Tea tree oil is a popular herbal remedy and a potent medicine with many uses. Some individuals may use tea tree oil for vaginal problems such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. For example, one clinical trial found that a vaginal pessary of tea tree oil was beneficial in the treatment of women with bacterial vaginosis as compared to a placebo. There are many proposed mechanisms by which tea tree oil may be beneficial with intravaginal use. Research is beginning to uncover these mechanisms as revealed below.
The main active chemical in tea tree oil is called terpinen-4-ol. This constituent is active against many different types of bacteria and fungi that cause illness in humans. Interestingly, terpinen-4-ol is active against these pathogenic or “bad” organisms, but seems to have no detrimental effect on bacteria that normally inhabit the skin. At least two other similar chemicals have been discovered in tea tree oil that may also have activity against bacteria and fungi. These constituents are called alpha-terpineol and linalool.
It is unknown exactly how the chemicals in tea tree oil exert their antimicrobial powers. However, tea tree oil does seem to disrupt the cell membrane of certain bacteria and fungi by altering the permeability barrier. When the permeability of their cell membrane is altered they can no longer control the flow of fluids and nutrients between their intracellular contents and external environment in a way that is sustainable to growth or life.
Research has confirmed that tea tree oil is active against the yeast Candida albicans, the major culprit in vaginal yeast infections. Tea tree oil can inhibit the growth of this yeast and has also been found to inhibit the growth of a type of yeast commonly found on the skin that is known as malassezia.
Tea tree oil is also active against many types of pathogenic bacteria including:
-Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis
-methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
-Eschericia coli (E. coli)
Interestingly, early research has found that tea tree oil appears to have activity against the herpes simplex virus. Genital herpes is a prevalent problem with limited treatment options. Thus far, research is limited to the lab though studies investigating the use of tea tree oil in the treatment of genital herpes simplex may not be far behind.
Another mechanism by which tea tree oil may be useful in vaginal problems is simply for symptomatic relief. Some evidence suggests that tea tree oil can reduce histamine-induced skin inflammation that is caused by bacteria and fungi. This inflammation results in the symptoms of burning and itching that accompany many vaginal problems.
Tea tree oil is one of many natural remedies that may be useful in the treatment or prevention of vaginal issues such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or even genital herpes. This herbal medicine is best used under the supervision of a trained professional.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database