Remember the stubborn but loving father in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? He had a solution for any disease or discomfort that affected his friends and family: Windex. Got rheumatism? Spray a little Windex on it. Cuts or scrapes? Windex to the rescue. While the philosophical debate about the use of Windex at all continues in my home (yes it’s blue, but it really does work great for windows), the medical uses for Windex are confined to the movies. But fret not – there is another product which functions as a dermatological cure-all and falls well into the Natural Medicine category – Tea Tree Oil.
Tea Tree oil does come from the Tea Tree (Maleleuca alternifolia) which grows largely in Australia, and has been used by native people there for centuries for many ailments. Its been in use in the industrialized world since the 1920s, but for some reason still remains unknown to many. As a natural skin-specific anti-microbial substance, Tea Tree has few competitors. It works to treat all types of infections (bacteria, viruses, fungus, even protozoan infections) and even kills lice. (More about the lice later).
So, Tea Tree Oil may be the aforementioned Windex. It seemingly can remedy any cut, scrape, pimple, or odd looking red rash that appeared out of nowhere on you left arm last week. You can add it to your shampoo for dandruff, buy it in mouthwash or toothpaste for oral hygiene, or replace that petroleum and mineral oil laden Neosporin goo with something that not only treats at the skin surface, but will penetrate to deeper tissues too.
Need another reason to revere Tea Tree Oil? How about as a natural treatment for head lice. Likely, every parent eventually gets the notice that there’s been a lice outbreak in Bill/Sally’s class. And a study from just last year has shown that Tea Tree oil mixed with Lavender essential oil is equally effective to the toxic Pyrethrins (insecticide) so commonly prescribed for this. And this treatment, unlike Pyrethrin, is non-toxic.
The only caveat with Tea Tree Oil is that for those with sensitive skin (or for small children), it can cause temporary local irritation. To prevent this, it is good to test a small area before applying broadly. If you know your skin is sensitive, if irritation occurs when you apply it (or if your kids are less than 3), it’s easy to dilute Tea Tree Oil with Olive oil in a 50/50 mix. That should be mild enough for most skin types. Myself, I put it on full strength and have never had a problem – even on my 3 year old son.
There are so many natural products and supplements out there that sometimes it can be hard to choose which you need and which you don’t. But in my ideal world, dominated more so by natural medicines than synthetic franken-stuffs, I would like to see Tea Tree Oil in every medicine cabinet.