Quick Facts about tea tree oil:
Callers to the poison center often ask, “Is tea tree oil poisonous?” or “Is tea tree oil toxic to my child?”.
Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree. People often tout the oil’s “germ-fighting properties” as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes. It may also help heal acne and psoriasis, control dandruff and athlete’s foot, and repel insects. Remember, tea tree oil products are NOT FDA-approved for these claims. Just because the oil is “natural” doesn’t mean it is safe.
Do not swallow or use tea tree oil in or around the mouth. It has a strong odor and an unpleasant taste. When a child gets into the oil, they often cough or gag. They may try to spit the oil out of their mouth. Only small amounts tend to reach the stomach. Swallowing large amounts may cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can also cause symptoms such as drowsiness, loss of coordination, hallucinations, and weakness. It may also cause comas. A lot of coughing and choking can cause some of the oil to “slip” into the lungs. This is an aspiration, which can lead to serious symptoms such as chemical pneumonia. If this happens, call the poison center at once!
Skin contact may cause irritation or an allergic reaction, especially if the oil does not have a carrier oil such as olive, coconut, or almond oil. The chance of a reaction grows as the oil ages, which changes its chemistry. Thus, discard any oil exposed to light or air.
How to treat an exposure
If you swallowed tea tree oil or find your child with the product, do not panic. An adult should swish and spit and drink a small serving of water. If this is a child, wipe out their mouth with a soft, wet cloth. Have them drink a small amount of water too. Wash any exposed skin with soap and water. Most times, accidental exposures to tea tree oil do not need immediate medical care. It is always best to call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222 for help. You will get expert advice and guidance from a medical professional. The poison center is open all day, every day, for poisoning emergencies and questions.