The use of natural products promote and maintain mental well-being, physical health, and beautiful skin has come full circle over the last 100 years or so. Before the 20th century, health remedies and beauty aids came primarily from organic products – such as clove oil for viruses, jasmine for relaxation, and honey for skin toning.

During most of this century, however, our health remedies and beauty aids have originated mostly in the laboratories of scientists, while organic products have largely been ignored by the mainstream. Now, fortunately, scientists are looking again to nature for organic treatment options. A new respect for natural products continues to grow every year. An organic remedy that only recently became popular in the United States can trace its origin back at least 200 years, but has true historical roots in the ancient past. This organic remedy is tea tree oil. It came to be known by this name back in the 1700s by a botanist who likened the taste of the expelled juices of its leaves to the flavor of lemon tea.

The “discovery” of the benefits of essential oils

In the 1920s, a French fragrance chemist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, discovered the healing powers of essential oils quite by accident. While working in his lab developing perfumes, Gattefosse burned his arm. Looking for relief he quickly immersed his arm into a nearby vessel of lavender oil.

His burn healed so promptly, with so little pain and with no remaining scar, that he devoted his life to the study of essential oils, and, in 1928, published Aromatherapie.

Health-promoting properties

Since Gattefosse’s work, researchers have studied the effects of essential oils, including extracts of the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia).

Some claim that because essential oils, including those from the tea tree, are like the lifeblood of plants, when the essence is diffused into the air or penetrates the skin, it provides healing, life-enhancing properties. In one method of use, as the oils vaporize, the essence is inhaled into the lungs. In other methods, as when used in the bath or applied by massage, tea tree oil seems particularly absorptive through the skin and mucous membranes.

The soothing traits, healing attributes, and antifungal properties of tea tree oil make it a versatile natural first-aid product. Researchers speculate that as the tea tree oil penetrates the skin, its healing properties dissolve internal infectious material.

A natural deodorant

Tea tree’s antibacterial properties make it an ideal, natural deodorant. The apocrine glands under your arms secrete a substance that contains fatty acids. Bacteria on the skin feed on this fluid. As the bacteria digest these fatty acids, they produce a gas that causes the odor.

Antiperspirants can irritate the skin and, as the skin swells, the blocked pores prevent or slow the release of natural fluids. Tea tree oil, however, works by helping kill bacteria, preventing the resultant odor. Using natural tea tree products, like those found in your health-food store, is your way to ensure that you’re obtaining the most hypoallergenic products, without alcohol-containing perfumes or skin-irritating chemicals, like aluminum chlorohydrate.

A total body cleanser

With its antifungal and antibacterial properties, tea tree oil works well as a body cleanser or shampoo. Not only does tea tree fight fungal infections, but also, as a natural solvent, it helps dissolve toxins that cause itching. Once itching from rashes, dry scalp, dandruff, sunburn, or fungal infections stop, your skin heals faster. Also, without itching and scratching, you avoid even more serious infections.

Although a natural, non-irritating essential oil, tea tree can sometimes dry skin, if used undiluted directly on skin. Look for shampoos, soaps, and gels blended with moisturizing oils, like vitamin E oil.

Acting as an antiseptic that gently cleans, heals, and calms the skin, tea tree oil can reduce the redness of blemishes. (Test a product for sensitivity first on a small patch of skin before using the product on a larger area.)