Before jumping into the science on using tea tree oil for yeast infections, here's a disclaimer: Do not put pure tea tree oil in your vagina without an OK from your doctor. Now that that's out of the way, you probably want to know if tea tree oil can get rid of a yeast infection.
The answer is: maybe. While there is research that shows that tea tree oil can kill the yeast that's responsible for yeast infections, there isn't a lot of research on using tea tree oil for an active infection inside the body. Science supports the theory that tea tree oil is a potent antifungal, but you may want to hold off on putting tea tree oil on a tampon, as some suggest.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
You may know a yeast infection as an extremely itchy waking nightmare, but there's actually a reason they develop. There's this fungus (or yeast, which is a type of fungus) called Candida that lives on the skin and in certain areas inside your body — like your mouth, throat, gut and vagina. In most cases, Candida hangs around without really causing any problems, but sometimes it can get out of control.
Candida really likes hot, humid environments, like the vagina. And when the vagina gets hot enough and its chemical balance changes (from things like washing with a harsh soap or having unprotected sex), it becomes the perfect place for Candida to grow too quickly and rapidly. When this happens, it can cause an infection, which is officially referred to as "candidiasis."
Because Candida lives in other places besides the vagina, it can cause an infection in several places in or on the body, but the term "yeast infection" typically refers to an overgrowth of the fungus in the vagina. When it grows in other places, there are usually other names given to it — like "thrush" if it grows in the mouth. But just for reference, you can also get a yeast infection:
- In skin folds
- In the bellybutton
- On the penis
- In your mouth
- On the corners of your mouth
- In your nail beds
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are hundreds of strains of Candida, but the one that most commonly causes an infection is called Candida albicans.
Read more: What You Should Know About Sex and Yeast Infections
Using Tea Tree Oil
Although there's no research on using tea tree oil for a yeast infection by putting it directly in the vagina, there are studies that looked at how tea tree oil affects the Candida fungi outside the body. Researchers from one study, which was published in BioMed Research International in February 2015, got 32 different samples of Candida albicans by taking swabs from subjects' mouths, throats, phlegm, stool and vagina.
Once they had the samples isolated, the researchers exposed them to fluconazole, one of the most common antifungal medications used to treat a yeast infection. They determined that about 12 percent of the strains were resistant to the drug — or, in other words, nothing happened when the fungi were exposed to it.
Then they took those drug-resistant Candida albicans strains and exposed them to a small dose of tea tree oil for 24 hours. They found that the tea tree oil not only helped reduce the fungal activity of the yeast, but also helped increase its susceptibility to fluconazole. Although the antifungal couldn't kill the fungi without the tea tree oil, the combination together was effective.
Another study published in Gerodontology in September 2016 reported that tea tree oil may actually be more effective than fluconazole. Researchers from this study compared the two and found that, while they both can kill the fungi, tea tree oil inhibited regrowth for up to 14 days, while the fluconazole worked for only seven days.
A Word of Caution
If you search "tea tree oil for yeast infection" on Google, you'll come up with a lot of hits. And like all advice on the internet, there's some that's good and some that's bad. For example, there's advice floating around advising people to simply put tea tree oil on a tampon and insert it directly into the vagina during an active yeast infection, but that's not a good idea.
Using tea tree oil internally (and even topically) without properly diluting it can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, especially at higher concentrations. If you decide that you want to combat your yeast infection with tea tree oil, talk to your doctor first, and then use the essential oil properly.
There are preformulated products that contain tea tree oil as an active ingredient that you can buy. They range from suppositories and pessaries (or flexible devices that you can insert into the vagina), to gels and creams and even douches. If you want to reduce the margin of error of creating your own tea tree oil mixture, opt for one of these preformulated products instead.
To make your own tea tree oil mixture, you have to dilute it in a carrier oil. A study published in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology in October 2016 found that the tea tree oil concentration must be at least 4.3 percent to kill Candida albicans. That means if you're using 100 milliliters of a carrier oil, you'd need to add 4.3 milliliters of tea tree oil. While there are many carrier oils to choose from, research points to added benefits of using coconut oil for a yeast infection too.
Coconut Oil for Yeast Infection
Unlike tea tree oil, which is a highly concentrated essential oil, coconut oil can be applied directly to the vagina. Of course, if you mix the two together, you'll have to make sure you're following the proper dilution rate before applying it to your body. While you can choose any carrier oil you want — there's jojoba oil, almond oil, avocado oil and grapeseed oil, to name a few — coconut oil may be especially beneficial.
A report published in the International Journal of Life Sciences Research in December 2014 describes coconut oil as antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial. Because of this, it can help kill a variety of microbes, including the Candida yeast.
Another study that was published in the Journal of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences University in June 2012 compared different types of essential oils and carrier oils (like coconut oil and almond oil) and found that coconut oil showed the most significant antiviral activity against Candida albicans, specifically.
The bottom line is this: If you want to use tea tree oil for a yeast infection, make sure you get the greenlight from your doctor and that you're either using preformulated products or properly diluting anything that you make yourself.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Candidiasis"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Yeast Infection"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Yeast Infections"
- BioMed Research International: "The Influence of Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) on Fluconazole Activity Against Fluconazole-Resistant Candida albicans Strains"
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology: "The Dynamics and Mechanism of the Antimicrobial Activity of Tea Tree Oil Against Bacteria and Fungi"
- Gerodontology: "Comparative Evaluation of Antifungal Action of Tea Tree Oil, Chlorhexidine Gluconate and Fluconazole on Heat Polymerized Acrylic Denture Base Resin: An in Vitro Study"
- Journal of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences University: "Antifungal Activity of Some Natural Essential Oils Against Candida Species Isolated From Blood Stream Infection"
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist with a Bachelor's degree in food and nutrition and a certificate in holistic nutrition consulting. She has a background in functional nutrition and 8 published books, including The Everything Guide to Gut Health, The Everything Guide to the Ketogenic Diet, and The Everything Guide to Intermittent Fasting.