News Archive

Australian Tea Tree Oil 

Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is one of Australia's most well known and well documented essential oils. Often referred to as a "Medicine Kit in a Bottle", research and studies are now supporting this terminology with evidence for Tea Tree against bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Melaleuca alternifolia is commonly referred to as the Narrow Leaved Paper Bark Tree, and is a member of the Myrtle family. The oil is produced through steam distillation of the leaves and terminal branchlets. It is a clear to pale yellow mobile liquid, with a fresh, strong medicinal odour.

Melaleuca alternifolia grows on the north coast of New South Wales it was originally found in only a small area. From a cottage industry, the notoriety of Tea Tree grew and established an industry where vast plantations were required to meet the demand both locally and internationally.

Until recently some traditional bush stands remained that distilled Tea Tree on site - cutting the trees by hand and producing oil in a mobile still. This method of production resulted in high priced oil due to the very low yield and high intensive labour requirements involved in producing an acceptable oil that also met the standards for terpinen-4-ol and 1,8-cineole. Most Tea Tree oil currently produced in Australia is grown in plantations, with some licensed as Certified Organic farms.

Indigenous Australians have long held the tree in high regard for its medicinal properties,creating poultices with the crushed leaves and mud to cure a number of ailments including burns, sores, wounds and bites. In 1925, Tea Tree oil was found to have a germicidal rating more than 10 times that of carbolic acid (phenol), the accepted antiseptic of the time. During the Second World War the medicine kits contained Tea Tree oil to help treat various skin conditions and wounds and in 1949 Tea Tree Oil was first listed in the British Pharmacopoeia Codex (B.P.C.).

With such a long history of use, it is only recently that the claims for its efficacy have begun to be supported by research and clinical evidence for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. Tea Tree oil has found application in many pharmaceutical preparations for acne, burns, sores, fungal conditions and dandruff.

Tea Tree oil has significant importance as an antiseptic. It is generally suitable for application directly onto the skin without causing irritation, and has the ability to penetrate the skin to reach the site of infectioni.

There is supporting evidence that concentrations of less than 2% are effective against a range of bacteria and fungi, including Staphylococcus aureus (0.5%), Escherichia coli (0.25%), Candida albicans (0.04%), and Aspergillus niger (0.0156%)ii.

Terpinen-4-ol is one of the major components of interest in the oil. It gives the oil its germicidal activity, so a high level of terpinen-4-ol is desirable for pharmaceutical applications. The range for Australian Botanical Products P/L oil is 35.0-45.0%. The terpinen-4-ol is not the only constituent responsible for the germicidal activity, better antimicrobial results are achieved using the whole oil rather than simply using the isolated constituent such as terpinen- 4-ol, due to the natural presence of alpha-terpineol, alpha-terpinene, gamma-terpinene and p-cymene within the oil.

The 1,8-cineole content is another important consideration of a good Tea Tree oil, however, as it was believed to be a dermal irritant, in 1985 a standard was set that the cineole content should be less than 15% and the terpinen-4-ol greater than 30%.

Recent studies have also indicated that Tea Tree oil has significant activity against Herpes Simplex Virus, particularly cold sores in topical applications. This is particularly interesting, as the antiviral properties have been largely overlooked of this medicinal oil.

The 2005 study into the antiviral efficacy of Tea Tree oil showed that at a 2% dilution there was almost 99% viral inactivation in the first 30 minutes, with a further 99% inactivation in the following 30 minutes against HSV 1iii. The major contributors to this activity is thought to be terpinen-4-ol and alpha-terpineol, however, it is also suggested that there is a synergy within the oil, and further components may contribute to make the whole oil more antiviral than the individual components.

Tea Tree oil is also beneficial as an insect repellent, or to help relieve the inflammation and pain of bites and stings. Direct application to the site is the most suitable application.

Further applications for Tea Tree oil include acne treatments, dentistry, anti-fungal treatments, deodorants, and preparations for colds, flu, bronchitis, whooping cough and sinusitis.

With Tea Tree oil being non-toxic, non-irritant and generally considered safe, it is an excellent choice for many pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications.

i Williams, Dr.L.R., Antimicrobial Activity of Oil of Melaleuca (Tea Tree) Its Potential use in Cosmetics and Toiletries. Cosmetics, Aerosols & Toiletries in Australia 4 (4), 12-18.?ii Beylier, M.F., 1979, Bacteriostatic activity of some Australian essential oils. Perfumer and Flavorist 4, 23-25. iii Carson, Dr.C.F., Ashton, L., Dry, L., Smith, Dr. D.W., Riley, Prof.T.V., 2005, Antiviral activity of tea tree oil. Australian Government - Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. Pub 05/130.

News tags : Feature

<< Back