Tea tree oil is an essential oil derived from the leaves of the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), which is native to Australia. Like other essential oils, tea tree oil has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. The aboriginal people of Australia used it to clean wounds and treat infections.
Today, tea tree oil is a common ingredient in shampoos and soaps. Its proven antimicrobial properties make it an excellent cleaning agent. Studies have shown that tea tree oil effectively fights many types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The skin on your scalp is particularly sensitive, which leaves it vulnerable to skin conditions. Minor fungal infections are often responsible for itchiness and dandruff. As an antifungal agent, tea tree oil may help effectively manage these conditions. Tea tree oil may also help sooth inflammation caused by scratching and psoriasis.
What the research says
Seborrheic dermatitis, more commonly known as dandruff or cradle cap, is one of the most common scalp problems. It causes scaly skin, skin flakes, greasy patches, and redness on our scalp. If you have a beard, you might also have dandruff on your face.
Experts aren’t sure what why some people have dandruff and others don’t. It may be related to increased sensitivity to a type of fungus called Malassezia that’s naturally found on your scalp. Based on this theory, tea tree oil’s natural antifungal properties make it a good option for treating fungal scalp conditions, such as dandruff.
This is backed by a clinical study involving a shampoo containing 5 percent tea tree oil. Participants who used the shampoo had a 41 percent reduction in dandruff after four weeks of daily use.
Psoriasis is another condition that can affect the skin of your scalp. It causes red, raised, scaly patches of skin. While there isn’t much research about using tea tree oil for psoriasis, the National Psoriasis Foundation notes that there is some anecdotal evidence to support it. This means that people with psoriasis have reported that it worked for them, but there aren’t any studies to back up these claims.
However, tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may help to reduce irritated, inflamed skin caused by scalp psoriasis.
How to use it
If you’ve never used tea tree oil before, start by doing a patch test to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction. Place a few drops of tea tree oil on a small patch of skin and watch for any signs of irritation for 24 hours. If you don’t have a reaction, you should be fine to use it on a larger area, such as your scalp.
Never apply pure tea tree oil to your scalp without diluting it first. Instead, mix it with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. It might be hard to get the oil mixture out of your hair, so you can also try diluting it in another substance, such as aloe vera or apple cider vinegar. You can also try adding tea tree oil to your regular shampoo.
Are there any risks?
There aren’t many risks associated with using tea tree oil. However, using undiluted tea tree oil on your skin may cause a rash. In addition, a recent study suggests that there may be a connection between exposure to tea tree oil and breast growth in young boys, a condition known as prepubertal gynecomastia. While more research is needed to fully understand this link, it’s best to check in with a pediatrician before using tea tree oil on children.
Choosing a product
When choosing a commercially available tea tree oil shampoo, pay close attention to the label. Many products contain a small amount of tea tree oil for fragrance. This is not enough to be therapeutic. Look for products that contain 5 percent tea tree oil, like this one, which you can buy on Amazon.
When purchasing pure tee tree oil, look for one that:
- mentions the Latin name (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- contains 100 percent tea tree oil
- is steam distilled
- is from Australia
The bottom line
Tee tree oil is a great natural remedy for keeping your scalp free of irritation. Just make sure you use high-quality products that contain pure tea tree oil. If you have a scalp condition, such as dandruff, expect to wait a few weeks before you start seeing results.