Tea tree oil is one of those essential oils I stash everywhere: in my purse, on my nightstand, in random drawers scattered throughout the house, and in my medicine cabinet. A deeply nourishing and moisturizing oil, tea tree has long been used to treat all sorts of skin conditions. But it really shines when you make it part of your daily hair routine. Tea tree oil can soothe an itchy scalp, treat flakes, and even help slow hair loss when used regularly. Read on to learn how to use tea tree oil for hair and scalp health.
What is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil derived from the leaves of the Australian tea tree.
Prior to the 20th century, tea tree leaves and bark were used by the aboriginal people of Australia as an herbal medicine. But in the early 1920s, an Australian chemist named Arthur Penfold discovered that the oil extracted from the leaves was a more potent antiseptic than carbolic acid, the strongest antiseptic they had at the time. And with that, commercial production of tea tree oil began.
Today, tea tree oil is often used for its antibacterial and skin-healing properties. In aromatherapy it’s considered an instant mood-booster, with benefits for both the respiratory and nervous systems.
Benefits of Tea Tree Oil for Hair
Like most essential oils, studies on tea tree oil are limited. But some research shows that tea tree oil has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects [source]. And those compounds that make tea tree oil an effective healing agent also make it a great addition to your daily hair routine.
Tea tree oil has been shown to help:
—Reduce scalp itch and irritation from contact dermatitis [source]
—Tame dandruff [source]
—Slow unwanted hair growth [source]
—Treat head lice [source]
How Tea Tree Oil Works
Tea tree oil contains a number of compounds known as terpene hydrocarbons. Of these, the most well-studied is terpinen-4-ol, a terpene alcohol that has been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It also appears to diminish some components of the normal inflammatory response, significantly reducing swelling and histamine-induced skin hypersensitivity [source].
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Hair
Tea tree is a “neat” oil, which means it’s safe to apply to skin undiluted with little risk of irritation. Still, some people may experience an allergic reaction to tea tree oil, so it’s best to do a spot test first to see how your skin will react.
Once you know it won’t cause a reaction, you can apply tea tree oil in a few different ways:
Apply it directly.
Place a few drops of oil (see recipe below) directly on the scalp, and use your fingertips to distribute it evenly throughout hair. Leave it on overnight and wash it off in the morning.
The stimulating action of a scalp massage with tea tree can help bring dandruff under control and keep the scalp healthy. Add 3 drops tea tree and 3 drops lavender to 2 teaspoons of melted coconut oil and stir to combine.
Massage into the scalp, and leave the oil on overnight. Shower in the morning and shampoo as usual.
Add to shampoo.
Put 5 to 6 drops into your shampoo and massage it into the scalp. Let it sit for several minutes before rinsing off. If your hair feels greasy, shampoo a second time.
Make a hair mask.
Mix 12 to 15 drops with a tablespoon of any carrier oil like fractionated coconut, argan, or olive oil. Apply the oil mixture onto your scalp and massage it in. You can even give yourself a hot oil treatment by warming the oil before applying it. Let it sit for 20 minutes before washing it out.
Use as a leave-in conditioner.
To make a simple leave-in conditioner, combine 1 tablespoon of conditioner or carrier oil with 12 to 15 drops of tea tree oil in a 2 oz spray bottle and fill with warm water. Shake well. Spritz the solution on damp hair and let it air dry.
Tea Tree for Hair FAQs
Does tea tree oil irritate the scalp?
Tea tree oil is a “neat” oil, which means it can be applied directly to skin without diluting first. That being said, you can still have an allergic reaction to tea tree oil, which would cause redness and irritation. Always test a small patch of skin before applying it liberally to the scalp. If irritation occurs, wash it off immediately.
Is it ok to leave tea tree oil on hair overnight?
Yes, it’s perfectly safe to leave tea tree oil on overnight or for extended periods of time. While you don’t need to rinse it off in the morning, I find that it can weigh hair down and make the scalp look greasy. In that case, shampoo your hair well and style as usual.
Does tea tree oil affect hair color?
Tea tree oil has astringent properties, which means it can lighten hair when used in large quantities. I would avoid using tea tree if you’ve recently colored your hair.
Will tea tree oil make hair thicker?
No, tea tree oil won’t make hair come in thicker. But by improving scalp health, it may help your hair grow longer and appear healthier.
Tea Tree Hair Oil
- 4-ounce dropper bottle
- 30 drops tea tree essential oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 12 drops peppermint essential oil
- 1 teaspoon amla oil (optional)
- Jojoba oil (enough to top off the 4-ounce bottle)
- Combine oils in a small dropper bottle and shake well.
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