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Is tea tree oil is extracted from tea leaves we used for making tea?

Owing to Covid 19 epidemic we recently accustomed with hand sanitizer in which tea tree oil is a suggestive ingredient. From the name it is clear that the oil is extracted from tea tree. Is it the tea plant whose tender leaves are used for making the delicious tea we are habituated?

Is the oil and tea powder come from same plant source?

The answer is NO – The Oil is not extracted from tea leaves used for making tea.

From which plant tea tree oil is extracted and how it got the name tea tree?

The tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves Melaleuca alternifolia and thus also known as melaleuca oil. The tree is a native of southeast Queensland and the northeast coast of New South Wales, Australia. The tree got its name "tea tree" by eighteenth century sailors, who made tea that smelled like nutmeg from the leaves of the tree growing on the swampy southeast Australian coast.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil with a fresh camphoraceous odour and a colour that ranges from pale yellow to nearly colourless and clear. The oil comprises many constituent chemicals and its composition changes if it is exposed to air and oxidizes. The oil is poisonous in nature and not edible however a very effective antibacterial and is used in natural medicines in Australia. Tea tree oil is claimed as useful for treating dandruff, acne, lice, herpes, insect bites, scabies, and skin fungal or bacterial infections.

Tea tree oil (TTO) contains over 100 components mostly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and terpene alcohols. The monoterpene, terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant (minimum 30%) and responsible for most of the antimicrobial activity. The 1,8-cineole (Eucalyptol – the main constituent of eucalyptus oil) found in various amount in different varieties of the tree are found to be skin irritant for a few persons.

The components present in the TTO oil slightly varies with the variety of plant, the climatic conditions and the extraction techniques used. The essential oils of many other known natural medicines have similar type of constituents, however they vary in their composition which decide their biological activates. For example the major constituents present in TTO and eucalyptus oil are given below. In TTO Terpinen-4-ol is the major ingredient whereas in eucalyptus oil, Eucalyptol (1,8-cineole ) is the major constituent.

Constituent approx content

Tea tree oil Eucalyptus oil

α-pinene 1.96 - 2.72 1.27 - 5.85

α-terpinene 8.65 - 9.04 traces

γ-terpinene 16.75 - 19.20 1.58 - 2.00

Limonene 3.49 - 4.68 1.33 - 3.32

p-cymene 1.56 - 7.22 2.31 - 2.42

1,8-cineol 4.44 - 7.14 49.07 - 81.29

α-terpineol 2.79 - 3.32 2.20 - 3.51

Terpinolene 5.58 - 13.71 0.30 - 0.52

Terpinen-4-ol 31.8 - 47.0 2 1.00 - 1.50

The antibacterial properties and the camphoraceous odour make TTO a suitable ingredient for hand sanitizer for protecting skin.

The use of rosemary oil (37.3% 1,8-cineol, 19.3% α-pinene and 14.7% camphor), pine oil (Terpinolene – 26.7%, α-terpineol - 20.5) and lime oil (Limonene – 62.0%, γ-terpinene -11.5) are also suggestive for hand sanitizers since they show antibacterial properties against different species of bacteria.

For more

1. Q Huynh, T D Phan, V Q Q Thieu, S T Tran and S H Do, Extraction and refining of essential oil from Australian tea tree, Melaleuca alterfornia, and the antimicrobial activity in cosmetic products, 2012 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 352 012053.

2. C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley, Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties, CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY REVIEWS, Jan. 2006, p. 50–62

3. Sarin Tadtong, Narisa Kamkaen, Rith Watthanachaiyingcharoen and Nijsiri Ruangrungsi, Chemical Components of Four Essential Oils in Aromatherapy Recipe, Natural product communications, 2015, volume 10(6), 1091, 1092.

4. Khaled Sebei, Fawzi Sakouhi, Wahid Herchi, Mohamed Larbi Khouja and Sadok Boukhchina, Chemical composition and antibacterial activities of seven Eucalyptus species essential oils leaves, Biological Research 2015, 48:7, 2-5.

5. Katarzyna Hąc-Wydro, Michał Flasiński, Marcin Broniatowski, and Monika Sołtys, Studies on the Behavior of Eucalyptol and Terpinen-4-ol, Natural Food Additives and Ecological Pesticides, in Model Lipid Membranes, Langmuir 2017, 33, 27, 6916–6924

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