The Skinny on Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil is Sana Fela’s favorite active ingredient to fight acne. The reason is that it has been shown to be just as effective as benzoyl peroxide (found in, for example, Proactiv and Clearasil), but without all the side effects such as dry skin, redness, itching and irritation (see the post on Tea Tree Oil or Benzoyl Peroxide). This is the reason why it is Sana Fela’s favorite acne fighter. Call us biased, but we prefer a mild, natural, treatment any day over treatments based on harsh chemicals.


Tea Tree Oil was first used by the Australian Aboriginals (Ref 1) who crushed the leaves and applied the pulp to cuts and wounds.
During World War II, tea tree oil was used in munitions factories in Australia and was believed to have greatly reduced the number of hand infections that developed from abrasions due to metal filings and turnings. However, the use of tea tree oil diminished when antibiotics were developed.


Tea Tree Oil has been used for a multitude of conditions, including, but not limited to, acne, burns, eczema, boils, bad breath, dandruff, gingivitis, dental plaque, lice, nail fungus, thrush and athlete’s foot. We do not recommend any oral or systemic applications of Tea Tree Oil.

How Does Tea Tree Oil work?

Two Australian investigators, Carson and Riley have demonstrated that terpinen-4-ol is the antibacterial active ingredient in tea tree oil (Ref 5). Tea Tree Oil stimulates the autolysis of bacterial cells.

What Evidence is There that Tea Tree Oil is Effective Against Acne?

There are several papers that report on clinical studies using tea tree oil to treat acne. The two most important ones are by Enshaieh and colleagues (Ref 3) and by Bassett and colleagues (Ref 2).

Tea Tree Oil Reduces Acne
The paper by Enshaieh (Ref 3) shows a substantial reduction in acne lesions after a 45 day treatment with 5% tea tree oil. They performed a clinical trial on participants divided into a treatment group and an placebo control group. They showed a 3.55 times greater reduction of total acne lesion counts and a 5.75 times greater reduction of the severity of acne as compared to the placebo group. You can find more detail on this study in the post  “Tea Tree Oil is effective against Acne“.

Tea Tree Oil is As Effective As Benzoyl Peroxide
The paper by Bassett and colleagues is considered a classic. In this clinical trial, Bassett and colleagues compared the effectiveness of 5% tea tree oil gel to 5% benzoyl peroxide in 124 patients. They assessed the number and severity of acne lesions using a counting technique before and during the treatment. They reported that after a treatment period of three months they could find no significant difference between patients treated with tea tree oil and patients treated with benzoyl peroxide. For more details on this study, see the post on tea tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide.



At Sana Fela, your good health is of utmost importance to us. Many companies will only post precautions as required, on product packaging. We at Sana Fela will tell you up front on our website, as well as on our product packaging what the precautions are for Tea Tree Oil.

Do not take Tea Tree Oil products orally
High doses of Tea Tree Oil can be toxic when taken orally (Ref 1). Of course, the same is true for many, if not most, topical skin treatments.

Allergy and Hypersensitivity in topical applications
Topical applications of Tea Tree Oil are generally considered to be well tolerated. However, at high concentrations it can cause allergies or hypersensitivity in a small group of people that are allergic to plants of the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae). Fritz and colleagues (Ref 4) reported in 1997 that in patch testing with a variety of potential allergens, seven out of 1,216 patients developed contact dermatitis from topical tea tree oil.


Do not use tea tree oil in conjunction with other topical treatments.

1. Basch E et al (2009) Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia [Maiden & Betche] Cheel) Natural Standard Monograph (
2. Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS (1990) A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust. 153:455-458 (
3. Enshaieh S, Jooya A, Siadat AH, Iraji F. (2007) The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 73:22-25 (
4. Fritz TM, Burg G and Krasovec M (2001) Allergic contact dermatitis to cosmetics containing Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). Ann Dermatol Venereol 128: 123-126 (
Abstract. Article in French)
5. Carson CF and Riley TV (1995) Antimicrobial activity of the major components of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia. J Appl Bacteriol 78: 264-269 (