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Published on June 9th, 2010 | by Shayna Teicher


Tea Tree Oil vs. Ringworm

My junior year of college I had the great misfortune of getting ringworm. How a twenty-one year old student in a college town with no contact with small children managed to get ringworm while not a single other person I knew or lived with did is a mystery I don’t think the universe ever plans to explain. The thing was, I had never heard of ringworm.

To me, it was this little circular patch of “irritated” skin just below my right ear. Since I had had the distinct unpleasure of suffering eczema on the back of my neck for nearly all of the eighth grade, I figured this was just a flare-up. I tried keeping my little mystery patch of skin clean and dry and putting a prescription steroid cream on it. Apparently (I actually learned this while writing this!), not only does this not work, but the misuse of a topical steroid to treat ringworm (tinea corporis) can actually result in an altered skin condition “tinea incognito…where ringworm fungus will grow without typical features like a distinctive raised border, thus making it more difficult to identify.”

When the steroid cream didn’t work, frustrated and embarrassed at the weird, stubborn rash on my neck, I resorted to wearing turtlenecks. This also alleviated an uncomfortable side-effect of ringworm: people asking, “Dude, what happened to your neck?” This stopgap measure only bought me a month or two before the blacktop-melting Tallahassee summer set in, after which, I just looked like a fool in a turtleneck. Finally, one day during my closing shift at the coffee shop where I worked, a regular customer did a double take at my neck (now with three “mystery patches”). “That looks like ringworm, you know,” she said, gesturing at my neck.

“Ring what?” Ewwwww! How the hell did I get a parasite? I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I didn’t know whether to be horrified at the prospect, or relieved that someone seemed to know what it was. In hindsight, I probably caught ringworm from a tanning bed. (No need to lecture, I shortly thereafter became aware of how bad tanning beds are for you.)

Realizing how freaked out I was thinking I had worms (the look on my face must have been priceless), she explained that ringworm wasn’t actually worms, but rather a skin infection that produces a distinctive “ring”, hence the name. So I went home and looked up ringworm online. Bingo. While her recommended remedy of burning a piece of newspaper in a glass bowl and spreading the sulfur-rich ash/resin left behind over the affected areas of my skin did not work, I did enjoy the excuse to play with fire and I will forever be grateful that she risked potential embarrassment to share with me what she saw.

The Cure

courtesy wikipedia

After that, I did some research and found many sources recommending Tea Tree essential oil, formally known as Meleleuca alternifolia, as a natural remedy for ringworm. Twice daily application of tea tree oil, applied neat, directly to the affected areas (after patch testing for allergic reaction, of course), and less than two weeks later, my little mystery patches had pulled an impressive disappearing act and I was a very happy, relieved and much more confident girl.

My excitement about the Tea Tree oil turned into a fascination with essential oils and natural products, and I went out in search of more information. I spent a day at the local Borders sifting through beauty books until I found Healing Home Spa, by Valerie Cooksley, R.N., an amazing compilation of information, which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone interested in natural healing, essential oils and home remedies.

Tea Tree Benefits

When used topically on the skin, the benefits of Tea Tree essential oil are extensive. Tea Tree oil is best known for its scientifically proven antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and makes a great component in remedies for acne, skin infections, burns, minor cuts, athlete’s foot, mites, lice, and more. It has even shown strong activity against drug-resistant staph (MRSA).

Safety Precautions

There are a few safety precautions to be aware of when using any essential oil, as there are when using practically any medication or treatment, however they are minor and relate to proper usage rather than actual danger. Essential oils naturally have a low molecular weight, making them easily absorbed through the skin and into the capillaries and blood stream. This is part of what makes them so effective.  Basic safety protocol recommends:

  • Tea Tree oil (along with pretty much all essential oils) is toxic if swallowed. Only use topically or for aromatherapeutic purposes.
  • Do not use in the ears.
  • Do not use on animals as the action of licking and self-grooming can lead to ingestion and likely some degree of toxicity.
  • If you are pregnant (or think you might be), be cautious and seek the advice of a professional before proceeding to any kind of self-treatment.
  • During the first trimester of pregnancy, use essential oils sparingly and only in consultation with your doctor or midwife.
  • Adhere to recommended dosages. More is not necessarily better or more effective. Essential oils are metabolized by the body and therefore do not build up when used in appropriate doses. Toxicity is extremely rare, and tends to result from extreme overuse.
  • Never apply essential oils directly to broken or irritated skin, or in pure or “neat” form. The exceptions to this are Tea Tree and Lavender essential oil and specific preparations made for such usage-like for scrapes and small cuts.

Allergies. Known reactions to certain plants or fruits will generally mean sensitivity to the related essential oils as well. Avoid the essential oils related to your known allergens.

Do A Patch Test. This is the one we all tend to skip over (myself included), however it really is important. Especially if you have any allergies to fruits, plants or medicines, I HIGHLY recommend you take the time to perform this. Put a drop of the oil/oil containing product on a cotton pad and swipe the inside of your arm near the elbow. Leave on 15-20 minutes. If you experience any redness, itching or swelling within this time period, wipe off the oil immediately and avoid products containing it.

Regarding Use with Children: Never use full strength essential oils or products on children. Only use properly diluted preparations or products developed specifically for children.

Medical Concerns

One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine claims a link between products containing tea tree and lavender essential oils with gynecomastia (breast tissue growth) in prepubescent boys. Subsequent testing within the study showed these oils to have very mild estrogenic/anti-androgenic properties. While the study appears to be legitimate in many ways and makes some important observations, it only focuses on three specific cases and fails, as noted by Robert Tisserand in his article at, to identify specifically which products the boys were using, along with the actual ingredients of each. Many other sources have dismissed this study for “poor methodology”. Additionally, the study notes that only one of the three subjects used products containing Tea Tree while the other two used product(s) containing lavender, but again, the specific products and ingredients do not seem to have been investigated for this study and the cause of the symptoms was not identified with certainty. Either way, these cases are extremely rare, and after ceasing use of the suspected products (whether or not they were actually the cause) the boys’ symptoms resolved within a couple of months.


Shayna Teicher

Shayna Teicher

After nearly three years managing a bath and beauty boutique, Shayna decided to go out on her own and open Butterfly Effect, a holistic, eco-conscious beauty boutique located in Sarasota, Florida. Our very own “Beauty Chick”, read Shayna’s other intriguing articles and product reviews here.

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About the Author

After nearly three years managing a bath and beauty boutique, Shayna Teicher decided to open Butterfly Effect, a holistic, eco-conscious beauty boutique based in Sarasota, Florida. Our very own Beyond Beauty Editor, read Shayna’s other intriguing articles and product reviews here.

6 Responses to Tea Tree Oil vs. Ringworm

  1. ModernHippie says:

    Personally, I found that tea tree oil works great for acne and bug bites…just be careful applying it directly to the skin. I dab a little with a Q-tip.

  2. Net Guy says:

    Arrgh! I just discovered I have ringworm on my left shoulder and near my pits. It is either from the pet dog, or gym. I am using tea tree oil. First day of treatment today. Hopefully it will work for me, and things will clear up soon.

  3. Anderson says:

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  4. SHELLIE says:


    • Shayna Teicher says:

      Hi Shellie! Any luck yet with the Tea Tree Essential oil? If you are using pure, Tea Tree ESSENTIAL oil, neat, on your problem spots,at least 2x daily you should be seeing a difference by now. Also, avoiding long, hot showers will help too, so you’re not stripping your skin and leaving it more prone to dermatitis.

  5. MNnative says:

    Ringworm is a fungus which feeds on sugar in the body. I have found that I will get ringworm if I have too many sugary foods in my diet. I love chocolate and that seems to be the worst for me.

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