Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a pale yellow color to a nearly colorless and clear essential oil with a fresh camphoraceous odor. It is taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. Tea tree oil should not be confused with tea oil, the sweet seasoning and cooking oil from pressed seeds of the tea plant, or the tea oil plant.
The indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia use “tea trees” as a traditional medicine by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. They also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. In addition, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments.
Use of the oil itself did not become common practice until researcher Arthur Penfold published the first reports of its antimicrobial activity in a series of papers in 1920s and 1930s. In evaluating antimicrobial activity, tea tree oil was rated as 11 times more active than phenol.
The commercial tea tree oil industry was created after Penfold first reported the medicinal properties of the oil in 1920s. It was produced from natural bush stands of Melaleuca alternifolia that produced oil with the appropriate chemotype. The plant material was hand cut and often distilled on the spot in makeshift, mobile, wood-fired bush stills.
Production ebbed after World War II, as demand for oil declined, presumably due to the development of effective antibiotics and the waning image of natural products. Interest in oil was rekindled in 1970s as part of a general renaissance of interest in natural products. Commercial plantations were established in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to mechanization and large-scale production of a consistent essential oil product.
Tea tree oil has been scientifically investigated only recently. Some sources suggest beneficial medical properties when applied topically, including antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities. It also has beneficial cosmetic properties. Sher Ray Organic Cosmetics uses this ingredient in many of her Formulas.
In the treatment of moderate common acne, topical application of tea tree oil has shown an effect comparable to benzoyl peroxide. Albeit with slower onset of action, patients who use tea tree oil experience fewer side effects than those that use benzoyl peroxide treatments. Formula 3 has had wonderful results with acne.
Tea tree oil is a known antifungal agent, effective in vitro against multiple dermatophytes found on the skin. Sher Ray has found the perfect combination of ingredients to promote clearer skin (customers claim).