The antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties of tea tree oil are beneficial for the treatment of a number of skin diseases and infections, according to a report by Dermatology Times. The oil, which is obtained through steam distillation of leaves from native Australian coastal tree Melaleuca alternifolia (M. alternifolia) can be used to treat acne, nail fungus, MRSA and more, but care must be taken with this potential irritant.
Nail Fungus, Acne and MRSA
Tea tree oil has been shown to have activity against dermatophytes, fungi that cause infections of the hair skin and nails. It has shown efficacy in treating onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the nail, and interdigital tinea pedis, a fungal infection of the feet between the toes.
Topical tea tree oil was found effective as treatment for bacterial and inflammatory conditions such as acne. Studies have shown tea tree oil to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide for clients with acne; however, it was shown to be better tolerated by some individuals with acne.
According to the report, terpin-4-ol is the component of tea tree oil showing signs of antimicrobial activity. Tea tree oil has proven to have antibacterial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and products containing tea tree oil are recommended MRSA treatment.
One study compared treatment with mupirocin 2% nasal ointment, chlorhexidine 4% soap and silver sulfadiazine 1% cream versus a tea tree oil regimen, which included a tea tree 10% cream and tea tree 5% body wash. Both treatments proved to be effective in treating MRSA and showed no significant difference in efficacy.
While tea tree oil has many benefits, Dermatology Times warns to be cautious when utilizing over-the-counter products for bacterial eradication. It is difficult to determine the concentration and purity of the oil in these products, and it is known to be irritating and a source of allergic contact dermatitis in some clients.