Published: March 2013

Complementary Corner: Tea Tree Oil

Prescriber Update 34(1):9-10
March 2013

Medsafe has recently been advised of a young patient who suffered a severe systemic reaction to 15% tea tree oil applied topically to a cut.

A search of Australia and New Zealand's joint adverse event notification system database (JAENS) identified eight reports of adverse events associated with the use of tea tree oil since 2000. These reactions included application site reaction, pain and burn, as well as dermatitis, pruritus, urticaria, blister, and oedema.

Tea Tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia and is marketed as a natural topical antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory to treat a wide range of conditions1. The preparations vary from very dilute to 100%1.

The first case report of a systemic hypersensitivity reaction to topical application of tea tree oil was published in 20032. The patient experienced anaphylaxis after applying tea tree oil to psoriatic lesions on his legs, resulting in admission to hospital2.

Oxidation of the oil upon exposure to light, moisture, heat and air increases the sensitisation potential of tea tree oil1. Therefore, a bottle which has been opened intermittently over a prolonged period would be more likely to cause skin reactions than a new bottle.

Healthcare professionals should be aware that adverse reactions to tea tree oil can occur and advise patients of this potential risk if recommending tea tree oil products.

  1. Rutherford T, Nixon R, Tam M, et al. 2007. Allergy to tea tree oil: retrospective review of 41 cases with positive patch tests over 4.5 years. Australasian Journal of Dermatology 48(2): 83-87.
  2. Mozelsio NB, Harris KE, McGrath KG, et al. 2003. Immediate systemic hypersensitivity reaction associated with topical application of Australian tea tree oil. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings 24(1): 73-5.