Tea Tree Plantation at Karamea, New Zealand.
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Staph infections are caused by several species of bacteria that belong to the genus Staphylococcus. Most staph infections arise on the skin, although they may occasionally spread into the bloodstream to affect internal organs. Although most staph infections are minor, some may cause serious problems that might be potentially life-threatening. Tea tree oil is a traditional antibacterial remedy that is effective against many staph infections. Consult your doctor to determine if using tea tree oil is appropriate for your situation.

Staph Infections

Staphylococcus bacteria are very common, usually harmless, and found on the skin of most people. However, occasionally these bacteria cause skin infections, especially if you are already ill or if your immune system is weakened. An infection may also develop if you are hospitalized and come into contact with virulent types of staph bacteria. A staph infection may cause a single boil, which is a tender and pus-filled hair follicle or sebaceous gland, or it may develop into cellulitis, an infection that involves a larger area of skin and causes redness, swelling and pain.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a traditional topical remedy for skin infections. It is produced by steaming leaves of the Australian tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, and then distilling the oil from the resulting liquid. The oil contains several active ingredients called terpene alcohols. One of these, terpinen-4-ol, is effective at destroying numerous types of pathogenic microorganisms, including several species of staph bacteria. It also affects certain cells of the immune system, suppressing their production of natural compounds that cause inflammation.

The Evidence

A number of clinical studies have examined the effectiveness of tea tree oil as a treatment for staph infections of the skin. In one of these, published in the "Journal of Hospital Infection" in 2004, the oil was tested as a possible treatment for infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a particularly dangerous form of staph infection. In that report, tea tree oil was as effective as standard antimicrobial therapy in treating MRSA infections in the nose and more effective than the standard therapy in clearing infections on the skin.

Recommendations and Precautions

Tea tree oil is available from health food stores and pharmacies as a pure oil or as an additive in creams and salves. It is very toxic if taken internally and should only be used topically. Although topical use is considered safe, tea tree oil may cause local skin irritation or a mild rash. In addition, the oil may have estrogenic properties and interact with some hormonal drugs or treatments. Consult your doctor to discuss possible interactions between tea tree oil and any medications you currently take.