as with benzoyl peroxide, so give it at least 12 weeks of consistent use before checking how it improved your spots. That’s also because a pimple can begin months before you even see the characteristic red bump.

Why Tea Tree Oil Is Still A Skin Care Staple

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