Staphylococcus bacteria are the cause of infection in many, many situations (ranging from acne, to life-threatening systemic and bronchial infections). MRSA, a drug-resistant strain of this bacteria has been dubbed 'the superbug' due to its challenging medical implications.

Many, many studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals describing the antibacterial action of Tea Tree essential oil. Tea tree is probably the most well known and widely used antibacterial essential oil bar none. It is inexpensive and very safe to use (though some find it's aroma not especially appealing. We have found very fresh Tea Tree oil to actually have a pleasing sent).

Tea tree appears to exert its antibacterial action by disrupting the integrity of cell membranes of the bacteria, causing 'leaks' in the cell walls to occur. Also, when individual chemicals were isolated from Tea Tree oil, these did not have as potent an effect as the complete oil (as is often the case with natural medicines). Due to the vigor of the MRSA bacteria, however, it has also been found that a blend of oils, also including Geranium, has been more effective. The blend is not available to the public however, as the researchers are preparing a commercial formula.

Here are a few abstracts and studies describing the actions of Tea Tree on varieties of Staph bacteria:

Abstract: Staphylococcus aureus and wounds: a review of tea tree oil as a promising antimicrobial.

Halcón L, Milkus K.School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to be a major health concern worldwide. In particular, Staphylococcus aureus, both methicillin-resistant and -sensitive, are of concern in their ability to cause difficult skin and underlying tissue infections. Melaleuca alternifolia oil (tea tree oil), an essential oil, has demonstrated promising efficacy in treating these infections. Tea tree oil has been used for centuries as a botanical medicine, and has only in recent decades surfaced in the scientific literature as a promising adjunctive wound treatment. Tea tree oil is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and has demonstrated ability to activate monocytes. There are few apparent side effects to using tea tree oil topically in low concentrations, with contact dermatitis being the most common.

Tea tree oil has been effective as an adjunctive therapy in treating osteomyelitis and infected chronic wounds in case studies and small clinical trials. There is a need for larger clinical trials to further examine efficacy of tea tree oil as an adjunctive wound therapy, as well as improved guidelines for developing plant-based medicines.

Study: A randomized, controlled trial of tea tree topical preparations versus a standard topical regimen for the clearance of MRSA colonization.

Dryden MS, Dailly S, Crouch M. Department of Microbiology and Communicable Disease, Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Romsey Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 5DG, UK.

Two topical MRSA eradication regimes were compared in hospital patients: a standard treatment included mupirocin 2% nasal ointment, chlorhexidine gluconate 4% soap, silver sulfadiazine 1% cream versus a tea tree oil regimen, which included tea tree 10% cream, tea tree 5% body wash, both given for five days. One hundred and fourteen patients received standard treatment and 56 (49%) were cleared of MRSA carriage. One hundred and ten received tea tree oil regimen and 46 (41%) were cleared. There was no significant difference between treatment regimens (Fisher's exact test; P = 0.0286). Mupirocin was significantly more effective at clearing nasal carriage (78%) than tea tree cream (47%; P = 0.0001) but tea tree treatment was more effective than chlorhexidine or silver sulfadiazine at clearing superficial skin sites and skin lesions. The tea tree preparations were effective, safe and well tolerated and could be considered in regimens for eradication of MRSA carriage.

Antimicrobial effects of tea-tree oil and its major components on Staphylococcus aureus, Staph. epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes.

Raman A, Weir U, Bloomfield SF.Department of Pharmacy, King's College London, UK.

Major components of two tea-tree oil samples were identified using thin layer and gas-liquid chromatography (TLC and GLC). Using a TLC-bioautographic technique, the tea-tree oils, terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol and alpha-pinene were found to be active against Staphylococcus aureus, Staph. epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes whereas cineole was inactive against these organisms. The MIC values of the three active compounds increased in the order alpha-terpineol < terpinen-4-ol < pinene for all three micro-organisms. MIC values of the tea-tree oils and terpinen-4-ol were lower for P. acnes than for the two staphylococci. This study supports the use of tea-tree oil in the treatment of acne, and demonstrates that terpinen-4-ol is not the sole active constituent of the oil.