Grown in the islands of the south Pacific and Australia, tea trees got their name because their bark, leaves, or twigs were historically used by settlers and travelers as a tea substitute. Australian tea trees, the main source of tea tree oil, are not trees at all, but rather green shrubs that grow in the wet coastal regions of Australia. These shrubs grow very quickly and can reach heights of 7 to 8 feet when mature. Australian tea trees have soft, thick, white bark, and white flowers that bloom in the summer.
The light yellow tea tree oil is produced by steaming the pine-needle-like tea tree leaves to force out the oil which is used mainly in medicine, but also for industrial lubricants and cosmetic products. The oil has a nutmeg-like smell.
Tea tree oil contains chemicals known as terpenoids which are believed to provide the oil its medicinal properties. Australian standards were established for the amount of one particular compound, terpinen-4-ol, which must make up at least 30 and preferably 40-50 of the oil for it can be considered medically useful. Tea tree oil contains yet another compound, cineole, which should make up less than 15 and preferably 2.5 of the oil.
Tea tree oil kills fungus and bacteria, including those resistant to some antibiotics. Tea tree oil is used topically as an antiseptic and anti-infective for bacterial infections, acne, and fungal infections such as athlete's foot. It is also used in connection with insect bites, sunburn, and other minor skin irritations.
Tea tree oil has also been used to kill bacteria in the mouth before dental surgery and to lessen the mouth irritation caused by dental procedures. In patients who suffer from oral candidiasis, a fungal infection of the mouth and throat, tea tree oil mouth rinse may prove effective in reducing symptoms. Other studies have indicated that tea tree oil is also effective when used in connection with nose, throat, and vaginal related infections.
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Tea Tree Oil Dosage and Administration
The amount of actual tea tree oil in various marketed preparations can range anywhere from 1 to 100. Often, the stronger products are used for hard-to-treat infections such as toenail fungus, while 5 to 10 tea tree oil gels have been used successfully to treat acne.
Commonly used dosages and durations include:
- For treating fungal infections of fingernails or toenails use 100 tea tree oil twice a day for 6 months
- For treating athlete's foot use 10 tea tree oil twice daily for up to one month
- For acne use 5 to 10 tea tree oil once a day indefinitely
- For oral candidiasis use one tablespoonful of 5 tea tree oil solution as a mouth wash taken up to 4 times a day. (Make sure to spit out)