What is scabies?
Scabies is a skin condition that’s caused by a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. These small insects burrow into the top layer of your skin where they live and hatch eggs. Anyone can get scabies from having skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the condition.
Scabies mites can live on your skin for one to two months. During this time, they lay eggs. The first line of treatment for scabies is usually a type of prescription medication called a scabicide, which kills the mites. However, some scabicides only kill the mites, not the eggs.
In addition, scabies mites are becoming increasingly resistant to traditional scabicides, leading some people to turn to alternative remedies such as tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil distilled from the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). It has powerful antimicrobial properties that may help to treat a variety of skin conditions, including scabies.
What the research says
Preliminary research studies suggest that tea tree oil is an effective treatment for some common human and animal infestations, including head lice, white fly, and sheep lice.
One study tested tea tree oil and found that, at varying concentrations, it can kill head lice within an hour and eggs within five days. While lice are different from scabies mites, the results suggest that tea tree oil may be an effective treatment for other parasitic infections, including scabies.
There aren’t many studies looking at the use of tea tree oil to treat scabies in humans. However, another study looked at scabies mites taken from human participants. Outside of the body, a 5 percent solution of tea tree oil was more effective at killing the mites than traditional treatments.
While there haven’t been any large human studies looking at the use of tea tree oil for scabies, the existing research suggests it’s worth a try.
How to use it
There are several ways to use tea tree oil for scabies:
- Buy a commercial tea tree oil shampoo. Look for a shampoo that says it contains at least 5 percent tea tree oil, like this one, which you can find on Amazon. Apply the shampoo to your entire body, head-to-toe, and leave it on for five minutes. Use this once or twice daily for seven days.
- Make your own solution. Dilute 100 percent tea tree oil in a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil. (The usual recipe is 3 to 5 drops of pure tea tree oil in 1/2 to 1 ounce of carrier oil.) Apply head-to-toe twice per day for seven days.
Are there any risks?
For most people, tea tree oil doesn’t cause any side effects as long as it’s properly diluted. However, some people may be allergic to it. If you’ve never used tea tree oil before, try a patch test. Start by applying some diluted oil to a small area of your skin, as on the inside of your arm. Check the area for any signs of a rash over the next 24 hours. If nothing happens, you’re likely not allergic.
If you want to use tea tree oil to treat scabies in a child, talk to their pediatrician first. Some new research suggests that prepubescent boys who regularly use tea tree oil may have an increased risk of developing a condition called prepubertal gynecomastia, which causes the development of breast tissue.
Choosing a tea tree oil product
When purchasing a commercially available tea tree oil product such as shampoo or acne cream, make sure it contains a therapeutic dose of tea tree oil.
Look for labels that mention a tea tree oil concentration of at least 5 percent. Avoid products that only mention tea tree oil fragrance, which doesn’t have the benefits of true tea tree oil.
If you’re purchasing tea tree essential oil, look for these elements on the label:
- It mentions the Latin name, Melaleuca alternifolia.
- It contains 100 percent tea tree oil.
- The oil was steam-distilled from leaves.
- The leaves were sourced from Australia.
When to see a doctor
Scabies is very contagious, so it’s best to see your doctor as soon as you start having symptoms. They can confirm that you have scabies and give you tips on how to avoid spreading it to others.
If you decide to treat scabies with just tea tree oil, it’s still a good idea to follow up with your doctor. It’s unclear whether tea tree oil kills scabies eggs, so you may need additional treatment to avoid having another flare-up once the eggs hatch.
In some cases, scabies can progress to a more serious condition called crusted (Norwegian) scabies. This type of scabies is even more contagious and can spread to entire communities.
If you have crusted scabies, you likely need to stick with traditional treatments to make sure you destroy both the mites and their eggs.
Left untreated, scabies can also lead to bacterial skin infections or kidney inflammation. If you’re using tea tree oil to treat scabies, follow up with your doctor if your symptoms aren’t improving after a week. You may need additional treatment to avoid these complications.
The bottom line
Tea tree oil is a promising natural remedy for scabies, especially in the face of increasing resistance to scabicides. However, tea tree oil isn’t always enough to completely get rid of scabies.
If you decide to go the natural route, make sure to monitor your condition closely. If it doesn’t seem to be working, follow up with your doctor as soon as possible to reduce your risk of passing it to others.
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