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What Exactly is Tea Tree Oil, and Should You Use It?


Instead of asking what tea tree oil can do, the better question might be: what can't it do? This popular essential oil comes packed with antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can be used to treat a myriad of skin conditions. Whether you're looking for a natural acne treatment, a remedy for dryness, or something to control your oily skin, tea tree oil can do it all. Continue reading below for a thorough rundown on what exactly tea tree oil is, what it’s most commonly used for, and seven ways to start using this multitasking ingredient ASAP.



First Things First: What Exactly Is Tea Tree Oil?

Australian tea tree oil comes from the native Australian plant melaleuca alternifolia, a flowering white shrub. Sometimes you might find it labeled as melaleuca oil. No matter what it's called, it's easily recognizable by its fresh, pine-like scent.

Tea tree oil has been used by indigenous groups for centuries and was brought to the Western world in the late 1700s. It's most commonly applied topically and found in essential oil form. Back in the 1700s, it was frequently used as a natural medicine to help treat fungal infections. Its anti-inflammatory benefits also made it quite popular to treat skin irritations.

The Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has become a staple ingredient in natural skincare primarily because of the many ways it can help treat minor skin conditions and irritations. Most commonly, you'll find it promoted as a treatment of acne. Its antibacterial properties can help to stop acne-causing bacteria from spreading. Additionally, it can also help to tame the irritation and redness commonly associated with breakouts.

The essential oil is also commonly used in skincare as an ingredient in toners and face cleansers. Outside of that, its antiseptic and antifungal properties have been used as a natural remedy for conditions like dandruff, nail fungus, athlete's foot, insect bites, and even head lice. And that's not all: in addition to being used topically, it’s also sometimes used in aromatherapy. Using it this way is thought to help boost the immune system.

Want to know even more? Check out all of tea tree oil's uses in our complete guide to the benefits of tea tree oil.

Are There Any Side Effects to Using Tea Tree Oil?

Before going all out with tea tree oil, there are a few important reminders and common side effects to keep in mind. First, know that tea tree oil can be quite potent. It's always a good idea to dilute it either with water or a carrier oil (like coconut oil or olive oil) if you plan to apply it directly to your skin. 

Also, if you use too much, it could result in allergic contact dermatitis (AKA a rash). The essential oil can also slightly sting when you apply it to your skin, more so if you apply it to broken skin, so stay away from open cuts or irritated breakouts. Be sure to avoid applying it anywhere near your eyes. Lastly, tea tree essential oil is toxic if swallowed and should never be ingested. 


How to Use Tea Tree Oil, 7 Different Ways

Z SKIN COSMETICS Acne Spot Treatment

1. As a Breakout-Buster.

To use tea tree oil as an acne treatment, first make sure you apply it to clean, freshly washed skin. From here you have a few different options. You can combine tea tree oil with witch hazel to create a custom spot treatment, or you can look for a pre-made spot treatment that lists tea tree oil as an active ingredient (like Z SKIN COSMETICS Acne Spot Treatment). You can also mix a drop of it with a leave-on salicylic acid ointment, or simply apply it to the skin directly. If you apply it directly to the skin as a spot treatment, be sure to dilute it first. An easy way to do this is to add one to two drops of tea tree oil to wet a cotton swab.

ESSENHERB Tea Tree 90 Toner Pad

2. As an Oil-Controller.

Another highly-touted perk of using tea tree oil topically is its ability to absorb excess oil. Tea tree oil is an especially effective toner for this very reason. Try mixing a few drops of the essential oil into your favorite toner, or find a tea tree oil-infused toning product like these ESSENHERB Tea Tree 90 Toner Pads.

VITAMASQUES Tea Tree Moisturising + Clarifying Mask

3. As a Dry Skin-Soother.

While tea tree oil is excellent at fighting acne and controlling oily skin, it's different from most acne-fighting agents in that it won’t dry out your skin. In fact, it can actually really help to reduce the itchiness and irritation that comes with dry skin. The trick here is to mix the essential oil with your favorite face lotion or moisturizer. If you want to use tea tree oil to hydrate your face, just remember to be careful around the eye area. For a more intensive facial treatment, you can also use it in a mask (like the VITAMASQUES Tea Tree Moisturising + Clarifying Mask).

AROMATICA Tea Tree Balancing Foaming Cleanser

4. As a Clarifying Cleanser.

Tea tree oil is super effective at clearing out pores without stripping your skin of the good stuff. To use it in cleanser form, mix a few drops into a gentle cleanser (again, be careful around the eye area) or use a ready-made gentle cleanser like the AROMATICA Tea Tree Balancing Foaming Cleanser.

BRIOGEO Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

5. As a Scalp Treatment.

One of the most effective remedies for an itchy scalp is terpinen-4-ol, the most active ingredient in tea tree oil. To use it as a scalp treatment, try incorporating a tea tree oil shampoo like BRIOGEO's Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo into your hair care routine. You can also create a DIY hair mask by combining a few drops of tea tree oil with coconut oil.

BOTANIC FARM Tea Tree Natural Energy Mask

6. As an Inflammation Eradicator.

Tea tree oil's high concentration of terpinen-4-ol also helps to soothe skin inflammation and redness. To use tea tree oil for this purpose, try a more intensive treatment like a mask. We love the BOTANIC FARM Tea Tree Natural Energy Mask.

GRACE & STELLA CO. Tea Tree Essential Oil

7. As a DIY Hand Sanitizer.

If alcohol-based hand sanitizers tend to leave your hands dry and irritated, take advantage of tea tree oil's antiviral properties and use it as an all-natural alternative. To do this, simply rub a few drops of tea tree oil like the GRACE & STELLA CO Tea Tree Essential Oil onto your hands with a carrier oil of your choice. If the scent is too strong solo, try blending it with a complementary essential oil like lavender oil.


Do you use tea tree oil regularly? What’s your favorite way to incorporate this ingredient in your skincare routine? Share your tips and tricks with us on Instagram or Twitter–discover us @IPSY. Want in on all the Glam Bag fun? Take the beauty quiz now to get started. 

About the author
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated February 6, 2020 12:00 AM