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Tea Tree Oil for Hair: Benefits, How to Use & More

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Sian Ferguson

Published 10/06/2020

Updated 05/19/2024

When it comes to essential oils, tea tree oil might be one of the most versatile — if you scan the personal care aisle, you’ll find it in everything from foot creams to body wash. But is tea tree oil good for hair? 

In some ways, yes. Tea tree oil can help with issues like dandruff, scalp acne, and even head lice. 

But, as with most natural remedies, some of the claims around tea tree oil for hair are a little exaggerated, to say the least. While there are a number of tea tree oil uses for hair, it’s definitely not a cure-all — and contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not a fix for male pattern baldness. 

Before you add this essential oil to your hair care routine, let’s talk about the benefits of tea tree oil and how to use it to promote healthy hair. We’ll also go over some alternatives in case you’d like some science-backed hair loss treatments.

Tea tree oil is an oil that comes from, well, tea trees, also known as the Melaleuca alternifolia plant.  

Traditionally used by the Aboriginal people of Australia, the antiseptic oil has become popular around the world. It’s now commonly used in skincare and hair products. You might have seen tea tree oil shampoos or used it as an essential oil.

Some research has found that tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. In dermatology, tea tree oil is used to treat issues like acne, athlete’s foot, and skin infections. You might even find tea tree oil in mouthwash, since research shows it could help treat gingivitis. 

It’s definitely a versatile ingredient — but what does tea tree oil do for hair? Let’s take a look. 

We’ll be blunt: While you’ll find tea tree oil in shampoos, conditioners, and various hair treatments, the scientific evidence connecting tea tree oil to hair and scalp health is somewhat limited. A few studies have some optimistic conclusions, but there’s still a lot we don’t know when it comes to what tea tree oil does for hair.  

Here’s what we do know about potential tea tree oil uses for hair (so far).

Dandruff

Dandruff is a fairly common scalp condition characterized by a flaky, dry scalp. For people with dandruff, finding the right scalp treatment to get rid of dandruff can be a big challenge.

In one older study, participants using shampoo containing 5 percent tea tree oil were evaluated over a one-month period. Compared to a placebo, those using the tea tree oil shampoo showed improvements in dandruff severity, itchy scalp, and greasiness.

Additionally, some research shows that tea tree oil can be somewhat effective at reducing seborrheic dermatitis, the form of eczema that’s usually responsible for dandruff. 

Is this conclusive evidence that it’s the best treatment for dandruff? Not exactly. But it may be worth a try if you’re looking for a way to get rid of flaking and itchiness.  

Head Lice

You might find some tea tree oil shampoos that are specifically developed for treating head lice. The studies on tea tree oil for head lice are few and far between, but they’re fairly promising.

One study found that tea tree oil can kill lice and reduce the number of nits (lice eggs) that hatch. Another study found a product containing tea tree and lavender oil effectively treated lice in children.  

Tea tree oil might also prevent head lice, which is typically very contagious. A study looked at a few different products for lice, including tea tree oil, lavender oil, and peppermint oil. The researchers concluded that tea tree oil was highly effective at treating lice, but also at repelling lice and thus preventing infestations.  

After all that reading about lice, you might feel some phantom itches. But the bottom line? Tea tree oil does seem to be effective at treating and preventing lice.

Hair Loss and Androgenic Alopecia

You may have heard that certain hair oils can be used to treat androgenic alopecia, also called male pattern baldness. For example, rosemary oil and castor oil are often said to stimulate hair growth. But what about using tea tree oil for hair loss?  

There’s very little evidence that tea tree oil is an effective treatment. In fact, one study found that tea tree oil could form a part of a successful hair loss treatment — but not necessarily on its own. 

According to the research, the highly effective FDA-approved hair loss treatment minoxidil might be even more effective when combined with two things: diclofenac (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and tea tree oil. This combination treatment was found to be “significantly superior” to minoxidil alone and a placebo.

One issue with this study is that it’s small — only 32 men participated. So while the results are promising, we’ll need more evidence before we can confidently draw any conclusions about using tea tree oil for hair growth. 

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Antimicrobial and Antifungal Benefits

If you have conditions like seborrheic dermatitis or other fungal or microbial infections on your scalp, tea tree oil might help resolve those problems. 

Traditionally, Aboriginal people used tea tree oil to treat wounds and speed up healing, and some modern evidence supports the tradition. 

Tea tree oil’s antimicrobial properties have shown promise in combating bacteria, including E. coli, staph and strains of strep. Its antifungal properties also make it a popular choice for treating athlete’s foot and nail fungus. 

People also often use tea tree oil to treat ringworm infections, including tinea capitis, or scalp ringworm. This is a contagious fungal infection that can cause your hair to fall out. 

Although there’s limited research on using tea tree oil for tinea capitis, many personal reports say that it works. Hopefully further research will provide evidence to back that up.

Acne

Dealing with acne along the hairline? Tea tree oil may help.

Many things can cause scalp acne or acne around the hairline, including a build-up of hair care products, sweat, excess oil production, and dead skin cells. Any of those things can clog your pores, causing blackheads and pimples. 

You’ll find that plenty of acne treatments contain tea tree oil. Some people swear by it, while others are doubtful.

A recent review found that tea tree oil might be good for treating acne because of its antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Further, the review highlighted that a fair number of studies show tea tree oil could improve acne.

However, the researchers also noted that more robust studies are needed before we can conclusively say tea tree oil can combat acne.

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You might assume that tea tree oil, since it’s a natural oil, is super safe to use. Bear in mind, though, that natural does not automatically mean safe — the truth is that tea tree oil can be safe to use if it’s used correctly. 

Keep the following in mind when using tea tree oil:

  • Never drink tea tree oil. It can be toxic if swallowed, especially in large doses.

  • Before using tea tree oil on your scalp, do a patch test. Apply just a few drops of tea tree oil to see how your skin reacts before applying it all over.

  • Stop using tea tree oil immediately if you think you’re having an allergic reaction.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some people use tea tree oil without problems, while others find that it can cause side effects like itchy, irritated skin.

Undiluted, essential oils can be quite strong and irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. To reduce irritation, you can mix essential oil with a hair-friendly carrier oil. Popular natural oils for hair include jojoba oil, coconut oil, and almond oil.

You also could save yourself some time and use a specialized tea tree oil shampoo, hair mask, or scalp treatment. You might be able to find an appropriate product in the hair care aisle at your local pharmacy or natural wellness store. 

Tea tree oil has its uses, but it also has its drawbacks. Beyond making your hair smell like mosquito repellent, it can irritate your scalp. 

And, perhaps most importantly, the science on its effectiveness is pretty thin. 

No matter what you’re using tea tree oil to treat, we can almost guarantee you that there’s a better-proven alternative.

For hair loss, for instance, you can use:

  • Finasteride. Finasteride is a topical and oral medication that treats androgenic alopecia by blocking the production of DHT, a hormone associated with hair loss.

  • Minoxidil. Minoxidil (in the form of minoxidil foam or minoxidil solution) is a topical medication that promotes hair growth by increasing blood flow to your hair follicles. An oral version is also available.

  • Medicated topical spray. You might consider a combination application of FDA-approved medications, like our topical finasteride & minoxidil spray.

  • Hair loss shampoo. For boosting hair growth, you can try our thickening shampoo with saw palmetto. Unlike tea tree oil, saw palmetto is somewhat proven to reduce hair loss associated with male pattern baldness.  

For dandruff, you might try medicated shampoos. Our dandruff detox shampoo (with 1% pyrithione zinc and salicylic acid) can promote a healthy scalp, free of dryness and flaking.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Should you be reaching for tea tree oil the second you notice a receding hairline or increased hair fall? Here’s the takeaway:

  • Tea tree oil has some uses for hair care. Specifically, there’s some research suggesting that tea tree oil helps with hair lice, scalp ringworm, and possibly dandruff. 

  • But we need more proof. The research on using tea tree oil for hair growth is terribly thin — and despite what you may have heard, there’s little proof it can help with male pattern hair loss.  

  • Be careful when using tea tree oil. Though some people tolerate it well, others experience skin irritation when using pure essential oils. Instead, opt for a tea tree oil shampoo and do a patch test before using it.

Want a better way to deal with male pattern baldness or an itchy scalp? Try talking to a healthcare provider online. From the comfort of your own home, you can glean expert medical advice on getting the luscious, healthy hair of your dreams.

11 Sources

  1. Cox, S.D., Mann, C.M., Markham, J.L., Bell, H.C., Gustafson, J.E., Warmington, J.R. and Wyllie, S.G. (2000), The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). Journal of Applied Microbiology, 88: 170-175. https://ami-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1046%2Fj.1365-2672.2000.00943.x.
  2. Enshaieh, S., Jooya, A., Siadat, A. H., & Iraji, F. (2007). The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian journal of dermatology, venereology and leprology, 73(1), 22–25. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17314442/.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-b). Tea tree oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tea-tree-oil.
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2023). PubChem Compound Summary for , Tea Tree Oil. Retrieved August 14, 2023 from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Tea-Tree-Oil.
  5. Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clinical microbiology reviews, 19(1), 50–62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/.
  6. Zito PM, Bistas KG, Syed K. Finasteride. [Updated 2022 Aug 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/.
  7. Badri T, Nessel TA, Kumar D D. Minoxidil. [Updated 2023 Feb 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/.
  8. Sakr, F. M., Gado, A. M., Mohammed, H. R., & Adam, A. N. (2013). Preparation and evaluation of a multimodal minoxidil microemulsion versus minoxidil alone in the treatment of androgenic alopecia of mixed etiology: a pilot study. Drug design, development and therapy, 7, 413–423. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3686323/.
  9. Di Campli, E., Di Bartolomeo, S., Delli Pizzi, P. et al. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitol Res 111, 1985–1992 (2012). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00436-012-3045-0.
  10. Burgess, I. F., & Silverston, P. (2015). Head lice. BMJ clinical evidence, 2015, 1703. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4294162/.
  11. Kairey, L., Agnew, T., Bowles, E. J., Barkla, B. J., Wardle, J., & Lauche, R. (2023, January 4). Efficacy and safety of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil for human health-A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2023.1116077/full.
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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