Praised by many, tea tree oil has been used by the aboriginal people of Australia for hundreds of years as a natural treatment for a range of diseases and health conditions. The oil essence is collected from the long, slender leaves of the tea tree plant. Tea tree oil may be an effective, natural option for wound care in certain situations. Talk to your primary care doctor before using it, especially on deep, open wounds or those that are severely infected.
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Characterized by a spicy odor and pale yellow appearance, tea tree oil comes from the tea tree plant, which grows in the swampy regions of Australia. After it is extracted through steam distillation, the oil is found in many commercial products, including deodorants, disinfectants, soaps and lotions. Available diluted as well as in its pure form, tea tree oil is generally available for purchase at brick-and-mortar and online natural health stores.
Historically, tea tree oil has provided a topical treatment that the native people of Australia have used for many years to heal wounds, abrasions and other skin problems. According to Dr. Michael Chillemi, coauthor of the book “The Complete Herbal Guide,” Australian soldiers during World War II carried tea tree oil in their first-aid kits as a treatment for any mild wounds or topical infections that they incurred during battle. In order to maintain an adequate supply of tea tree oil, tea tree oil growers were exempt from military service for a period of time during the war.
According to Dr. Chillemi, active compounds present in tea tree oil include 8-cineole, terpinen-4-ol, a-terpineol and lineol. MedlinePlus states that the oil’s antimicrobial properties probably arise from the compound terpinen-4-ol. Other features of tea tree oil that may contribute to making it an effective wound care treatment include its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
Peggy O’Mara, author of the book “Natural Family Living,” suggests that you wash mild wounds or skin abrasions with a blend of tea tree oil and warm water. Create the blend by mixing one part tea tree oil with 10 parts water. Dip the damaged skin in the tea tree oil solution or dab the diluted oil onto the bare skin with a cotton ball. Watch the wound closely for signs of healing. Contact your doctor if you begin to notice severe signs of infection, such as red streaks on your skin or excessive, foul-smelling pus drainage.
Tea tree oil has been known to cause skin reactions, especially in individuals who are allergic to the oil itself or one of its cousins, including plants that belong to the myrtle family. According to MedlinePlus, possible skin reactions include a rash or redness, itching and blisters. Avoid using large amounts of tea tree oil topically to treat wounds, as MedlinePlus notes that animal studies indicate serious reactions may occur, including muscle tremors, problems walking and a decrease in brain function. Never try to treat wounds by ingesting tea tree oil because it’s toxic when ingested, and avoid using the oil for wound treatment if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
- "The Complete Herbal Guide”; Dr. Michael Chillemi and Stacey Chillemi; 2007
- MedlinePlus: Tea Tree Oil
- “Natural Family Living”; Peggy O’Mara; 2000