Tea tree oil is an antiseptic oil commonly used to treat eczema, acne, fungal infections and burns. It can be used as a topical treatment for babies as well as older children and adults. However, it is important to know the potential side effects of the oil before applying it to any infant.
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The most common side effect from using tea tree oil as a topical treatment is a developing rash. A rash generally will occur in babies with extra-sensitive skin. If tea tree oil has been prescribed by a doctor as a treatment for your baby, then watch the application very carefully. Only use the oil in small amounts and discontinue use immediately if a rash develops. The rash could look like small red bumps or a reddish coloration on the surface of the skin where the oil was applied.
Another common side effect of tea tree oil application is irritation. This is difficult to identify in infants who cannot articulate when they are feeling pain. However, as a parent, you can watch for signs of irritation in your baby. If the baby seems to be unusually cranky or fussy, then that could be a sign that the tea tree oil is irritating the child. Another way to tell if a baby is irritated by the oil is to watch his or her reaction if you press or touch the area where the oil has been applied. If the baby draws away or starts to cry, stop applying the tea tree oil.
Another side effect that is less common when applying tea tree oil is burning at the site of application. It will be easy to tell if the oil is burning your baby because the application site will get redder and the baby will start to cry or scream. Wash the site immediately with cool water and discontinue use of the tea tree oil. If the use of the oil was prescribed by a doctor, contact him or her and let the doctor know that your baby is having a reaction to the oil. Your doctor will prescribe an alternative treatment.
In extreme cases, tea tree oil application has been cited to cause gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue) in young boys and babies. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 linked tea tree and lavender oils to estrogen-boosting reactions in boys. When the application of the oil was stopped, the effects of the oil went away. Even though the effects are temporary and very rare, it is important to watch for this condition in your baby if you choose to use tea tree oil.
If tea tree oil is ingested it can cause nerve damage. Never give tea tree oil to a baby or a person of any other age internally.