Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) is an essential oil that — in its diluted form — is used topically to treat a wide range of skin issues, from acne and athlete’s foot to dandruff and insect bites.
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Tea tree oil is a great natural alternative to synthetic anti-inflammatories. And it has antiseptic properties to boot! But should you really be putting it on a fresh piercing? We asked family physician Simon Hodes, MB ChB.
What does tea tree oil do for piercings?
Some people turn to tea tree oil for wound care because of its natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, but it can also dry out and irritate skin, especially if the tea tree oil isn’t properly diluted.
“Tea tree oil may well have a place in your piercing aftercare, but that’s a question of personal preference,” Dr. Hodes says. “I think it’s something I’d be very cautious about recommending medically because if you’ve got irritated or sensitive skin, you need to be very careful.”
Dr. Hodes is clear that you should always follow the aftercare instructions you get from your piercer. If you want to use tea tree oil, you should be doing so in addition to anything they recommend, not as a substitution for it.
What piercings is it safe to use on?
While he doesn’t recommend it, Dr. Hodes notes that tea tree oil is generally safe to use on most piercings, with two big exceptions. First, tea tree oil is toxic when ingested, so you should avoid using it on any oral piercings. Second, genital piercings are particularly sensitive. They should only be treated as indicated by the piercer.
How to apply tea tree oil to piercings
The way you prepare tea tree oil for piercing aftercare has a lot to do with how you plan on using it: As an added ingredient in your existing aftercare routine or another separate step. No matter how you’re using it, remember that tea tree oil always needs to be diluted before applying it to your skin.
A diluted spot treatment
If you’re looking for a quick way to cleanse your piercing in-between sea salt soaks, you can apply it using a cotton round, cloth or paper towel. You can either:
- Add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to an ounce of distilled water.
- Mix up a 1:1 ratio of tea tree oil to a carrier oil of your choice, like coconut, jojoba or argan oil.
Added to a sea salt soak
Most piercers recommend twice daily sea salt soaks. If you’re not looking to add an extra step to your aftercare routine, you can add a drop or two of tea tree oil to your regular soak (be it a DIY or store-bought solution).
Precautions and things to keep in mind when using tea tree oil on piercings
It’s important to keep the following in mind if considering tea tree oil for piercing aftercare:
- Select the product carefully. Essential oils are natural remedies, so they aren’t held to the same quality standards that medications are. Make sure that you’re purchasing your tea tree oil from a reputable manufacturer, that the product is intended for use on the skin, and that you’re aware of and comfortable with any additional ingredients.
- Patch test the product first. In addition to allergy concerns, some people — especially people with sensitive skin — find tea tree oil irritates their skin. Before putting a tea tree oil solution on a piercing, make sure you’ve patch-tested it on your inner arm first.
- Look out for signs of allergy. If you notice itching, swelling, rash or hives, you should stop using the tea tree oil immediately and contact a healthcare provider. Depending on how new the piecing is, it’s possible you’re having an allergic reaction to the metal, not the tea tree oil, so it’s best to have the site examined by a medical professional if it doesn’t improve on its own.
- Look out for signs of infection. Tea tree oil may be antimicrobial, but your piercing can still get infected. “If the piercing is looking red, sore and weepy, you need to see a physician to check for infection,” states Dr. Hodes. “You might need some antibiotics.”
- Piercings take time to heal. Piercings are open wounds. Even the most basic bling takes a minimum of three months to heal — belly button piercings take closer to a year — so it’s important to monitor and clean the piercing long after the tenderness has subsided. And when in doubt, talk to your piercer about your healing timetable.
The bottom line
Tea tree oil is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been found to have antiseptic properties. For that reason, some people like to use diluted tea tree oil as part of their post-piercing aftercare. While generally safe to use on most kinds of piercings (excluding piercings of the mouth and genitals), it’s important to exercise caution. Some people are allergic to tea tree oil, while others find it irritates their sensitive skin. Whether or not to incorporate tea tree oil into your piercing aftercare routine is a good conversation to have with the person who gave you the piercing.