Tea Tree Oil, Melaleuca alternifolia, was discovered by Captain Cook in South Wales about 1770. His crew dropped anchor and went ashore finding a tree and proceeded to make tea from the leaves, thus the name "Tea Tree". It was learned that the native aboriginals used the oil for skin infections, insect bites, athlete's foot etc. ( The Honest Herbal by Varro Tyler ).
The oil actually has terpinen-4-ol which is responsible for it's antiseptic properties. It was interesting to us to watch Moms come in to our herb shop who had children with bad acne problems. Of course most of the kids were on some form of pharmaceutical acne cream which was expensive and had many side effects. The mothers were there either because the treatments were not working or most of the time due to the problems associated with long term use of the prescription products.
We would steer the mothers to the use of tea tree oil as a topical and they would start out with a 3-5 oz bottle costing about 1/50th their out of pocket cost for the prescription product. As always though you wonder if , with severe acne as was what we saw, would the product work sufficiently well for the Moms to come back for repeat purchases. I can honestly say more than 80% of the mothers did return and continued to order until the acne was no longer an issue for the child.
We had our herb shop, Cameron Park Botanicals, during the time period of 1990- 1994 and at that time you were not allowed by the FDA to have a book on or near the oils that detailed the use of the oil as a medicinal so we relied basically upon results and word of mouth. Essential Tea Tree Oil did not disappoint.
Over the past decade the rules aren't as bad as they were and today in main stream pharmacy America the herb treatments are front and center in most major pharmacy chains. If you look at many of the topical creams for infections etc. you will find often that Tea Tree Oil is listed as one of the first of the listed ingredients.
Another interesting fact was the bacteria that is held responsible for acne is supposedly under the skin and therefore a topical is not suppose to be effective there but Tea Tree does appear to be so. The phenomena may be explained by the fact that bacteria tends to colonize and once the Tea Tree oil has destroyed the bacteria that is present the bacteria under the skin then migrates onto the skin and is eradicated upon the next treatment.
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