The Benefits of Tea Tree Oil for Hair, According to a Dermatologist

Here's everything you should know about using tea tree oil for scalp and hair health.

Hair Health Hotline: Tea Tree Oil for Hair Growth
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Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

Tea tree oil can seemingly do it all — it's found its way into everything from cleaning products to pimple patches to anti-fungal nail treatments. The essential oil is no stranger to the hair-care aisle, either, with brands adding the ingredient to all manor of scalp-targeting product.

Even if you're already using the oil in other areas of your daily routine, you might be unclear on whether the benefits of tea tree oil for hair are all that exciting. Here, the benefits and drawbacks of using tea tree oil for hair, and how to incorporate the ingredient, according to Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York.

Q: Is tea tree oil good for hair? I like using face products with the ingredient but am wondering if it helps with hair growth or has other benefits.

A: Tea tree oil may help reduce scalp flaking, thanks to anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, according to Dr. Nazarian.

In case you need a refresher, tea tree oil is an essential oil distilled from the leaves and branches of Melaleuca alternifolia plant, a tree that's native to Australia, according to an article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Thanks to reported medicinal properties, the essential oil has historically been utilized as a wound treatment, and has been studied as a potential treatment for acne, fungal infections, and more, according to the article. Tea tree oil's properties may also make it a useful ingredient in hair care.

Tea Tree Oil Benefits for Hair

There's a reason tea tree oil gained popularity as a natural wound treatment. "Tea tree oil is naturally anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, decreasing skin surface bacteria, fungus, and viruses," says Dr. Nazarian.

That's good news if you're dealing with a mild inflammatory condition, e.g. dandruff, she notes. "Tea tree oil can help with some forms of flaking and scaling of the scalp," she explains. "In 5 percent 5% form, it can help treat dandruff successfully when applied to the scalp. In studies, it improved grease and itchiness of the scalp."

Hair Health Hotline: Tea Tree Oil for Hair Growth
Courtesy of Rachel Nazarian.

In one study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, one group of subjects used a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo while another group used a placebo. The participants rated their scalps' scaliness, itchiness, and greasiness after four weeks, and the tea tree oil group showed a 41 percent improvement compared to an 11 percent improvement in the placebo group. Dandruff may be related to a type of yeast that tea tree oil has anti-fungal properties against, the study authors noted.

As mentioned, researchers have also explored tea tree oil's potential as an acne treatment, in light of its antibacterial properties. One small study published in the Medical Journal of Australia compared 5 percent tea tree oil to the acne treatment benzoyl peroxide, also at 5 percent concentration. Both groups noticed a significant reduction in acne lesions over the course of three months. While the benzoyl peroxide was more effective at reducing subjects' acne lesions, the tea tree oil group experienced less scaling and dryness.

Thanks to its benefits, tea tree oil is helpful for "balancing and soothing the scalp, and helping to manage scalp acne," Craig Ziering, a dermatologist and hair transplantation surgeon and restoration expert based in Beverly Hills, previously told Shape.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Scalp and Hair Health

Since tea tree oil's claim to fame are its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, it's more promising as a scalp treatment, and you can skip applying tea tree oil to hair. "Other than some potential natural emollient properties from the oil, applying tea tree oil to the hair follicle itself doesn't have much supporting evidence in the literature," says Dr. Nazarian.

Worth noting, tea tree oil can cause dryness, peeling, or scaling for some people, says Dr. Nazarian. She'd recommend steering clear of it altogether if you have super sensitive skin or are prone to contact allergy, she says. That being said, tea tree oil is "a generally safe option for topical treatment of mild inflammatory conditions of the hair and scalp," she says.

As with other essential oils, tea tree oil should be diluted before you apply it directly to your skin, but Dr. Nazarian doesn't advise buying pure tea tree oil and taking matters into your own hands. "I would not recommend diluting essential oils [such as] tea tree oil yourself — the original concentration may vary from product to product and this makes home dilution unreliable and difficult to standardize," she says. "Instead, use an oil that has already been diluted and deemed safe for direct application to hair or scalp." Also, it's best to patch test the formula on a small area of skin and wait to see how your skin responds before applying it to a larger area, she says. You can use the oil as a scalp treatment daily, as Shape previously reported.  

Long story short, tea tree oils' benefits extend to hair care. You may want to seek out products containing the essential oil if you deal with minor scalp inflammation.

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