hair care
Tea tree oil is a potent antimicrobial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory active ingredient in many topical hair products. Image Credit: Shutterstock

We often associate the spicy and minty scent of tea tree oil with anti-acne skincare. Add a few drops in your moisturiser or dab it on a budding pimple as an emergency spot treatment - this essential oil is Nature's antimicrobial gift to the world.

Thanks to its potent and fast-acting properties, tea tree extract is also widely applied in hair care, especially where a flaky, itchy scalp is concerned. Tea tree oil helps zap any sign of fungal growth, the root cause of dandruff, and soothes an irritated, itchy scalp. As much as it smells fresh, the plant extract instantly cleanses excess oil and product build-up on the scalp, leaving the head with a tingling sensation.

If you're struggling with scalp health in general, shampoos, oils and treatment serums with tea tree are worth a try. Plus, it's a completely natural ingredient for boosting your scalp care game. We asked Dr Mayur Bhobe, a dermatologist specialising in aesthetics at the CosmeSurge Hospital in Dubai, about its uses, safe application methods and product recommendations for beginners.

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Browse some of his picks below, among popular tea tree oil hair products that can be easily shopped on Amazon - there's currenty a sale on healthy and beauty products, so watch out for deals. A Prime subscription will get these to you quickly and free of delivery charge.

1. Best Shampoo: Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Shampoo

In the world of hair care, tea tree products are best known by Paul Mitchell's famous Tea Tree Special range. Recommended by our expert, this shampoo from the line is meant to be an invigorating wash for your scalp. It features tea tree leaf oil high up in the ingredients list, followed by other natural blends, like aloe leaf extract, rosemary extract, algae extract and jojoba leaf extract. This special formula washes away impurities on the scalp, leaving your hair fresh and your locks enveloped in the minty coolness of peppermint and lavender scents. Do note that if you have broken skin, the shampoo can sting, so it's best to wait till any abrasions have been healed. Reviewers attest to the deep cleanse they get with this product, giving them excellent results when they blow dry or style their hair. It cuts through oil and breaks down dandruff. 

2. Best for Scalp Psoriasis: Nizoral Psoriasis Shampoo and Conditioner

Dr Bhobe also picks this Nizoral variation that targets scalp psoriasis, a skin disorder characterised by dandruff-like flaking, redness and dry itchiness. The medicated shampoo uses three per cent salicylic acid to lift and soften psoriasis scales, with the help of tea tree oil, green tea extract, and vitamins E, C and B5 for conditioning. Those who suffer from seborrheic dermatitis can also benefit from it. The formula is meant to be left on the scalp for a few minutes before rinsing, and only to be used twice a week. Buyers have gotten instant relief from the itch and notice fewer plaques and scales on the scalp. Although it comes with conditioner mixed in, people prefer to use their own bottle as some find it drying.

3. Best Shampoo and Conditioner: Desert Essence Tea Tree Replenishing Shampoo and Conditioner Bundle

If you'd rather follow up with a tea tree-infused conditioner as well, look for a value bundle, like this one by Desert Essence. The US brand uses pure tea tree oil harvested sustainably from fields in eastern Australia, together with peppermint oil, to stimulate the scalp and yucca cactus, a desert plant to moisturise your strands. It's an incredibly clean formula that boasts a short ingredients list, and even substitutes sodium laureth sulphate with a plant-based surfactant. A wash day with this pair has resulted in soft, manageable hair and a squeaky clean scalp, say reviews.

4. Best Leave-In: Pharm To Table Scalp Relief Tea Tree Leave-In

For longer-lasting effects, you can add a tea tree leave-in to your hair routine instead. Pharm To Table offers a natural spray for scalp relief that soothes itchy, dry scalps and cools an irritated environment. It even works as a detangler for people with coarse or curly hair types, since it comes with coconut oil, and vitamins A, C, B5 and E. Another star ingredient is the added biotin to strengthen your hair strands and reduce breakage. All you have to do is apply the mist to clean, damp hair and scalp, and comb through it. Reviewers with dry and itchy scalps say that they've felt an improvement, especially in the winter. Do note that the tea tree is not strong enough to counteract oily dandruff, but it does help with dry flaking.

5. Best Scalp Scrub: The Body Shop Tea Tree Hair And Scalp Scrub

If you really want to get in there and break down stubborn scales, use a tea tree oil scrub. This purifying and exfoliating product by The Body Shop is perfect for oily hair and scalp, and contains 90 per cent natural ingredients. It features organically grown tea tree oil from Kenya and exfoliating salt crystals that gently rub away dead skin and product buildup. The scrub can be used once a week in lieu of your shampoo to give your scalp a clarifying treatment. It works into a lather with enough massaging for the locks, too. Follow up with your regular conditioner.

6. Best Shampoo Bar: Kitsch Tea Tree and Mint Clarifying Shampoo and Shave Bar

Shampoo bars are gaining more traction for being good for the planet and the wallet. Kitsch sells a clarifying shampoo bar with tea tree oil and mint that's estimated to last you 100 washes, roughly equivalent to two liquid bottles. Run the bar under the water and rub it into the scalp to remove built-up oils and dandruff. According to reviews, the bar lathers well and is great for oily hair, clearing up any build-up with consistent use. They also love that there is no plastic bottle to throw away after the product runs out.

7. Best Essential Oil: Eve Hansen Organic Tea Tree Oil

Finally, you might want to mix and dilute your own tea tree essential oil for hair oiling purposes. Choosing a pure organic, pharmaceutical-grade oil can be challenging, but we've tracked down just the right product by Eve Hansen, a US-manufactured bottle that's been steam distilled for numerous applications. There are no additives, so it comes ready to be diluted with a carrier oil of your choice. Reviewers who add a few drops of the tea tree oil to their shampoo, hair oil and conditioner find relief from an itchy scalp and dandruff, noting the same tingling sensation you'd get with tea tree products. Some use it to target their hair follicle infection and others apply it to treat lice, in-grown hairs and more.

What does tea tree oil do for the hair?

hair care
This plant extract endemic to Australia has multiple medicinal uses for the hair, skin and body. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The benefits are multitude, but you might wonder what makes tea tree so special when other commonly used hair oils, such as coconut and almond, exist. There's been a renewed interest in essential oils as natural alternatives to hair treatments, given how concentrated they are.

"Tea tree is an essential oil native to Australia, and it contains terpinene that has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. Normal oils, like coconut oil, only give a moisturising effect when applied, as opposed to tea tree oil with many benefits. It reduces oil production on the scalp, so it can help with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis," explained Dr Bhobe.

Mainly applied to the hair roots, tea tree oil is ideal for oily scalps, and by improving your scalp health you might even make way for new hair growth, adds Dr Bhobe. "I would recommend it to those with an oily scalp or a mild case of dandruff. It can also be used to enhance and maintain scalp health."

What is the best way to apply tea tree hair oil?

You could add pure tea tree to your shampoo or invest in carefully formulated hair products. Image Credit: Shutterstock

All essential oils come in pure, concentrated forms and have to be 'diluted' with carrier oils. Direct application to the scalp can cause irritation and excessive dryness, says Dr Bhobe.

"One cannot be absolutely certain of the concentration of the tea tree oil, so beginners should ideally start with shampoos or masks that already contain tea tree. You can also add two to three drops of it in your regular shampoo, leave it on for five minutes and rinse," he advised.

Our expert highly suggests starting out gradually, before creating your own DIY (do-it-yourself) concoction with carrier oils, such as almond or coconut. Once your scalp is ready for tea tree oil, the right ratio for the diluted formula should be two drops of tea tree essential oil with every 12 drops of carrier oil. You can always increase the concentration after building tolerance.

As for frequency, stick to two to three times per week, whether you're shampooing with tea tree or applying it as a hair oil the night before wash day. 

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.