PA writes: “I have a wonderful Catholic doctor who recently told me to try Tea Tree oil for a skin infection my 6 year old had. She also gave me a prescription for a topical antibiotic if the oil did not work. I have used essential oils for medicinal purposes for a number of years and have had good results with them. We have not used them for serious illnesses, mostly just skin problems, viruses, tummy aches etc. I used the Tea Tree oil and within a couple days the infection stopped spreading and by the end of one week was completely gone. Is Church teaching against this?”
Church teaching does not prohibit the use of essential oils, which are derived from plants through distillation processes such as steam or pressure. The resulting oils are said to contain the plant’s “essence” which is why they are called “essential oils.”
However, New Agers have co-opted the essential oil industry making it almost impossible to buy these products from “clean” suppliers – meaning your purchase goes toward keeping these charlatans in business. You might want to read our blog on this subject which can be found here.
As for tea tree oil in particular, there is quality science to back up at least some of its claims, particularly for the treatment of fungal infections. This is because the plant contains terpenoids which have antiseptic and antifungal qualities.
Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca oil or Australian tea tree oil, comes from a plant native to Australia that has long been used by aboriginals for healing skins cuts, burns and infections. People use it for everything from dandruff and periodontal disease to acne and yeast infections, and it can be found in a variety of products such as creams, ointments, lotions, soaps and shampoos.
However, there are some serious safety concerns with tea tree oil. It should never be taken internally, even in small quantities as it can cause impaired immune function, diarrhea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression (excessive drowsiness, sleepiness, confusion, coma). Even though it’s found in some toothpastes and mouthwashes, this is because these products are not swallowed. It is recommended that people avoid using homemade tea tree oil mouthwashes.
Even when used topically, people have reported allergic reactions ranging from mild dermatitis to severe blistering and rashes. If used in an undiluted form on the skin, it can cause a range of skin irritations including redness, blistering and itching.
Tea tree oil should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women and it should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.
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