Tea Tree Oil

Understanding the unique composition of Australian Tea Tree oil

Tea tree oil is an essential oil which, when used topically, displays beneficial antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal properties.  Authentic tea tree oil is distilled from the native Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. There is concern, however, that current authentication standards cannot detect if a tea tree oil product has been adulterated with synthetic compounds or other essential oil by-products, highlighting a need for further research to be conducted in this area.

To address this concern, ChemCentre is leading a research project, together with AgriFutures Australia, to establish a better understanding of the unique composition of Australian tea tree oil.

The research has already begun, with new methods developed to analyse a library of 100 authentic and known provenance Melaleuca alternifolia oil samples using gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

This research project will provide vital information to the Australian tea tree oil industry, helping to reduce the occurrence of adulterated tea tree oil products in the market, while also supporting development of new, improved authentication services for growers, manufacturers and resellers.

Ultimately, the data produced from this research project will improve consumer confidence and provide assurance to consumers that the tea tree oil they purchase is as claimed on the label, and therefore safe and effective to use.

This six-month project is due to be completed in August 2023. Once finalised, the results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal article describing the analytical methodology and the tea tree library data.

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More about the science:

Existing international standards (e.g. ISO 4730, British and European Pharmacopoeias) define the composition of tea tree oil from Melaleuca alternifolia in terms of bulk attributes of the oil – for example, the colour, density and refractive index of the oil, and the presence of a limited number of chemical components. However, with more than 220 different chemicals previously identified in tea tree oil, determining authenticity based on a handful of chemical components is no longer an effective measure.

Plants often produce metabolites as chiral molecules, and enantiomers can differ from one species to another within the same genus. Essential oils often contain chiral compounds in specific ratios, making these compounds good markers of adulteration. As a consequence, the chiral ratios of specific terpenes have also been proposed as potential indicators of tea tree oil quality.

In this project, ChemCentre’s analytical experts have developed methods for identification of chemical components with greater than 0.01% abundance, using gas chromatography mass spectrometry screening, as well as methods for chiral analysis of key terpenes. This small but robust suite of authentication tests will be applied to the library of authentic and known provenance Melaleuca alternifolia oil samples to establish key characteristics of authentic tea tree oils, creating a standard to assess product authenticity now and into the future.

Postal address

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t: (08) 9422 9800
f: (08) 9422 9801
e: enquiries@chemcentre.wa.gov.au

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Resources and Chemistry Precinct
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Bentley WA 6102

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