Gentle Power

Tea tree oil fights harmful microbes while supporting healthy, radiant skin.

September/October 2017

by Lisa James


Ever hear the expression “everything old is new again”? That principle applies to one of Australia’s best-known exports.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), a shrubby plant that flourishes along waterways in the nation-continent’s eastern provinces, has long been used by the native Aboriginal peoples for its healing properties. Nowadays, tea tree is one of that country’s most popular topical ingredients, valued for its ability to calm blemished, oily skin.

Rediscovered Remedy

Australia’s pre-colonial coastland was a rugged place to live; cuts and scrapes were common. The inhabitants found that tea tree leaves, crushed and bound to wounds, could clean out even injuries that had become infected. Inhaling the steamed leaves helped ease colds and coughs; steeping them in water yielded a brew that soothed rashes.

Europeans first discovered tea tree in 1770, when British explorer James Cook reached Australia’s shores. After taking notice of the plant’s beneficial effects, colonists started using tea tree to replace medicines that were difficult to obtain from faraway Britain.

Tea tree eventually fell into disuse but found new popularity when researchers started verifying its effects in the 1920s. In fact, tea tree oil was supplied to every Aussie soldier during World War II.

After the war, development of synthetic antibiotics pushed tea tree once more into the background. But it was revived again during the 70s, when natural medicine in general made a comeback.

Facial Benefits

Today, tea tree oil, produced under controlled conditions, is still a popular part of first-aid kits around the world as a remedy for minor injuries, bug bites, burns and similar woes. What’s more, producers of premium skincare products have also discovered the healing powers of tea tree.

Part of the plant’s appeal for skin use lies in its antimicrobial properties. According to the beauty website stylecraze.com, “tea tree oil is your savior” if you experience blemishes, dark spots and pimple outbreaks. The site goes on to state that tea tree “is an excellent skin treatment, especially for oily and acne-prone skin.”

Those claims are backed by scientific research: In studies, tea tree preparations have reduced the number and severity of acne lesions. In addition, tea tree has been found to help ease the skin eruptions caused by allergic reactions. Tea tree has even demonstrated effectiveness against MRSA, a drug-resistant form of staph that can lead to boils and other serious skin infections.

The best skincare products use plant extracts that are grown and harvested without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Such practices help ensure a high standard of purity.
In products such as facial cleansers and hydrators, tea tree works well in formulations that include extracts taken from skin-soothing aloe vera and chamomile along with cleansing willow bark extract.

Tea tree is also used in scrubbing masks that help soften and brighten dull, stressed and tired-looking skin. For these purposes it is often combined with kaolin clay, which helps draw impurities from the skin, and lychee shell, which exfoliates without drying.

Oily, blemish-prone skin does not require harsh chemical cleansers. Tea tree can do the job gently and effectively.

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