Is Tea Tree Oil Antiviral?

[toc]In light of the COVID-19 crisis, when it comes to natural skin care products, the new number one health benefit everyone is seeking is antiviral activity.

While it is true that some essential oils kill viruses in vitro (in the lab) they are not necessarily effective when used as a cleaning product for disinfecting.

Does tea tree oil kill flu virus?

The are 3 studies in the PubMed database which report Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil having effects on influenza virus type A in the lab. It interfered with an early step of the viral replicative cycle, but not with the ability of the virus to attach to cells. (1)

That research was out of Italy. Over in China, researchers reported that the terpinen-4-ol, which is a major constituent of tea tree essential oil, appeared to help prevent the influenza virus from entering the host cells.

tea tree oil killing viruses under microscope
Before treatment is on the left, after is on the right.

This view under the microscope shows how the oil appeared to destroy the structural integrity of the virion (the complete virus, before it infects a host cell). That was at a concentration of just 0.010%. (2)

Is tea tree oil virucidal?

There are countless substances which breakdown viruses, as well other pathogens like bacteria. However, that doesn’t mean they do so effectively enough to be considered sanitary. It’s one thing to use a cleaning product that kills 99.9% of viruses. It’s another to use one that may only kill 10%, right?

Also, the preliminary antiviral activity in a lab dish doesn’t necessarily translate to what takes place inside of a living organism, like an animal or human.

In short, while tea tree oil appears to be virucidal in lab research, it’s only been tested on a couple of viruses (influenza and herpes simplex). Even in those scenarios, it’s unknown as to what concentrations would be needed to sanitize a surface, or if they would even be effective at all outside of the Petri dish-like setting.

It’s also important to emphasize the fact that there is zero research on tea tree oil and coronavirus. Neither the novel form which originated out of Wuhan, China (COVID-19) or the more common coronaviruses which cause colds. None of these have been studied! Any source you read telling you that tea tree oil can protect you from COVID-19 or destroy the virus is spreading a dangerous lie.

The other danger not discussed

The fact that no one knows whether or not this essential oil can effectively neutralize pathogenic viruses isn’t the only alarm bell. Did you know that it’s a potent phytoestrogen which is absorbed by your skin?

One of the first major reportings of this was in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The study compared its ability, as well as that of actual estrogen (estradiol) and how well they binded to estrogen receptors.

graphs showing tea tree oil estrogen side effects in lab experiments

This study found that use of the oil in personal hygiene products, like deodorant, was linked to breast tissue growth (gynecomastia) in adolescent males. (3)

The takeaway?

Even though they may use unnatural ingredients, when it comes to your health, stick with sanitation methods which are proven to kill viruses like Lysol distinfectant spray and Purell hand sanitizer.