Is Tea Tree Shampoo Good for Scalp Acne?

Tea tree oil shampoo may help soothe scalps afflicted by acne.

Photo: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you've been cursed with scalp acne, you've probably had everyone from your pharmacist to your neighbor's friend's son's wife recommend sure-fire remedies ranging from hardcore antibiotics to sacrificing a chicken by the light of the full moon. One of these can't-miss remedies may have been tea tree shampoo, or tea tree oil shampoo, which contains tea tree essential oil as a main ingredient. Unfortunately, while scientific studies indicate that tea tree oil may help control facial acne, there is no evidence supporting the idea that it can work similar magic with scalp acne. Talk to your doctor about the possible side effects before using tea tree oil shampoo for scalp acne.

Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is produced through steam distillation of Melaleuca alternifolia tree leaves. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that tea tree oil has traditionally been used to prevent bacterial infections in mild skin wounds and to treat other external ailments such as athlete's foot, cold sores and lice. Tea tree oil shampoo generally contains the oil combined with lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus oils, along with a smorgasbord of conditioning agents, moisturizing compounds and fragrances.

Effect on Scalp Acne

According to a 2007 study published in the "Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology," a gel consisting of 5 percent tea tree oil was both effective and caused fewer side effects in people with mild to moderate acne when compared to test subjects who used a similar concentration of benzoyl peroxide lotion. However, there are no comparable scientific studies that show tea tree oil is just as effective on scalp acne. Scalp acne is often caused by factors such as mites, yeast or bacterial infection or inflammation of the hair follicles, all which are different from the typical cause of facial acne, excess sebum production. Commercial tea tree oil shampoo manufacturers typically advertise that their products can stimulate scalp circulation and clear off dead skin cells, but do not claim that the shampoo can help treat scalp acne.

Possible Side Effects

Products that contain tea tree oil may cause side effects including redness, blistering skin rashes, itching and allergic reactions that can result in facial swelling, hives or difficulty breathing. Avoid using any tea tree oil product if you have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema. Do not ever consume any product containing tea tree oil since it may cause severe drowsiness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of muscle control, confusion, widespread skin rashes and, in extreme cases, coma, according to The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Avoid using tea tree oil-containing products, including shampoo, with children or if you are a pregnant or nursing woman since there is no scientific research that has established safe dosage ranges for these groups.


Tea tree oil shampoo is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a viable medical treatment for scalp acne. Do not attempt to self-treat your acne problems, or any other scalp condition, with tea tree oil shampoo and do not substitute tea tree oil shampoo for the topical steroids, antihistamines or antibiotics that your doctor may have prescribed. Despite these warnings, shampoos containing tea tree oil may be mild enough to be helpful for your condition. Speak to your doctor about including it as part of your overall scalp and skin wellness strategy.

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