School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Tea tree oil research

Research at UWA has shown that tea tree oil has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity and anti-cancer effects. Laboratory studies are ongoing and some clinical work has begun.

What is tea tree oil?

HarvestingTea tree oil is the essential oil steam distilled from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia, which is native to the swampy areas of northern New South Wales.

It is also known as melaleuca oil and contains over 100 components, which are mostly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and their related alcohols. The main component terpinen-4-ol makes up about 40% of the oil.

Tea tree oil has medicinally useful properties including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity.

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The unique Australian flora is rich in essential oil bearing plants. Examples of well-known oils are eucalyptus from Eucalyptus and Corymbia species, sandalwood from Santalum spicata, lemon-scented myrtle from Backhousia citriodora, Boronia from Boronia megastigma and tea tree oil from Melaleuca alternifolia.   

Several of these essential oils have been used medicinally in Australia for decades and prior to this the plants themselves were used in traditional Aboriginal medicines. Given the popularity of alternative and complementary medicines (including essential oils) and the known bioactivity of these oils, futher investigation of their medicinal properties is warranted.

The aim of our research is to investigate and characterise the medicinally useful properties of tea tree oil. Our primary research areas are: 



Our research has largely been funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) with co-contributions from various industry partners. We also liaise with industry bodies such as the Australian Tea Tree Oil Industry Association (ATTIA) on a regular basis.

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