Fight Infection with Tea Tree Oil Hand Wash
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (March 24, 2005)—Skin washes containing 5% tea tree oil are more effective than regular soap at killing infectious bacteria on the skin, according to the Journal of Hospital Infection (2005;59:220–8).
Hand washing plays a critical role in preventing the spread of infection in healthcare settings. Several studies, however, have found that less than half of healthcare providers wash their hands as frequently and for as long as is recommended, in part because frequent washing can irritate the skin. When used properly, antiseptic soaps and cleansers can effectively remove bacteria from the skin surface; however, frequent use may damage skin and cause a loss of healthy bacteria, creating conditions that might actually increase the risk of spreading infection. Tea tree oil has demonstrated antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties in numerous studies. Furthermore, studies have suggested that tea tree oil preparations do not damage skin and tend to spare normal skin bacteria.
Twenty-seven people took part in the current study, which examined the effectiveness of antiseptic skin washes containing tea tree oil. Thirteen participants did three hand-washing trials: one using a hygienic skin wash with 5% tea tree oil, another using a skin wash with 5% tea tree oil in a solution of 0.001% Tween 80 (a mild detergent that dissolves oils and fats), and another using a regular soft soap. The remaining 14 participants did two hand-washing trials, one using an alcoholic hygienic skin wash with 5% tea tree oil in a 10% alcohol solution, and the other using regular soft soap. The order of testing was randomly assigned for each participant.
At the beginning of each trial, participants immersed their hands in a contaminated fluid containing large amounts of bacteria for five seconds. They next washed their hands with 5 ml (about one teaspoon) of the test cleanser and warm water for 60 seconds, followed by 15 seconds of rinsing. Bacteria from the skin of the hand were cultured before and after this washing. The amount of bacteria remaining on the hands from the contaminated fluid was found to be less after washing with each of the three tea tree oil preparations than after using regular soft soap. The difference between tea tree oil and soft soap was statistically significant for two of the three preparations, but not for the hygienic skin wash with tea tree oil.
The results of this study suggest that some skin washes with 5% tea tree oil clear bacteria from the skin more effectively than regular soap. They also demonstrate that other ingredients used in the preparation, such as alcohol and detergents, contribute to the effectiveness of the tea tree oil. Previous research has suggested that frequent use of a tea tree oil-containing skin wash does not cause skin damage, and that the antibacterial effect of tea tree oil is stronger against infectious bacteria than normal skin bacteria. Future studies are needed to establish the effects of these specific tea tree oil–containing skin washes on skin health and colonies of normal skin bacteria and compare them with currently used antiseptic soaps.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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