What puts the “essential” in essential oils? For starters: they give your workouts next-level status, help you stow your in-flight stress, and even set the mood for date night. But in 2018, I’m predicting tea tree oil will become the most essential of all essential oils.
“Tea tree can really be used across the board,” says Amy Galper, certified aromatherapist and educator at the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. “It has a wide array of therapeutic applications from anti-fungal to anti-microbial. It works really well also as a decongestant and for immune support.” Basically—tea tree has the versatility of a pair of black leggings.
Basically—tea tree has the versatility of a pair of black leggings.
The oil is the product of the Melaleuca alternifolia—a fast-growing tree native to Australia. According to Galper, a heavy rain in the land Down Under will leave the air with the fresh scent of tea tree. While trekking through Australia might be high on your list of #travelgoals, you can also enjoy the herbaceous smell of tea tree oil (plus all its benefits) right from home. “There are dozens and dozens of really beautiful applications that it can be used for,” says Galper.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about adding tea tree oil to your wellness routine.
Get to know the temperament of tea tree
Tea tree is a powerhouse essential oil, thanks to its anti-fungal and anti-microbial qualities. “That’s why it’s so great against fungus, because it dries up the moisture and the dampness that make fungus grow,” says Galper. On the flip side, she warns that the oil’s intensity means that you may have to dilute it. Use carrier oils (like jojoba, rosehip, or coconut) to act as a hydrating counter-force to its drying effects (more on that later!).
Consider the specific composition of *your* skin
Galper says tea tree oil works well in a diffuser and in your bathtub. But for the sake of your skin—let’s talk about how to apply it topically. Before you slather your face with tea tree oil, you should consider how the oil will jibe with your particular microbiome.
When to use tea tree oil by itself: Use pure tea tree to treat a pimple only if you have non-sensitive or oily skin. Because tea tree is stripping, applying it without a carrier on dry skin could leave your skin irritated and itchy.
Alternatively, you can also apply a few drops to fungal infections (which could creep up on toenails) or bug bites. “With something that’s slightly infected, you want to knock out any germs that are going on in there. Those are great instances to add tea tree oil by itself,” says Galper.
When to mix it with other essential oils: Even if you have ultra-sensitive skin, you can still reach for tea-tree on the verge of a breakout, but Galper suggests pairing the oil with two of its more mellow counterparts—palmarosa and geranium, which are more calming and help mitigate irritation. Remember, you should only be using this to spot-treat inflamed areas, rather than slathering it all over your skin.
When to pair it with a carrier oil: Add tea tree to a carrier oil if your problem goes past skin deep—think muscle soreness or winter colds. “The only way it can get carried in is by blending it with a fatty substance like a lipid-rich oil like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, almond oil,” explains Galper. “Any of those rich oils and then it can get carried into the body and make contact with our blood vessels.”
Add a drop (or three) to all your cleaning solutions
Chances are your local yoga spot already uses tea tree to freshen up the studio between sweaty vinyasa classes. And as it turns out, their drishti is on point. “Look at a yoga mat for example,” says Galper. “Spraying and cleansing it really helps inhibit any kind of fungal growth that could come from dampness or wetness.”
And same goes for your yoga clothes. Post-hot yoga, you can go ahead and add three tiny drops to a quarter cup of laundry detergent to eliminate the bacteria—and stink—from your activewear. To make sure the oil doesn’t damage your washing machine, Galper suggests mixing your tea tree and detergent combo thoroughly before pouring it into your load.
Invest in the highest quality oil
Just like there’s a difference between an organic and a non-organic avocado, there’s a qualitative difference between authentic tea tree and, well, less than authentic tea tree. “Always make sure that in the product description—or on the bottle—that it says it’s ‘being distilled’ and not ‘extracted by solvents,'” advises Galper. In addition, make sure the label includes the words “genuine” or “authentic.” If you see the word “fragrance” it’s a no-go.
The geography is also key. Look for countries of origin including Australia, South Africa, and Ecuador. If the oil is from a climate very different from Australia’s—say France or the Catskills—look for an alternative. This tea tree oil, for instance, checks off all of Galper’s boxes.
Store your tea tree oil prettily and properly
As if you needed an excuse to buy even more glass jars—Galper is giving you one: essential oils should be stored in glass, rather than plastic. The caveat? Once you’ve distilled the tea tree with a lipid-rich oil, like avocado, it’s okay to store the concoction in thick plastic containers. But if you’re storing tea tree in its OG form—make sure you have a colorful glass jar on hand. “The glass should be dark in color to let it last longer. Especially if you’ll be storing it for longer than a month,” explains Galper.