Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is obtained through steam distillation of the leaves of the native Australian coastal tree, Melaleuca alternifolia. M. alternifolia is an evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves that grows from 5 to 8 meters in height. Tea tree oil has been used in a wide variety of medicinal applications from coughs and colds to skin infections.1 Relevant to dermatology, tea tree oil can be found in over-the-counter soaps, astringents and shampoos and is typically added to these products for its antimicrobial properties.
Antimicrobial agent, MRSA fighter
There have been a number of papers describing the antiseptic properties of tea tree oil, which has potential antibacterial activity through disruption of bacterial membranes.2 Terpin-4-ol is the component of tea tree oil that is thought to exhibit the anti-microbial activity.3
Checkout: Ancient medicine, modern MRSA cure?
Tea tree oil has also been shown to have antibacterial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). One studied compared treatment with mupirocin 2% nasal ointment, chlorhexidine 4% soap and silver sulfadiazine 1% cream versus a tea tree oil regimen that included a tea tree 10% cream and tea tree 5% body wash. There was no significant difference in efficacy between the two programs and both were shown to be effective against MRSA.4 Tea tree containing products can be recommend to patients as adjunct treatments in MRSA therapy.