Tea Tree Oil : My Mother’s Cure-All

We all have that scent that transports us to our childhood when we smell it. For a lot of you, it’s a certain shampoo or bubble bath, or maybe your mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies. But for me, it’s tea tree oil. Yup, that potent, earthy scent that burns your nostrils if you inhale too much. That scent permeates almost all of my childhood memories — even my grandmother used it. 

Whenever I had a bug bite, cut, cat scratch (this happened more often than not — I was obsessed with cats. We’ll come back to this in another article) or, as I hit puberty and had acne, the tea tree oil was pulled from the cabinet and administered. We used shampoo that had tea tree oil, and toothpaste, all-purpose cleaning chemicals and so on. My mother used to say that it is an antibacterial that was used by soldiers in combat to disinfect their wounds, and as bad*ss as this sounded, it sometimes still did not convince me to use the strong, bitter liquid. 

Its smell, however, must be something you get used to because my mother no longer forces me to use it, but it can be found on my nightstand or in my bathroom cabinet. And though I still use it for acne breakouts, my hair or minor cuts and scrapes, I am not entirely sure of what it does. That is why I decided to take an internet deep dive and answer that question, as well as mention how I use it and how other people use it. And with no further adieu, I present to you: tea tree oil, a cure all. 

What is tea tree oil? 

Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil or by its fancy scientific name, Melaleuca Alternifolia, originates from Australia. It’s generally yellowish or clear, and as you could probably conclude from the name, it’s a thin oil. The oil comes from the leaves of a small tree, also called Melaleuca Alternifolia. The tree looks a lot like a large, scruffy bush and its oils were traditionally used by Aboriginal people in Australia. 

My mother, who has always been interested in natural medicine, taught me a lot about it as a child. Though I still can’t quite get past the smell, it reminds me of her and it has become a staple at my house as well. Below are some ways that my family uses the ever-versatile tea tree oil. 

  1. 1. To reduce dandruff: 

    When I use tea tree oil for dandruff, I generally just use it in shampoo. There are a lot of shampoos out there that have tea tree oil in them, but whenever I look for one, I try to find the higher end shampoos because they tend to have more tea tree oil in them, which is more effective. Tea tree oil feels cool on the scalp and is very refreshing. If you want to try it without shampoo though, I have also mixed a few drops of it with melted coconut oil and let this sit in my hair for about 20 minutes before showering. This helps moisturize your scalp and the tea tree oil will relax any redness or irritation you may have due to dandruff.  

  2. 2. For acne: 

    I use tea tree oil for acne a lot, to be honest with you. I’ve always struggled with acne and while it has gotten a little better, I still have a breakout here and there. To help control them, I wash my face with warm water and a mild soap (my skin is really sensitive), then I use either my clean hand or cotton swabs to rub tea tree oil on trouble areas. I leave it overnight and then wash my face again in the morning. Because I have sensitive skin, I only use this treatment when I am having a bad breakout or a few times a week to keep my skin balanced. Make sure before you use tea tree oil for the first time to test it on a small patch of skin (i.e. the back of your hand) to ensure you are not allergic to it. 

  3. Tea tree oil helps eliminate bacteria that may be harmful to your health. It can be used to support your immune system by putting it in your diffuser. Make sure the diffuser is in an area you will be in a lot, like a kitchen, workspace or bedroom. And, if for some reason this tea tree oil potion doesn’t keep you completely protected from illness, you can always rub some of it on your chest as a natural VapoRub. 

  4. Much like the shampoo, I generally use tea tree oil for cleaning in store-bought household cleaners. You can, however, mix 10-12 drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle with a few tablespoons of white vinegar and a cup or so of hot water (you got me, I never measure anything. You can Google more specific recipes for this online). Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant and leaves a fresh smell that is sort of reminiscent of Pine Sol but without the harsh chemicals. 

So, there you have it! After researching tea tree oil more, it made me realize why my mother swears by it. It is a very versatile essential oil, and while its potent scent may take a while to get used to, it’s worth it.