I feel like I caught the coconut oil train pretty early; I was a freshman in college, and I wanted to downsize the basket of half-empty, cheap, garbage lotion I was putting on my body. After picking some up from a lady selling it at a mall kiosk (question: why was there a lady selling face oil in an empty mall in Alaska in ‘01?), I was sold.
No more phthalate- and paraben-laden products that need other products with alcohol and acid to remove. I was done. I threw out my Clean & Clear toner... only to fish it out of the trash days later when I got a new crop of zits. But THEN it was toast.
Then I heard about tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is the oil of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, found primarily in Australia and Oceania. It’s in the myrtle family, and the resin of the tree has been used for hundreds of years by people in the region for its antiseptic properties, and has been used in the medical field in Australia and New Zealand for years.
It changed how I dealt with skin issues, and I’ve since started using it for kind of everything: spot-treatment for skin, mouthwash, and I even used it to keep my face burns clean this summer.
It has a sharp, camphorous scent that is strangely alluring, and I even put it in my DIY cleaning products (just kidding, they aren’t "products"-- it’s vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s).
I use tea tree every day, but if you’ve never used a product with it, you should try a skin patch test before dousing yourself. It’s a powerful essential oil, and some people have allergic reactions to it. (To do a patch test, apply a teensy-weensy drop of it to the inside of your elbow--the skin is thin here, and it isn’t close to your chest/face area if there is any swelling, it won’t affect your breathing--and monitor it for a day or so. Honestly, this is a good idea before using any essential oil, because some of them can cause nasty side effects.)
The FDA says it’s poison, but judging from its use all over the world, including the US, in mouthwashes and toothpastes, they might need to reassess that claim. I usually reserve tea tree gargling for when I’m sick, but it’s a proven antibacterial and could be a great everyday mouthwash.
To use, fill a jar with 16oz of water, 3 TB of sea salt, and 2 drops of each tea tree, peppermint and lavender oils. Just remember to shake it like a Polaroid picture before use.
Acne Spot Treatment
Now that I’ve leveled out hormonally post-pregnancy and fixed my diet, I don’t have zits very often, but when I do, they are horrific--think the beasties from Tremors.
Applying some tea tree oil with a clean cotton swab can dry out, disinfect and deflate some of the most vicious zits, and the numbing sensation is a good reminder to STOP touching your goddamn face. Seriously. Stop touching. But don’t worry, if you picked, it’s a great disinfectant for minor skin lesions as well.
Desert Essence and Jason both make really lovely dandruff treatment shampoos using tea tree oil, which is fine, but if you want your favourite shampoo to help with dander, add 1 drop of tea tree oil per 4 ounces.
Tea tree is a great fungicide, and can help with fungus-caused (the most common!) dandruff. Alternatively, you can just dilute it with water and spray it on your scalp.
This is my favorite way to use tea tree oil; it smells so ridiculously refreshing, my face feels so clean after using it, and I swear it got rid of my blackheads. I don’t wash my face at all (I’ve always used oil to cleanse), so this is another deep, filthy secret for nice skin. It’s lightly exfoliant, and doesn’t make your skin feel weird and tight.
I keep mine in the fridge for extra oomph. In a clean jar, dump in 1 cup witch hazel, ½ cup rosewater, and ½ plain water, 1 drop peppermint, 1 drop patchouli, 1 drop clary sage, and 4 drops tea tree oil. It smells like absolute heaven, and will make you feel all earthy.
I used the words “tea tree oil" so many times it’s lost meaning. Can we just call it "TTO"? Do you use TTO? More importantly, did anyone else see Crystal Fairy yet? Because I thought about it thw whole time I worked on this, and it’s seriously amazing. Also hippies.