Flickr / Care-SMC

Flickr / Care-SMC

Tea tree oil. It’s an ingredient you have probably noticed on a lot of personal care products. It is commonly found in soap, hair care products, moisturizers and sprays.

Tea tree oil comes from the tea tree plant, which grows in Australia (the scientific name is Melaleuca alternifolia). Tea tree oil has a rich history of use among the indigenous people of Australia, who long ago discovered it had curative properties when used on wounds and skin infections. Because tea tree oil has a beautiful golden hue, it is sometimes hailed as “Australian gold.”

What can you do with tea tree oil? Here are 5 of the top uses for tea tree oil.

1. To treat skin problems

Flickr / Kai Hendry

Flickr / Kai Hendry

As you might guess, one of the most common tea tree oil uses is a treatment for various skin conditions. Because of its antifungal and antibacterial qualities, it is often included in soaps and other skin care products for just this reason. Like any essential oil, too high a concentration can cause irritation, but in the right amount, tea tree oil is quite gentle. When tea tree oil is included in soaps, lotions, and other skincare products, it is always in a tiny concentration with a large number of other ingredients balancing it out. When you use it directly on your skin, it is up to you to ensure that you are not using too much.

Different concentrations have different uses. In antifungal applications, the concentration must be quite high—as much as 100%. Used twice daily in this manner, tea tree oil can be great for getting rid of toenail infections. For other lesser problems however, it is wise to use a much lower concentration to avoid irritating the skin. Around 5% is all that is needed to treat problems with acne.

2. As a waxing prep

Wax (Wikimedia)

Wax (Wikimedia)

Do you wax your skin to remove unwanted body hair? If so, you know how much waxing can irritate your skin. The pain that comes with waxing is never any fun, and if you do not prep your skin properly, you may find yourself dealing with irritation for quite a while afterward. Tea tree oil, it turns out, is an ideal prepping agent for waxing, because it removes oil, making it easier for wax to affix to the skin. It also gets rid of bacteria, which reduces the likelihood of irritation or infection after waxing. Of course, it is important to make sure that you are using tea tree oil in the proper amounts before you decide to use it for waxing. Too much may make irritation worse.

3. To get rid of warts

Flickr / Bradley Gordon

Flickr / Bradley Gordon

Nobody enjoys having plantar warts. They are unsightly and irritating, but the good news is that tea tree oil can help get rid of them! To treat plantar warts, simply rub tea tree oil directly into the wart, and then wait for it to dry. Once the oil soaks into the skin and dries, you can put on socks or shoes. It usually takes about 20 minutes to dry completely. If you can avoid wearing socks, that is even better, since that provides more air to your feet (fungus thrives in confined environments which trap moisture). Can’t handle the full concentration of tea tree oil? You can use almond oil as a carrier oil. As with toenail fungus, higher concentrations are most effective.

4. To treat sinus infections

Flickr / Arthur Chapman

Flickr / Arthur Chapman

Not all uses of tea tree oil are external. Did you know you can also breathe in tea tree oil vapors and enjoy positive benefits—so long as you do it in small amounts only? Tea tree oil’s antibacterial and antiviral qualities make it perfect for treating nasal or respiratory infections like sinusitis. To use tea tree oil for a sinus infection, boil water on the stove, and add a few drops of tea tree oil. Do not swallow the tea tree oil-water mixture. Simply take the water off the stove, and lean over it with a towel over your head to hold in the vapors. Breathe the vapors in for the next ten minutes. The tea tree oil vapors will loosen the phlegm in your sinuses and help them to run. Clearing out your sinuses is a key step in getting over your infection.

5. To treat colds and associated symptoms

Flickr /  Lindsey Turner

Flickr / Lindsey Turner

Tea tree oil benefits also be extended to other types of infections, including the common cold. If you feel a cold coming on, just deposit a drop or two of tea tree oil to your tongue—and then spit it out. This can be particularly helpful with a sore throat. Alternatively, you gargle it the same way you do salt water. Heat up a glass of water, add a couple drops to the water, mix it in, gargle it, and spit it out. The tea tree oil will help to kill the cold virus which is causing your sore throat and other unpleasant symptoms.

As with the sinus infection use, you should never, ever swallow. Even in small quantities, even watered down, tea tree oil can be toxic. So while it may not be for external use only, it is definitely not for ingesting. As long as you spit it out and then rinse with water and spit again, you should be fine. Use cautiously and always make sure that the mixture you do use is adequately watered down, otherwise you could experience irritation.

As you can see, tea tree oil is an incredibly beneficial substance with a wide range of applications. It is great for combating sinusitis, the common cold or sore throats, plantar warts, toenail fungus, and other skin problems. It is also great for waxing when you want to prevent skin irritations from forming. Be cautious when using tea tree oil. A couple of drops is generally all you need. Always aim for the lowest concentration you can get away with, and never swallow tea tree oil. Enjoy the many uses and benefits of this amazing oil, and discover for yourself why it has earned the name Australian gold!