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Tea Tree Oil: A Popular Oil and The Regulatory Backlash of Its Success

In this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution, we began a discussion about one of my favorite essential oils, and likely yours. There’s so much to say about tea tree oil that this topic turned into a series of two episodes.

Tea tree oil has literally earned this spotlight due to its popularity. According to TechSci Research Report, the Global Tea Tree Oil Market was valued at $45.25 Million USD in 2022 and it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4% in 2024-2028. This robust growth is primarily fueled by consumer preference for safe, natural, and organic products and tea tree oil’s well-known antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. This has made it a desirable ingredient in a variety of skincare, personal care, and healthcare products.

Although there’s always environmental concerns to consider when manufacturing essential oils, due to tea tree oil’s high demand we need to be especially aware of these risks. A post by Tisserand Institute indicated why we need be cautious. Tony Larkman of the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA) stated how environmental conditions and the pandemic influenced the production of the oil:

Demand has skyrocketed in all export destinations and we have been unable to meet demand – not surprising as 2019 was one of our worst production years (658 metric tons) and emerging from a drought/fire period that was predicted, until relieving rain arrived to save the crop in Dec 2019/Jan 2020.

The crop recovery was remarkable and we went from a guesstimate of 500 MT to the current 864 MT in just eight weeks. Exports (Mar 19 – Apr 20) exceeded production by 206 MT, every drop of warehoused Tea Tree oil basically.”

Australia is the native habitat for the Melaleuca alternofolia tree and holds the prominent position in its production. Thankfully, other countries including the United States and China have actively been cultivating tea tree plants, which could help with the risk of supply chain disruptions and its sustainability.

Beyond its high demand there is another major factor that could have an impact on our ability to access tea tree oil. Recently, regulators have expressed concerns about its safety and are considering labeling it as a toxin. This is despite the evidence for its efficacy of safe use for a vast amount of health conditions.

So, during this show, I present you with an overview on the latest scare surrounding tea tree oil. For perspective, I also provide you with a summary of the literature and how it has historically been viewed by several skilled and esteemed aromatherapists. These points are important to understand, because the latest attempt to classify it as dangerous could affect our ability to use this precious oil.

Below is an overview of some of the major points discussed in the show as well as all the references:

  • Why tea tree oil is so popular and in demand (1 min)
  • The sustainability concern of tea tree oil (2 min)
  • Why we need to be aware of the latest regulatory controversy about tea tree oil (3 min)
  • A background on why tea tree oil was flagged as a safety concern (4 min)
  • The issues related to study methods for assessing essential oil safety in rats vs. humans (5 min)
  • How fennel oil’s safety scare was comparable to the one being discussed about tea tree oil: (6 min)
    • Both did not use a safe dose of the essential oil.
    • It was tested in rodents and extrapolated to humans, even though biotransformation differs.
  • The potential escalation of the safety warnings about tea tree and how this could impact our ability to access tea tree oil (7.30 min)
  • Who is banning together to help keep tea tree oil safe and accessible (8 min)
  • The other safety issue tea tree has been in the spotlight for: (9 min)
    • Labeling it as “estrogenic” based on high doses of isolated compounds, petri dish studies, and rats vs. human metabolism.
  • Should tea tree oil be refrigerated? (11 min)
    • This could prevent oxidation.
  • What quality factors to be aware of when assessing the safety of tea tree essential oil (13 min)
  • What a review study of 46 human trials concluded regarding what tea tree oil is effective for and its safety (14 min)
  • How esteemed aromatherapists view the safety of tea tree oil (15 min)
  • Using essential oils responsibly: (19 min)
    • The French method vs. the English model
    • Applying essential oils safely.
  • Closing thoughts (20 min)

Please take the time to listen in and educate yourself about this important topic.

Click here to go straight to the show.

In an upcoming episode, we’ll start diving into learning more about tea tree oil.

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

Thanks Pixabay and Canva.