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Tea Tree Oil for Eczema: Can It Help?

Posted on August 03, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil with many therapeutic properties that may make it helpful in addressing some skin conditions. People with skin conditions such as eczema sometimes turn to complementary therapies like tea tree oil to find relief from symptoms including itchy, dry skin.

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that comes from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree. Its oil is extracted from the tree leaves through steam distillation. Tea tree oil is often an ingredient in shampoos, lotions, and skin care products, as it’s been shown to help conditions such as acne, athlete’s foot, and nail fungus.

Tea tree oil is considered generally safe to use on the skin if it is diluted with another oil, such as coconut oil. However, tea tree oil is poisonous if ingested. Do not take tea tree oil by mouth.

Skin Benefits of Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been shown to have many skin benefits, although there is limited data from studies to prove all of the reported benefits.

Antioxidant Properties

According to some research, tea tree oil contains antioxidants, which help to reduce skin damage from the environment and free radicals.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to reduce swelling from hypersensitivity (an overreaction of the immune system) in mice and to treat allergic contact dermatitis in humans. The oil has also been found effective in treating inflammatory skin conditions such as acne. Tea tree oil may also help to heal skin wounds, reduce skin inflammation due to infection, and help cool burn wounds.

Antibacterial Properties

Another benefit of tea tree oil is its antibacterial properties, which can help to heal skin infections. One study found that a tea tree oil concentration was effective in treating the bacterial skin condition methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which causes staph infections and tends to be difficult to treat.

Antiviral, Antifungal, and Antiprotozoal Properties

Research has shown that tea tree oil can help to fight viruses, fungal infections, and protozoa (single-celled organisms) that can affect the skin. The oil is often used as an alternative treatment for head lice and the fungal infection athlete’s foot. Research also suggests tea tree oil is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for dandruff, which is thought to be caused by a fungus. The oil’s antifungal properties may also help to reduce symptoms like itching.

Eczema and Tea Tree Oil

With all of its skin-healing benefits, tea tree oil may be effective in alleviating some eczema symptoms and flare-ups (periods where symptoms appear or get worse), though findings and recommendations are mixed.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic autoimmune condition that produces dry skin, itchiness, and patches of skin that are red, brownish, purple, or gray, depending on a person's skin tone. In some cases, eczema causes raised bumps that may leak fluid. Standard treatments for eczema include topical creams — such as corticosteroids — which help reduce inflammation and itching. Other treatments include antibiotic creams for any skin infections, oral drugs to treat inflammation, and, in severe cases, systemic immunosuppressants or an injectable biologic called Dupixent (dupilumab).

Some people with eczema have also turned to natural therapies like tea tree oil to complement their treatments and self-management strategies, such as baths and moisturizing.

“I use tea tree oil a lot, and it seems to help calm my eczema,” wrote one MyEczemaTeam member. Another shared, “I dilute tea tree oil in a small spray bottle and use it on my itchy flare-ups. It calms them down to almost nothing.”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine say that there is not enough evidence to confirm the effectiveness of tea tree oil and other essential oils for human health.

One study found that, in response to an allergic reaction to nickel that caused contact dermatitis, tea tree oil was more effective than the traditional treatments of zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams in relieving inflammation and eczema flare-ups. This study focused on the effectiveness of tea tree oil in treating eczema due to an allergic reaction, so the results may not apply to all types of eczema.

Despite the potential benefits of tea tree oil, some research has found that tea tree oil used on the skin can also sometimes cause negative reactions. Although research is ongoing into the positive effects of tea tree oil on eczema-prone skin, the Mayo Clinic advises against the use of tea tree oil on eczema.

How To Use Tea Tree Oil for Eczema

If you are interested in trying tea tree oil for your eczema symptoms, talk with your doctor or dermatologist. If you have a known allergy to tea tree oil, you should not use it on your skin. If you are not allergic and your doctor gives their approval to try tea tree oil, there are several ways you can use it.

Make Your Own Oil Mixture

You can make your own tea tree oil mixture to try directly on your skin. When choosing a tea tree oil to purchase, make sure the oil is 100 percent pure tea tree oil and that it is from a trustworthy health store.

You should never apply any essential oil directly on the skin. Dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba, or olive oil. Make a mixture with a ratio of 1 drop of tea tree oil to about 12 drops of the carrier oil.

Before trying the oil mixture on your skin, you should do a patch test to see how your skin reacts. To do this test, apply the oil mixture to a small area of skin that is not affected by eczema. Wait approximately 48 hours. If the skin becomes irritated, discolored, bumpy, or itchy, you may be allergic, and you should not use the mixture on other areas of your skin.

If your skin has no reaction to the patch test, rub a small amount of the oil mixture onto areas of skin affected by eczema. Let the oil absorb into your skin.

Look for Tea Tree Oil in Skin Care Products

Instead of making your own tea tree oil mixture, you could look for products that include it as an ingredient. Many lotions, moisturizers, and shampoos include tea tree oil. Read the ingredient list of a product to check if it has tea tree oil.

Precautions About Using Tea Tree Oil

There are some precautions to keep in mind when considering using tea tree oil for eczema.

Contact Dermatitis

Some studies have found that tea tree oil can cause an allergic contact dermatitis reaction on the skin, which is why it’s important to test an oil mixture or any new product on your skin through a patch test. As of 2012, about 1.4 percent of people referred for allergy testing had an allergic response to tea tree oil.

Lack of Regulation and Research

Essential oils are not regulated by any government entity like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because essential oils are not regulated, there is no guarantee of the purity and legitimacy of a particular seller’s oils. Be mindful of advertisements about essential oils and the claims that they make. For a product to be considered a treatment for any condition or disease in the U.S., it has to be approved and regulated by the FDA.

Furthermore, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, only use tea tree oil after consulting with your doctor. The safety and efficacy of tea tree oil has not been tested on babies and young children.

Connect With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 37,500 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you tried tea tree oil for your eczema? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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