Is Tea Tree Oil a Safe and Effective Treatment for Nail Fungus?


Tea tree oil is an essential oil with many therapeutic benefits. Among its healing benefits, tea tree oil has antifungal and antiseptic properties and may be an effective treatment for nail fungus.

Nail fungus can be challenging to treat because it may not resolve right away. If you use tea tree oil consistently, you should see results over time. Just keep in mind that the results won’t be immediate.

Read on to learn more about treating nail fungus with tea tree oil.

Does tea tree oil work?

Results from scientific studies supporting the use of tea tree oil to treat nail fungus are mixed. Some of the research points to tea tree oil’s potential as an antifungal, but more studies are needed.

According to a 2013 study, tea tree oil was effective in reducing growth of the fungus Trichophyton rubrum in nail infections. T. rubrum is a fungus that can cause infections such as athlete’s foot and nail fungus. Improvements were seen after 14 days.

This study used an in vitro model, which is sometimes called a test-tube experiment. In in vitro studies, the experiment is done in a test tube instead of on an animal or human. Larger human studies are needed to expand on these findings.

Combining tea tree oil with standard medicated creams is also an option. A small 1999 study found that participants were able to successfully manage toenail fungus by using a cream that contained butenafine hydrochloride and tea tree oil.

After 16 weeks of treatment, 80 percent of participants who used this cream cured their toenail fungus with no relapses. No one in the placebo group cured their nail fungus. Further studies are needed to determine which of these ingredients is most useful in treating nail fungus.

Results of a 1994 study found pure tea tree oil was equally as effective as the antifungal clotrimazole (Desenex) in treating fungal toenail infections. Clotrimazole is available both over the counter (OTC) and by prescription.

After six months of twice-daily treatment, results of both groups were similar. While both groups had positive results, recurrence was common. Further studies are needed to determine how to treat nail fungus with no recurrence.

Is it safe?

It’s generally safe to use tea tree oil topically in small amounts and if it’s properly diluted.

Never take tea tree oil internally. Avoid using tea tree oil on children without consulting a doctor.

Tea tree essential oils should be diluted in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil.

It’s possible for tea tree oil to cause an allergic reaction. It can cause skin irritation such as redness, itchiness, and inflammation in some people.

Even with diluted tea tree oil, always do a skin patch test before use:

  • Once you have your oil, dilute it: for every 1 to 2 drops of tea tree oil, add 12 drops of a carrier oil.
  • Apply a dime-sized amount of the diluted oil to your forearm.
  • If you don’t experience any irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.

Talk to your doctor before using tea tree oil if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

How to use

Tea tree oil is easy to use. Add tea tree oil to a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. That dilutes the oil and reduces the chances of a reaction. You can either use a cotton swab to apply it and allow it to dry or place a cotton ball soaked in the diluted tea tree oil on the affected area for a few minutes.

You can also do a foot soak a few times per week. Add five drops of tea tree oil to a half-ounce of carrier oil, mix them, stir into a bucket of warm water, and soak your feet for 20 minutes.

Keep your nails neat and nicely trimmed during the healing process. Use clean nail clippers, scissors, or a nail file to remove any dead nails.

Also, keep your affected nails as clean and dry as possible. Always wash your hands thoroughly after treating your nails to avoid spreading the infection.

How long does it take to recover?

You need to be consistent with the treatment in order to see results. It usually takes a few months for the nail to heal completely. Healing time depends on how severe the infection is and how quickly your body responds to the treatment.

The fungal infection is cured when you’ve grown an entirely new nail that’s free from infection.

You can continue the tea tree oil treatment after the nail has healed to ensure that the nail fungus doesn’t return.

Buying essential oils

It’s important that you use a high-quality tea tree oil for best results. Here are some things to look for when buying tea tree oil:

  • The oil needs to be 100 percent pure.
  • Buy an organic oil, if possible.
  • Look for a tea tree oil that has a 10 to 40 percent concentration of terpinen. This is one of the main antiseptic and antifungal components of tea tree oil.

You can buy tea tree oil online or at a local health store. Always buy from a brand that you trust. The supplier should be able to answer any questions you have about their product.

Research your brands and manufacturers. Essential oils can have issues with purity, contamination, and strength. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils, so it’s important to purchase from a supplier you trust.

How to store essential oils

Store your essential oils away from direct sunlight, moisture, and extreme temperatures. They should be okay at room temperature. If you live in a very warm or humid climate, you can store them in the refrigerator.

When to seek help

If you’ve taken steps to treat your nail fungus but it isn’t improving or starts to get worse, it’s important that you see a doctor. Nail fungus has the potential to cause other complications, especially for people who have diabetes or a weakened immune system.

The takeaway

Using tea tree oil should be a safe and effective method for treating nail fungus, but it’s still important that you use it with care. Keep an eye on the effect it’s having on your nail fungus and possibly on the skin around it. Discontinue use immediately if you experience any adverse effects.

Also keep in mind that it may take some time to completely heal nail fungus.

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