It is hard to imagine something so potent as an essential oil (that too, tea tree oil) having side effects.
But that is the truth.
Though touted to be extremely beneficial for various topical ailments, tea tree oil has its own baggage of undesirable effects – and it is important to know them.
Tea Tree Oil – A Brief
Also known as melaleuca oil, it is an essential oil with a fresh camphor-like odor and an appearance that ranges from pale yellow to colorless. Taken from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia plant, it is native to Australia.
The oil, though toxic if taken orally, is used in cosmetics and skin creams in lower concentrations. Tea tree oil has also been claimed to treat numerous medical conditions, with most of the claims being proven. It is most effective as an antimicrobial agent and helps treat various dermatological issues like acne, lice, dandruff, etc.
However, there are certain concerns with respect to its safety.
Is Tea Tree Oil Safe?
Tea tree has been found to be poisonous if taken internally. Since it is a refined composition of numerous naturally occurring chemicals, its misuse might be hazardous.
According to an Australian study, the ill effects of tea tree oil can be minimized by avoiding its ingestion (1).
Though tea tree oil is possibly safe when applied to the skin, it might cause swelling and skin irritation in certain individuals (2). The oil can even cause skin dryness and itching.
Tea tree oil is likely unsafe if taken orally. It might cause confusion, unsteadiness, inability to walk, and in severe cases, even coma.
Tea Tree Oil Side Effects
Read on to arm yourself with an understanding of some of these side effects of tea tree oil:
Can you be allergic to tea tree oil? Yes it is possible! Allergic reactions can range from mild skin inflammation to severe rashes (3). Though it can be used (without much apprehension) by people who are not allergic to it, caution must be exercised while using it in general.
Skin irritation can arise especially if the oil is applied to dry or broken skin. The symptoms can include stinging, itching that burns, and mild to serious inflammation. Which is why doing a patch test before applying it is recommended.
Also, being allergic to cloves, guava, or eucalyptus can make one more susceptible to develop allergies with tea tree oil. The longer the tea tree oil has been allowed to age, the more likely it is to cause allergies.
Other allergic reactions include congestion, cramps, diarrhea, swelling, flushing, nausea, lightheadedness, and even anaphylaxis (which could be life-threatening).
According to one study, though most tea tree oil allergies are caused by the application of the pure oil itself, the cosmetics that contain tea tree oil could also be the culprits in certain cases (4).
[ Read: Home Remedies To Treat Skin Allergies ]
2. Bad Taste
In one UAE study involving mouthwashes (one containing tea tree oil and the other containing a compound called cetylpyridinium chloride, or CPC), the CPC mouthwash was found to have a better antigingivitis effect. More importantly, the mouthwash containing tea tree oil was linked to an impairment of taste perception (5).
And as per a report published by the Vanderbilt University of Medical Center, most essential oils like tea tree have a bitter taste, which can cause children to choke on them (6).
3. Scalp Problems
What are the side effects of tea tree oil on scalp? Though tea tree oil is believed to treat scalp issues like dandruff, more research is needed to substantiate its beneficial uses (7). The oil is also likely to cause scalp allergies in some people.
4. Depressed Behavior
Though depressive behavior hasn’t been observed in humans yet, related symptoms and signs of toxicity were noted in dogs and cats following the external application of the oil in high doses.
Tea tree oil can also cause excessive drowsiness if ingested. And fatigue is one of its other side effects.
5. Hormonal Side Effects
Tea tree oil was found to cause breast growth in adolescent boys. Tea tree oil might act as a potential endocrine disruptor and cause this to happen. According to a report published by The New England Journal of Medicine, gynecomastia (enlargement of a man’s breasts due to hormonal imbalance) was resolved in most cases post the discontinuation of the use of tea tree oil (8).
Similar findings were published in a report by National Institutes of Health (9).
One of the negative effects of tea tree oil is diarrhea. Ingestion of tea tree oil can cause diarrhea in certain cases. This can happen as a case of a severe allergic reaction to tea tree oil.
[ Read: Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Diarrhea ]
7. Nasal Polyps
Tea tree oil is often recommended for nasal polyps, but it can also cause side effects. The oil can cause your nose to run, and it might even burn or sting. The polyp might swell before it shrinks.
8. Ear Damage
If applied undiluted to mucous membranes, it can cause discomfort and swelling. If it is being used to treat ear infections (which tea tree oil is often used for), it is always best to mix it with a carrier oil. A carrier oil like almond or olive oil, in combination with diluted tea tree oil, can be placed in the ear canal to treat related infections.
Practice caution when you are treating ear infections by yourself at home. Or best, visit your doctor.
One good way to use tea tree oil (and avoid the troubles) is to dilute a few drops of the oil with one-fourth cup of warm olive oil. Tilt your head to one side and using a dropper, pour a few drops into the infected ear. Keep your head tilted for about a minute to allow the liquid to travel through your ear canal.
However, certain studies suggest against using tea tree oil in the ear as it might cause damage to the inner ear (10).
9. Inflammation Of The Mouth
Though there is no specific information on inflammation, tea tree oil has been found to be ineffective in reducing plaque levels in the mouth (11).
10. Muscle Tremors
According to veterinary toxicologists, large amounts of tea tree oil applied externally to dogs and cats had caused muscle tremors (12). Though recovery was achieved with treatment, similar effects are speculated in humans (13).
11. Skin Irritation And Other Skin Issues
It is always better to purchase tea tree oil that is already in the required dilution rather than mixing it yourself. Or best – you can use alternatives like rosemary, lavender, or manuka oils on your skin – as these are gentler but equally effective.
Tea tree oil can also penetrate the outer layers of the skin, thereby increasing the chances of toxicity due to dermal absorption. This toxicity is dose dependent, and most of the issues can be avoided by using the oil in its diluted form (17).
Those were tea tree oil side effects. When used topically, it might be safe in certain cases. But ingesting it can lead to tea tree oil poisoning, causing severe side effects (which we have already seen above).
This is why knowing the right dosage of tea tree oil is important.
What Is The Right Dosage Of Tea Tree Oil?
What happens if you use too much tea tree oil? There is no specific dosage of tea tree oil that has been specified. However, there are some guidelines.
If you are using tea tree oil for
- dental plaque, 2.5 % tea tree oil to brush your teeth daily for eight weeks.
- acne, 5% tea tree oil as a gel can be applied to the skin once every day for three months.
- dandruff, 5% tea tree oil shampoo can be applied to the scalp for three minutes daily for four weeks.
- eye infections, 50% tea tree oil to be used as a weekly eyelid scrub for six weeks.
- skin allergies, 20% to 100% tea tree oil can be applied to the affected areas.
- vaginal infections, 20% tea tree oil can be applied for 24 hours using a soaked tampon.
And we say this again, never take tea tree oil orally.
Safety During Pregnancy Or Breastfeeding
Is tea tree oil safe while pregnant? Certain studies show that using tea tree oil during labor can lead to the cessation of contractions of the uterus, which might put the baby and the mother at risk. This can happen if the uterus is exposed to tea tree oil.
There is no data indicating the excretion of tea tree oil components into breast milk (18). Neither is there any data on the safety of tea tree oil for nursing mothers or infants. Topical tea tree oil application is usually well tolerated. But it must never be taken orally.
Interactions With Drugs
Tea tree oil might interact with a number of drugs – these include agents for cancer, skin, and parasite infections, and agents that affect the nervous system and decrease immunity. It also might interact with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory agents, antiviral agents, and hormonal agents (19).
Interactions With Herbs And Dietary Supplements
The oil can also interact with anti-acne herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements for inflammation, cancer, skin, and parasite infections, and that might affect the nervous system.
Tea tree oil can work wonders when used topically. Otherwise, it can be harmful. However, use the oil as per the recommended dosage to avail its best benefits and avoid the ill effects. And yes, consult your doctor when required.
Also, tell us how this post on tea tree oil side effects has benefited you. Do tell us if you know any other tea tree oil dangers by commenting in the box below.
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