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Tea tree oil has been used in the traditional medicine of the Aborigines of Australia for hundreds of years. Leaves from the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia, not the tree that produces black, green and oolong tea) were crushed to extract its oil and used to treat coughs and colds, or applied directly to the skin for wound healing.
Tea tree oil possesses strong antiseptic capabilities and has a variety of uses, including as natural deodorant, mouthwash and insect repellant. In skin care, tea tree oil can be used as an astringent or toner, to treat blemish-prone skin, or to remove makeup and prepare the skin for a facial treatment.
“[Tea tree oil] is not a skin stripping agent, but it does help to remove any excess oils that could interfere with a treatment,” says Charmaine Cooper, Education Manager at Dermalogica. “It minimizes any type of inflammation, any type of itch, and it has superior soothing as well as purifying properties.”
Tea tree oil comes in a variety of forms and concentrations, Cooper says, “But in skin care we actually advise that you not go all-natural. Essential oils are highly concentrated and they permeate deep into the skin, possibly even into the bloodstream, which is why we advise that no pregnant client or someone trying to become pregnant should use any essential oils.”
With skin care formulations such as moisturizers, the tea tree oil has undergone a chemical process that breaks down its molecular structure so that it is small enough to pass through the semipermeable barrier of the skin. Cooper says the recommended concentration of tea tree oil that should be present in a skin care formulation is five per cent. Read your product labels and check in what order tea tree oil is listed, she says. “One of the classes that we teach is called Formula Works and it helps skin therapists to read for their clients the concentration of any ingredient,” Cooper says. “If you see tea tree at the first four or five ingredients, it’s probably in quite a high concentration. If it’s nearing the end or even in the middle, you’re probably getting microscopic components of it.”
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