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If you have ever experienced skin and scalp conditions like acne or dandruff, you've probably done some digging on natural treatment options and discovered a thing or two about tea tree oil. This ingredient is often touted for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help remedy these exact concerns.
Ultimately, though, it's an essential oil, which gives some of us pause. Using these types of botanicals correctly is paramount: Even when tea tree oil is administered properly, it can cause reactions for those with allergies or ultra-sensitive skin. To determine if this ingredient is right for you, we tapped several dermatologists and an esthetician. Ahead, they share how to safely incorporate this essential oil into your beauty routine to reap all of its skin- and hair-boosting benefits.
Tea Tree Oil 101
Tea tree oil is made from the distillation of leaves from the tea tree, formally known as Melaleuca alternifolia, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The essential oil is loaded with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. These benefits make it an effective ingredient in skin and hair products, says Angelo P. Thrower, MD, PA, the owner of Dr. Thrower's Skincare. Lots of skin care companies have harnessed the healing properties of this multifunctional, naturally-occurring oil, he adds.
This ingredient should always be diluted. Tea tree oil alone can cause dryness, blisters, and rashes, says Dr. Thrower. If you want to make your own tincture, he recommends a diluting ratio of 1 to 2 drops of tea tree oil for every 12 drops of carrier oil, which should be mild, moisturizing, and skin-safe.
Make sure to do a patch test, which should reveal any tea tree oil allergies or sensitivities. "Apply one to two drops of the diluted oil on your inner forearm, and if no irritation occurs within a 24-hour period, you may use it for your intended purposes," says Dr. Thrower.
Tea Tree Oil in Skin Care
Since tea tree oil has healing and nourishing properties, it is best used as an acne treatment, notes Blake. The anti-staphylococci properties in tea tree oil, which reduce bacterial colonization, help heal scarring, scratches, and cuts—and can also reduce oil production, she adds.
The best way to work tea tree oil into your acne regimen is to buy skin care products already formulated with it. Salicylic acid gels, in particular, are often made with this acne-fighting botanical, says Nazanin Saedi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Plymouth Meeting Dermatology. "It's great for acne and unclogging pores, and the addition of tea tree oil helps calm down the inflammation associated with acne," she says.
Tea Tree Oil in Hair Care
Tea tree oil can clarify your scalp by washing away excess oil, dead skin, and buildup, says Blake; it can also unblock your scalp's pores. This helps prevent the accumulation of yeast, which contributes to dandruff.
You can add a few drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo to tend to your scalp—this will help maintain normal scalp flora, prevent chemical buildup, and the accumulation of dead skin cells, says Dr. Thrower—but it's easier to purchase hair care products with tea tree oil in the formulation, says Dr. Saedi. Consider products like the Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo and matching conditioner; both are suitable for all hair types and will refresh your scalp.
How Long It Takes to See Results
Tea tree oil skin and hair products can be used daily, says Dr. Saedi. With consistent application, you'll start to see the benefits of using this botanical ingredient after four weeks. Of course, this all depends on your skin type and lifestyle—and you should always consult with your doctor or dermatologist about treatment options if your ailment doesn't resolve or improve.
Who Shouldn't Use Tea Tree Oil
With that said, tea tree oil isn't for everyone. Those with active eczema she avoid it entirely, since "their skin barrier is compromised," says Dr. Saedi. "Tea tree oil might cause more inflammation and irritation when applied directly to the skin."