Tea tree oil is an essential oil obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a plant native to Australia. Historically, the leaves were used as a substitute for tea, which is how tea tree oil got its name. The part used medicinally is the oil from the leaves.
Tea tree oil contains ingredients that 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.
People use tea tree oil for the following conditions: acne, athlete’s foot, dandruff, vaginitis, thrush, periodontal disease, yeast infections, eczema, lice, psoriasis, and boils. Tea tree oil is most commonly found as a pure essential oil. It is also an ingredient in creams, ointments, lotions, soaps, and shampoos and can be used as a safe disinfectant for cloth diapers.
A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado found that tea tree oil used topically caused unexplained breast enlargement in boys.
Additional studies show that women who are pregnant or nursing or suffering from hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid tea tree oil.
Undiluted tea tree oil can cause skin irritation, redness, blistering, and itching; and occasionally, may cause allergic reactions ranging from mild contact dermatitis to severe blisters and rashes.
Tea tree oil should not be taken internally, even in small quantities, as it can cause impaired immune function, diarrhea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression (excessive drowsiness, sleepiness, confusion, coma).
Please note that the tea tree oil in commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes is generally considered to be acceptable because it is not swallowed.
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