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Your friend, coworker, that woman at the farmer’s market — they all swear tea tree oil has helped them manage their eczema. But is it worth giving a try?
The essential oil does contain properties that seem to be helpful for itchy, irritated skin. However, despite its popularity as a skin care hero, there’s not actually a ton of research on tea tree oil for eczema. In fact, it could actually make your symptoms even worse.
Since knowledge is power, here’s a look at how tea tree oil essential oil might be helpful, the possible risks for people with eczema, and how to apply it safely if you think you want to give it a try.
Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at what tea tree oil actually is. The essential oil, which is sometimes also called melaleuca oil from its Latin name, is derived from the leaves of the Australian tea tree.
Like other essential oils, tea tree oil is highly concentrated. That means that while its beneficial properties are super potent, it also has the potential to be irritating to the skin, just like any other ingredient.
Tea tree oil is often used to treat skin problems like acne, bacterial or fungal infections, and bug bites. There’s also some research suggesting it could be beneficial for a range of annoying eczema symptoms — which could add up to calmer, more comfortable skin.
All in all, tea tree oil has the following properties which could benefit those with eczema:
- Anti-inflammatory: to ease redness, swelling, and irritation.
- Antimicrobial and antifungal: to help stave off infections and ease itching.
- Antiseptic: to soothe.
- Antioxidant: to help protect skin from damaging free radicals.
One important thing to keep in mind? While tea tree oil seems to boast many properties that could be helpful for irritated or inflamed skin, not many trials have studied the oil as a treatment for eczema specifically.
One study did find that tea tree oil was more effective than conventional eczema treatments like zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams.
While it’s a start, there’s still a lot experts don’t know about tea tree oil and how it might affect your skin condition, says the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And for some people, the oil can actually cause skin irritation and rashes.
If you want to give tea tree oil a try, it’s worth making sure you use the oil safely. Here’s our tips on how to find a quality oil and use it as effectively as possible.
Find a quality oil
Tea tree oil and other essential oils aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to do your homework to make sure you’re buying a product that’s safe and unadulterated.
Seek out an oil that’s verified by a third-party certifier and sold by a supplier that reveals where they source from. Also make sure it hasn’t passed its expiration date. Once you’ve found a good option, get the green light from your healthcare provider before buying.
Dilute it with a carrier oil
Essential oils like tea tree are highly concentrated, so diluting the stuff in a neutral carrier oil (instead of applying it straight to your skin) is a must!
Coconut, jojoba, and sunflower oil are good carrier options for people with eczema, since they have beneficial compounds that could help moisturize and protect dry, inflamed skin. They’ll also last more than a year on your shelf.
As for how much to apply? Experts don’t know ideal dosage amounts for tea tree oil, so it makes sense to start with a highly diluted amount. (If it seems to work but you want more oomph, you can always add a little bit more to your carrier oil next time.)
For a 2.5 percent dilution, try mixing 15 drops of tea tree essential oil with 6 teaspoons of carrier oil.
Do a patch test (seriously)
Before you go slathering tea tree oil all over your body, test it out on a small, inconspicuous spot. That way if you have a bad reaction, you won’t have to deal with a massive flare-up everywhere.
So, before anything else, do a patch test by rubbing 1–2 diluted drops onto your inner arm or inner elbow. No reaction in 48 hours? You should be good to go, though this is still no guarantee.
If it’s red or irritated, that’s a sign that you and tea tree oil probably don’t mix. Wash the area thoroughly and don’t use the stuff on your skin again.
Apply it safely
Skin survived the patch test just fine? Now you can try the diluted tea tree oil on larger areas of your body.
Since you’re mixing it with a hydrating carrier oil, start by applying the tea tree oil once per day right after bathing. You could experiment with applying it more often if it seems to soothe your skin.
It’s okay to apply diluted tea tree oil to most parts of your body. But you’ll be in a world of hurt if it gets in your eyes, so don’t put it anywhere near them. Keep it away from your mouth too (and of course, don’t drink it or put it in your mouth), since the oil can be toxic when ingested.
And keep those bottles out of reach of children and pets. Accidental ingestion can be just as harmful to your furbabies!
Are there other essential oils worth trying if tea tree oil doesn’t offer the relief you’re looking for?
Admittedly, the research on eczema and essential oils in general is pretty limited. But a handful of studies have found that a few other oils could potentially be beneficial.
- Peppermint. One small study found that peppermint EO relieved itching when combined with petroleum jelly, but the subjects didn’t actually have eczema.
- Neem. Though studies are scarce, many Ayurvedic practitioners use neem for its calming properties on even the most sensitive skin.
- Borage oil. It contains omega-6 fatty acids that might promote healthy skin structure, and some findings have demonstrated a small benefit for people with eczema.
- Calendula oil. Experts haven’t looked at it for eczema specifically, but research suggests that calendula oil does seem to have anti-inflammatory properties that can ease pain and swelling. It’s even been proven useful in treating acute dermatitis in patients undergoing irradiation treatments.