Take It Easy on the Tea Tree!

Aug 25, 04:37 PM

Health-conscious Americans have gone crazy for tea tree. This Australian essential oil has very broad spectrum antibacterial action, and is now found in numerous "all natural" personal care products: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, soap, mouthwash, lip balm and hand lotion, to name just a few. Many people use tea tree straight out of the bottle for acne and fungal infections of the nails (Never a smart idea... sensitization to this oil often eventually occurs from repeated neat use. Those with sensitive skin may have trouble using topical tea tree, period, as I can personally attest.).

Our obsession with tea tree oil has led to a serious problem: bacteria are now developing resistance to tea tree. This is particularly alarming because there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that tea tree essential oil is effective against MRSA (methycillin resistant Staphlococcus aureus). So far, resistance has occurred only at subclinical levels, but these are the levels which are used in personal care products.

The solution is to limit your use of personal care products containing tea tree essential oil, or eliminate them altogether. If you make your own beauty products or use tea tree for green housekeeping, rotate it with other oils such as lemon, niaouli, or sweet marjoram. Continually rotating different essential oils suitable for the given purpose will insure that bacteria (and your body) don't have time to develop significant resistance.

M. McMahon, I. Blair, J. Moore & D. McDowell: Habituation to sub-lethal concentrations of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is associated with reduced susceptibility to antibiotics in human pathogens; JAC, 2007 59(1):125-127.

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