Tea tree has been used for centuries by the aboriginal tribes before it was rediscovered and packaged as a cure-all for minor ailments.
NOT all tea tree oils are the same. The oil of the paperbark tree species Melaleuca alternifolia is one of the most researched and scientifically proven therapeutic oils known today.
This variety of tea tree has been used for centuries as a general antiseptic by the aboriginal tribes (who called it yuk pooy) for healing cuts, burns and skin infections.
In 1777, Captain Cook wrote in his journal of the “tea plants of the South Pacific” which he brewed for their spicy and refreshing drink. That was how tea trees got their common name.
There are about 300 varieties of tea trees but Thursday Plantation in Ballina, New South Wales, grows the species Melaleuca alternifolia that is native to Australia.
In Australia, the main tea tree growing area is in the far north coast of New South Wales. Smaller quantities are grown a short distance south on the mid-north coast and also in far north Queensland near Mareeba.
“Modern research has scientifically proven tea tree oil’s powerful ability to inhibit micro-organisms. A minimum concentration of 2% is required to inhibit the growth of many types of microbes,” said Morgan Bell, education and training manager (retail brands), Integria Healthcare.
Tea tree oil contains a germicidal active, Terpinen-4-ol, which is mainly responsible for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
The Terpinen-4-ol variety (or chemotype) of tea tree ( Melaleuca alternifolia species) typically contains more than 30% Terpinen4-ol and is the variety used in commercial tea tree oil production.
Assoc Prof Dr Reg Lehmann, general manager of R&D at Integria, said: “Thursday Plantation 100% pure tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and contains no less than 36% Terpinen-4-ol. This exceeds the minimum specification of Terpinen4-ol set by Australian and international standards by at least 20%.” It is also low in para-cymene content to minimise skin irritation.
Dr Lehmann also cited that the oil’s high efficacy is its clinically MANY Australians “grow up” with Thursday Plantation, Australia’s original tea tree oil company that was established in 1976.
“You can find tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil in the medicine cupboards of many Australian homes,” said Johan du Toit, managing director of Integria Healthcare Pty Ltd, a leader in natural healthcare.
Integria is also the holding company for the group’s natural healthcare brands, plantations, manufacturing plants and network of distribution centres.
“Thursday Plantation (which is part of Integria) has three major competitors in Australia but it is the biggest manufacturer of tea tree oil products,” said du Toit, 60.
Some 20% of Integria’s sales comes from Thursday Plantation. To date, the brand is in more than 30 countries. It has a total of 41 therapeutic and personal care products, of which 36 are tea tree-based.
In going organic last year, selected products have undergone reformulations (with naturally derived ingredients) and a change in packaging.
Currently, the brand has 11 organic haircare and personal care products.
In North America, du Toit said the brand’s fast-selling products are from the haircare, skincare and acne range.
In Asia, Hong Kong is one of the strongest markets with annual sales of 40,000 bottles of tea tree oil and 45,000 tubes of tea tree blemish gel for acne, said Ng Ka Keong, general manager of international sales proven effectiveness against Golden Staph, a penicillin-resistant bacteria.
Thursday Plantation manufactures and exports haircare products, soaps, throat lozenges, toothpaste, cosmetics, cold sore creams, personal insect repellents, deodorants, acne treatment, vaginal douches, foot sprays and powders.
Thursday Plantation 100% pure tea tree oil is said to be a multipurpose remedy for a myriad of bacterial and fungal skin ailments such as acne, oily skin, blisters, sunburn, athlete’s foot, insect bites, rashes, dandruff and other minor wounds and irritations.
When using 100% pure tea tree oil, a small percentage of individu- als may have allergic responses resulting in varying degrees of skin irritation. This can often be eliminated or reduced by diluting the concentration. Tea tree oil is not recommended for internal use.
For up to 40,000 years, the Australian Aborigines have been harvesting the tea tree for a variety of medicines. Historically, they boiled the leaves with ashes to stop the sting and poison of catfish barb wounds and, to relieve congestion, they inhaled vapours from crushed leaves.
But tea tree oil was rediscovered in 1923 by Dr Arthur Penfold (18901980), the leading New South Wales state government chemist, including Prof Tom Riley from the Tea Tree Oil Research Group at the University of Western Australia.
“Last year, we prepared a review of the safety, effectiveness, quality and historical uses of tea tree oil which was submitted to the European Medicines Agency to support an European monograph on tea tree oil. Next year, there are plans for further research on tea tree oil products,” said Arran Breslin, quality control lab manager of Integria.
Breslin explained during the lab tour that the lab acted as a gatekeeper. It looked at all the raw materials coming in and the finished products before they leave the premises.
Herbal drugs are very complex and require lots of testing. Testing methods also have to be sophisticated to ensure quality of finished products, said Tanja Briski, assistant quality control lab manager.
“Unscrupulous companies buy cheap raw materials and don’t do testings,” she said.
Low quality raw materials, she warned, not only have low amounts of active components but may even have harmful components. Integria, she emphasised, only buys raw materials from good suppliers.
Reece Ryan, production manager of Integria, briefed us on the manufacturing process, while Morgan Bell, education and training manager of retail brands, gave a tea tree oil and organic personal care presentation. – By MajorieChiew
The Gale Encyclopedia Of Alternative Medicine reports that Dr Penfold’s discovery spread quickly, and today, tea tree oil is readily available in health food stores. Extracted by steam distillation, tea tree oil is found in many home remedies.
During World War II, tea tree oil was in the First Aid kit of Australian soldiers as a handy antiseptic. The troops also sang praises of tea tree oil’s insect repellent and anti-fungal properties.
At home, tea tree oil has a range of uses uses – from shampoo to a remedy for smelly feet, for boils, bunions and as a mouthwash or vaginal douche.
When antibiotics were more freely available after the war and hailed as the cure for all diseases, tea tree oil became largely ignored.
It is said that antibiotics have an important place in modern medicine for the treatment of serious infections, but they were and still are being overused for the treatment of minor ailments. Many pathogens have now developed resistance against these drugs.
In the 1970s, in response to the progressive failure of many antibiotics to control resistant pathogens, there arose a need for a safe, effective and adverse-reaction-free topical antiseptic, and tea tree oil was rediscovered. The oil experienced a modest revival in the beginning as it was then difficult to obtain and unreliable in supply and quality.
The first commercial tea tree plantation of plant stock selected for high quality medicinal oil was set up in 1976 in north-eastern New South Wales by Thursday Plantation, which later became Integria Healthcare Pty Ltd, with state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, and chemical and microbiological research laboratories.
Antiseptic: ‘Modern research has scientifically
proven tea tree oil’s powerful ability to inhibit micro-organisms,’ says Morgan Bell, here showing a flowering tea tree at Thursday Plantation in
Ballina, New South Wales, Australia.