Saturday, December 3, 2011

Essential oil: Tea tree oil (part 1)

Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is often listed as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-septic, wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic essential oil. It has been touted as a natural preservative for our products - and we can imagine how I feel about that statement! - and it is supposed to be helpful for dandruff, lice/nits, acne, athlete's foot, eczema, and just about everything else caused by fungus! Let's take a look at this very interesting essential oil!

How is tea tree oil supposed to work its magic? Through the awesome power of terpenes, mostly monoterpenes, with terpinen-4-ol and ɑ-terpineol!

If you'd like to see a list of the terpenes found in tea tree oil, click here

When you're buying tea tree oil, "...it is fortunate that the composition of oil sold as TTO is regulated by an international standard for “Oil of Melaleuca—terpinen-4-ol type,” which sets maxima and/or minima for 14 components of the oil" (from this paper, which is very good). To continue, "...With biological activity, the antimicrobial activity of TTO is attributed mainly to terpinen-4-ol, a major component of the oil. Consequently, to optimize antimicrobial activity, a lower limit of 30% and no upper limit were set for terpinen-4-ol content." So you know you're getting an oil that contains x amount of this terpene or x amount of that terpene, which is so important!

Every pound of tea tree leaves produces about 1 to 2% oil, produced by steam distillation. It has a specific gravity of about 0.900, which means it is lighter than water (specific gravity of 1), and it is oil soluble.

We can include tea tree oil in many products at up to 2% (but preferably 1%) in the cool down phase, when you'd normally add your fragrance or essential oil. Although it's oil soluble, you don't need to worry about solubilizing 1% in a shampoo or body wash with something like polysorbate 20: At 1%, you aren't going to see it floating on the top of the bottle!

Join me tomorrow as we take a look at the science behind tea tree oil, then on Monday when we start making a few products with it!

7 comments:

Tara said...

I am SO excited for a series on essential oils. I love using them!

Lise M Andersen said...

excellent post Susan - let's do get into the science of essential oils! Have you worked with lemon tea tree? It is touted as having the same properties as tea tree but has a more pleasant scent.

Milla said...

Wow, I just bought some. Perfect timing.

Sara @Osmosis said...

Very interesting series. Will you touch on some of the negatives of essential oils also?

Nancy Liedel said...

The book is wonderful, you are fantastic and what you do for others will be and is, paid forward. We learn from you, and learn to educate ourselves. We educate others and encourage them to educate themselves. They, in turn pass it back to someone who asks you a question...You get it. I know how long you've kept this blog, wracked your brain, when it seemed like all things chemical had been done before. However, without you, I would not have a formulary full of well tested, safely preserved and lovely colored and scented sugar scrubs with a bevy of silky and exotic oils, ready to be sold and shared. The first batch, too heavy, the second, too light. Read Sue's blog and pdf's. Ahhh, a different oil mix. Now, a perfectly heavenly product I have immense faith in and some whipped butter (changed up from yours) that people LOVE! Thank you.

Hobbiz said...

I read that Tea Tree Oil of The Bodyshop contains 15% Tea Tree Oil. Is it possible or how can they do that, in your opinion? Thanks.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hobbiz. I'm sorry, but I wouldn't know that. If they are selling something as tea tree essential oil, check for an ingredient list and see what they say it contains.