FhWhat is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil, often called melaleuca oil, was first discovered in New South Wales, Australia, where the aboriginal Bundjalung people had been using for it centuries as a treatment for various ailments. Its common name was given to it by British explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook after seeing the Bundjalung collect the leaves from the Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree), to then boil, and make a tea which they would drink. The Bundjalung also inhaled the oils, and administered the leaves to cuts, bruises and sprains. Its multi-purpose function to keep the aboriginals healthy and lessen pain made it an important part of their medicinal heritage.
In the early twentieth century scientists who had distilled the oil noted that it had antimicrobial properties. Shortly after this discovery, during World War II, melaleuca oil was used by Australian soldiers to treat light wounds.
Current usage and cautions
Tea tree oil is still used in many ways, though nowadays it is mostly found in lotions, soaps and shampoos. It is applied to human skin, hair and other extremities, while it is also ingested. Uses of tea tree oil as a health benefit to humans are still under investigation, though melaleuca is gaining more confidence among those seeking alternative ways to ameliorate such conditions as scabies, lice, thrush and other bacterial infections. Another common use of tea tree oil is as an insecticide.
In a 2007 article in The Observer it was reported that tea tree oil was under investigation by the EU due to its possible hormonal dysfunction propensities. Scientists believed the oil could cause the growth of breasts (gynaecomastia) in males. The article stated that when use of melaleuca was stopped, the growth abated. The ‘Scientific Committee on Consumer Products’ warned people to use tea tree oil with caution until further tests were conclusive, pertaining to the oil’s ostensible efficacy as a skin treatment.
Many of the claims concerning tea tree oil are not validated by the scientific community, and the FDA does not regulate it as yet. Nevertheless, melaleuca has become a mainstay product within the sphere of alternative medicine. In 2007 the ‘Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology’ revealed that after a controlled study melaleuca was discovered to have benefits when used for acne vulgaris (common acne). Although it is too early to understand just what all the benefits of tea tree oil are, it is presently sold throughout the world in vast quantities. Medical trials are ongoing, but have been so far very limited.
By James Austin Farrell