Tea tree oil might be the best entry-level essential oil of all time. Even if you've don't have a clue what DoTERRA is, you've probably noticed the tea tree oil product area in The Body Shop. It's almost as big as the makeup section.
In fact, tea tree oil is so popular that The Body Shop says it sells a bottle of its $10 tea tree oil every eight seconds.
But why does this tiny green thing fly off the shelves? To find out, I recently bought my own bottle (it's currently on sale for $8), talked to a certified aromatherapist and polled my friends. My personal, unprofessional conclusion: tea tree oil is MacGyver in a bottle.
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil is made from steaming the leaves of the Australian tea tree. The Body Shop says it only uses leaves that are hand-picked. This fact is even more impressive when you consider that just one small bottle has the oil from more than 15,000 tea tree leaves.
According to The Mayo Clinic, tea tree oil "might" be helpful in healing superficial skin conditions when used topically as an antibacterial treatment. According to the Duchess of Sussex, it's a "cure-all." In an interview about her best beauty tips, Meghan Markle told Allure she always carries a bottle of tea tree oil when she travels. If that's not a royal ringing endorsement then I don't know what is.
Pick a problem, any problem
Name a common skin condition and there's a great chance someone in your inner circle is currently treating it with tea tree oil. After reading that the duchess references using it for cuts, bug bites and breakouts, I decided to ask my Facebook friends what they used tea tree oil for. The results ran the gamut. They also help explain why tea tree oil is one of The Body Shop's top 10 bestsellers in its stores and online — there's almost nothing (external) you can't use it on.
For starters, my friend and certified aromatherapist in the Hamptons, Jessica Bellofatto, finds it to be effective for treating everything from toenail fungus to ear infections. Meanwhile in Montana, my former co-worker, Kayla, adds a few drops to her children's shampoo to keep head lice way. She also sprays it on her kids' pants to prevent them from attracting ticks when they're playing outside.
Some moms swear tea tree oil is as effective as the best insect repellents. If a bug does manage to get a nibble, you can use tea tree oil to lessen the itch, sting or swelling. Most sources say it's more effective the sooner you apply it.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the uses for tea tree oil. What does my friend Heather in Florida reach for when her hands break out in eczema? The same thing my friend Chelsea in Colorado reaches for when she feels a cold sore coming on.
"Oh yeah, and boils?" writes my friend Kitty from Los Angeles, "It gets rid of them instantly."
I hate that I have to use it, but I love it already
Fortunately, I don't currently have any boils to test my tea tree oil on. However, I have had the chance to test it on some of the monthly pimples that even the best face washes for acne-prone skin can't prevent. Tea tree oil smells like Pine-sol to me, but since I’ve cleaned with Pine-sol and know it works, I don’t mind. I just make the association that this product will work too.
Lately, what I've been doing is using a few drops to spot treat my blemishes. Unlike benzoyl peroxide, it doesn't leave a white grainy residue. But like benzoyl peroxide, it appears to be working and drying out problem areas and reducing inflammation.
I've also taken to using it as a pick-me-up when I travel. For example, after a 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Taiwan, where I had a layover before another long international flight, I added a few drops of tea tree oil to my moisturizer. It was milder than applying straight astringent onto my face, but it definitely woke me up like a much-needed espresso shot to the face.
From now on, tea tree oil will have a coveted spot in my carry-on toiletries bag. At first I thought packing around so many leaves seemed excessive. But then I considered how many potential problems this little MacGyver in a bottle can fix.
For more stories like this, check out:
- What are essential oils? Our guide to essential oils uses and benefits
- The best essential oils for sleep
- This $13 diffuser with 33K Amazon reviews made my house smell amazing