Can I Use Tea Tree Oil While Pregnant?

Woman squeezing dropper of tea tree oil into her palm


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Can I Use Tea Tree Oil While Pregnant?

The list of things to avoid while pregnant is so daunting, it can make you suspicious of nearly every food, activity, or product in your life. And when it comes to skincare and haircare ingredients, it can be downright confusing—and surprising. Even some of the ones taken straight from Mother Nature herself are hard no's or come with their own set of risks. Consider something seemingly as innocuous as tea tree oil. Dermatologists—and scientists in general—are split as to whether or not it’s safe to use while pregnant.

When conundrums like these arise regarding what you can and can’t use while pregnant, the best course of action is to arm yourself with knowledge of the benefits and the risks. Then, weigh those to determine your personal stance, and of course, discuss it with your healthcare provider.

To help, we’re discussing all things tea tree oil and pregnancy. Ahead, learn all about the pros and cons, as well as expert advice from two board-certified dermatologists. Read on for your guide to using tea tree oil while pregnant—or not.

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil (a.k.a. melaleuca oil) is an essential oil derived from a plant native to Australia, Melaleuca alternifolia. In traditional medicine, it’s been used for centuries as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory for a variety of skin conditions from cold sores to athlete’s foot. In the beauty world, it’s gained notoriety in numerous skincare and haircare products for the same reasons. You can find it in creams, lotions, shampoos, soaps, and lip balms, among other things. 

Helping to treat acne and skin infections are two areas tea tree oil shines in, though there are many others (more on those in a bit). Despite its benefits, there haven’t been many studies on its effect on humans. And it falls into that tricky grey area when it comes to the question of whether or not it’s safe to use tea tree oil while pregnant.

One thing is for sure, however: It’s never a good idea to ingest tea tree oil. Although it has been used to treat toothaches and mouth ulcers, as well as to freshen breath, it’s toxic if swallowed and can cause serious symptoms. These may include confusion, difficulty with muscle control and coordination, and reduced levels of consciousness.

Poison Control even goes as far as to cite an incident when a child went into a coma after drinking only a small amount of tea tree oil—thankfully, he recovered. In adults, there have been cases of vertigo, vomiting, and diarrhea.

One thing is for sure. It’s never a good idea to ingest tea tree oil.

Is It Safe to Use Tea Tree Oil During Pregnancy?

Here’s where it gets a bit murky. Although tea tree oil has significant skincare and haircare benefits as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, they don’t come without potential risks. People generally equate essential oils like tea tree oil with being safe to use while pregnant. Yet, essential oils contain an array of chemicals—some of which can be harmful to both you and your baby. 

One of the potential risks is that tea tree oil is a suspected endocrine disruptor, meaning it might interfere with your endocrine system, which controls your hormones. As anyone who has experienced pregnancy brain can tell you, you’d likely not want anything interfering with your hormones moreso than pregnancy already does.

Another reason tea tree oil may be unsafe to use during pregnancy is that essential oils are not FDA-regulated. So, there’s no fool-proof way to know if it’s pregnancy-safe or not.

We asked Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York in NYC and the Hamptons, her thoughts on using tea tree oil while pregnant.

Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose

It is believed that tea tree oil should never be ingested during pregnancy, and no form of tea tree oil should be used in the first trimester and after 35 weeks or anytime during labor.

— Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose

“There is insufficient data to support the safe use of tea tree oil in pregnancy,” she explains, “It is believed that tea tree oil should never be ingested during pregnancy, and no form of tea tree oil should be used in the first trimester and after 35 weeks or anytime during labor.”

It may be safe to use topically in your second trimester, she adds, though there’s insufficient research to guarantee that would be 100% safe. 

Other experts agree that it should be avoided, while there are some who say when it’s diluted in skincare or haircare products, it’s unlikely to be harmful. Some different pros give it the go-ahead after the third trimester. One of the few areas that everyone seems to agree on is that people with sensitive skin or eczema should avoid tea tree oil—pregnant or not—as it can cause irritation or other reactions.

You can probably tell by now that there’s no easy answer to whether or not you can safely use tea tree oil while pregnant. When in doubt, ask your healthcare provider if it’s right for you during your pregnancy journey.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about using tea tree oil while pregnant.

Benefits of Tea Tree Oil During Pregnancy 

We’re proceeding with caution now. But, with all the hubbub about it, it’s only fair to let you in on tea tree oil’s benefits while pregnant. “Tea tree oil has antimicrobial effects,” Dr. Murphy-Rose shares. “It may fight some bacteria, fungi and viruses.” This makes it an excellent addition to many targeted treatments aimed at getting rid of microorganisms.

In addition to being antimicrobial, as mentioned, it also has anti-inflammatory  properties. These capabilities have led to its use for minor cuts, burns, and infections. When added to a bath or vaporizer, it has also been used to treat lung issues. (However, most support for this use comes from anecdotes or animal studies.)

Dan Belkin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at the New York Dermatology Group in NYC, mentions some other pros of using tea tree oil while pregnant: “Tea tree oil has proven antiseptic effects,” he says. “And it can be used for nail fungus [and] foot fungus.”

For this reason, you’ll often see it listed as an ingredient in antifungal treatments. It’s also an important perk because existing fungal infections can take longer to treat when you’re pregnant. More benefits of using tea tree oil while pregnant are as follows.

Acne

Hormonal fluctuations that you experience while pregnant can cause acne flare-ups. Since tea tree oil is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, it can be an effective treatment for acne.

Dr. Murphy-Rose agrees: “Tea tree oil can be used to treat and prevent acne breakouts.” This is why you’ll see it in the formulations of a wide range of acne products. She also points out that tea tree oil can be used to reduce skin irritation in general. (Though she notes that it can also cause skin irritation in susceptible people.) 

Hemorrhoids

There’s some evidence that tea tree oil can help relieve swelling and itching from hemorrhoids, though it’s only been found in early stages of research. Always discuss using it for this purpose with your healthcare provider before trying it.

Yeast Infections

Small studies have suggested that tea tree oil can reduce the growth of yeasts and fungi. This can be especially helpful for people who are pregnant, since yeast infections can occur more frequently than at any other time in a person’s life—especially in the second trimester. Bothersome as yeast infections can be, know that they’re a common occurrence and completely normal during pregnancy.

Dandruff

Hormonal fluctuations, especially in the third trimester, can lead to increased sebum production in the skin. This, in turn, can cause dandruff. Luckily, Dr. Belkin says tea tree oil can help. Dandruff can be caused by yeast as well, among other factors, so it makes sense that tea tree oil’s yeast-fighting powers can help in those situations too.

Dr. Murphy-Rose agrees, “Tea tree oil is used in many scalp treatments as a ‘natural’ remedy for dandruff.” You can find it in many dandruff shampoos, conditioners, and other hair products.

Insect Bites & Stings

Everyone is a target when it comes to little buggers, especially during the warmer months. But, for those who are pregnant, some diseases can be especially harmful to their unborn child. These include Zika, the West Nile virus, yellow fever, and malaria.

Although such diseases are rare in the U.S., itchy or irritated skin can be an uncomfortable side effect of bug bites. And since itching is already a common occurrence while pregnant, tea tree oil’s potential ability to reduce inflammation related to the histamine response in your body may be beneficial.

Risks of Using Tea Tree Oil While Pregnant

Tea tree oil is generally considered safe to use when you’re not pregnant. But pregnancy, as you’ve likely noticed, has the tendency to play by its own rules.

Dr. Belkin cautions, “[Anyone] who uses tea tree oil should be aware of the potential both for irritation and allergy, neither of which are uncommon.”

Typically, tea tree oil’s side effects on the skin are fairly mild. They may include a rash, itching, stinging, or burning. Redness, dryness, or scaling may also occur.

Dr. Dan Belkin

[Anyone] who uses tea tree oil should be aware of the potential both for irritation and allergy, neither of which are uncommon.

— Dr. Dan Belkin

But Dr. Murphy-Rose adds another potentially more serious risk: “Tea tree oil may cause uterine contractions that can cause fetal harm.” Remember: tea tree oil can potentially disrupt your endocrine system, throwing your hormones out of whack and hypothetically causing uterine contractions. However, tea tree oil has only been linked to a disruption in uterine contractions for rodents through older studies—there have been no recent human studies on this phenomenon.

Keep in mind that just as there’s little known in the scientific community about how tea tree oil affects pregnant people and their babies, how it affects your baby when you use it while breastfeeding is also unknown.

A Word From Verywell

So, can a pregnant person use tea tree oil? Until there are more studies into the matter—and if you can use it while breastfeeding—the jury is still out. It has quite a few benefits for your skin and hair, but it also carries some potentially harmful risks, especially when it comes to your endocrine system. Of course, no two pregnancies are alike.

It’s always best to discuss anything you start—or stop—using while pregnant or breastfeeding with your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to advise you on what the right path is for you—and your baby, too.

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