Beauty The 4 Benefits of Using Tea Tree Oil On Your Scalp Experts explain why tea tree oil is key to your haircare. By Audrey Noble Audrey Noble Twitter Audrey Noble is NYC-based contributing beauty commerce writer. She covers all things beauty, hair products, and makeup. InStyle's editorial guidelines Published on April 18, 2023 @ 11:47AM Pin Share Tweet Email Photo: Getty Images Tea tree oil is one of the best known essential oils in hair care, thanks to claims that it can help keep the scalp healthy and balanced. But what exactly does it do — and is it worth the hype? These days, most can agree that scalp health is crucial for keeping hair strong and healthy, which is why using nourishing ingredients, such as essential oils, ultimately benefit both. "Many people often look past scalp care, but your scalp needs cleansers, treatments, and moisturizers just as the skin on your face and body do," says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at the Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City. "Using an essential oil on the scalp helps to moisturize the hair and skin by adding vitamins and minerals to the roots of your hair, promote hair growth, and reduce inflammation, build-up, and irritation." Here, exactly how it pulls that off. What Is Tea Tree Oil? Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil that is derived from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, which is native to Australia. According to Dr. Engelman, tea tree oil is widely known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties. "Plant extracts like tea tree oil have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries," says Dr. Engelman. In addition to its benefits for skin and hair, "it is also an amazing ingredient for fighting infection and aiding in healing, [since] it contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol, which is proven to increase white blood cell count," she says. What Are the Scalp Benefits? Thanks to tea tree oil's inherent anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, it can help soothe the itch and irritation and control the yeast overgrowth that causes dandruff, says Anna Karp, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She points to a 2002 study that found that five percent of tea tree oil shampoos worked to clear up dandruff without any downsides. Plus, she says, tea tree oil can also help regulate excess sebum production and manage an oily scalp. Briogeo Are There Any Downsides? While tea tree oil is suitable for all hair types, both dermatologists agree that those with very sensitive skin should be cautious when using it, as it may cause irritation if used too often or in high concentrations. In fact, "undiluted tea tree oil can cause rashes on the scalp and skin," Dr. Engelman says. And, as with any new ingredient you're introducing to your skin, Dr. Karp suggests doing a spot test of the oil on your forearm to see if you get an adverse reaction before using it on your scalp. How Do You Use Tea Tree Oil? Since undiluted tea tree oil can be too harsh for some, consider starting with a diluted form. In other words, if you opt for the essential oil version, mix two to three drops with a carrier oil and apply the combo to your scalp one to two times a week. (If your hair and scalp don't have a reaction, says Dr. Engelman, you can gradually increase it to three to four drops). The carrier in question can impact your overall results, by the way. "For those with sensitive skin, mix tea tree oil with a carrier oil, such as olive or coconut oil, to create oil treatment," she says. Or, simply add a few drops to your favorite shampoo, conditioner, or hair mask before use — as long as the tea tree oil is not an active ingredient already in those formulas, which may up the concentration and contribute to irritation. However, if you're using products with tea tree oil already mixed into products, you can use them regularly as you would any other shampoo, conditioner, or hair mask. And if you're using tea tree oil to reduce dandruff, be patient, as it may take a few weeks to see improvements. Dr. Karp recommends a leave-on formula like Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment Serum, since it has both tea tree oil and charcoal to help with address build-up and cleanse hair follicles. She's also a fan of Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special shampoo' it also has peppermint oil, which has a cooling effect on the scalp. Meanwhile, Dr. Engelman swears by NatureLab. TOKYO’s Clean 2-in1- Scalp Scrub + Shampoo, since it adds moisture while preventing dandruff, irritation, and product build-up. Bottom line? The beauty of tea tree oil is in its versatility, making it a must-have ingredient in any scalp-care lineup.