- Keloids or raised (hypertrophic) scars develop as a consequence of abnormal wound healing and result in an overgrowth of scar tissue
- Over time, keloids can flatten and diminish but will not resolve completely on their own
- Tea tree oil cannot treat keloids but it does have specific properties to effectively prevent them from forming
Tea tree or melaleuca oil, is an essential oil containing an abundance of skin healing benefits. It has been demonstrated to have strong antiviral and antifungal properties. Tea tree oil for keloids can be an excellent preventative measure due to its antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory characteristics – three additional medicinal benefits of this essential oil.
What Are Keloids?
Keloids occur due to a skin injury, trauma or irritation that causes chronic inflammation of the lower layer of the dermis. This is a result of abnormal wound healing which is believed to be linked to genetic and environmental factors.
Keloids manifest as firm, rubbery raised scar tissue that typically extend beyond the initial area of injury. This scar tissue consists of a combination of growth factors and collagen.
While they aren’t a health issue, they are unsightly and can be uncomfortable, often accompanied by severe itchiness and pain. The thick texture of the scar can also cause a sensation of irritation and tightness, and inhibit movement.
Where do they appear?
Keloids can develop anywhere an injury occurs on the body but are most typically seen where the body experiences the most skin tension such as the back, chest and upper arms. This refers to the level of tautness of the skin which has a strong influence on wound healing. (In contrast, keloid scars would be very unlikely to form on the eyelids.)
Any injury or inflammation can cause a keloid. These include acne, burns, cuts and lacerations; surgical procedures, piercings and tattoos.
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It can take time for these scars to develop – sometimes up to 3 months, and they can continue to grow for years until they eventually stop. They have three distinct shapes: butterfly, crab’s claw and dumbbell; each is determined by the direction of the skin’s tension in the back, chest and arms, respectively.
Keloid scars can be as small as 1/2 inch to more than 12 inches. Once they develop, they slowly increase in size—both in width and height—and darken in color.
Who gets them?
Anyone who experiences skin inflammation or injury can develop a keloid scar. However, dark-skinned people are 15 times more likely to develop them than those with lighter skin.
Specific ethnic groups within this category are African and Asian, followed by Hispanic and those of Mediterranean descent. Studies support the theory that keloid formation is linked to both skin color and genetics.
Looking at genetics, one study paper presented evidence that indicated 76% of those with a family history have their keloid in the same body area as a relative; 66% of them are due to the same cause.
How are they treated?
Scars are notoriously difficult to treat and Keloid scars are no exception. Scars develop due to a combination of a number of factors including genetics and irregular wound healing, and each person will respond differently to treatment.
Current treatment strategies focus on preventative measures such as early detection and monitoring of those at risk during scheduled surgery, or for those with inflammatory skin disorders.
Importantly, this involves decreasing the inflammatory response to prevent, inhibit or halt the growth of keloids.
As for treatment, due to the complex nature of keloid scars, a multimodal approach offers a successful outcome, and includes a combination of surgery, laser treatment, radiation or steroids.
Can Tea Tree Oil Treat Keloids?
While tea tree oil has many valuable medicinal properties for skin health, it has not yet been proven effective in treating keloids. There are few clinical studies on the topic and more research is needed to determine its efficacy.
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However, this essential oil does have several strong attributes that can act as a preventative in keloid scar formation. As we have seen, inflammation plays a large role in keloid formation and overgrowth: tea tree oil can prevent inflammation due to its antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities, and aid in wound healing.
- Antimicrobial: terpinen-4-ol is the main component of this oil; it is an antimicrobial agent that works effectively to kill a large range of potentially dangerous bacterial, fungal and viral infections
- Anti-inflammatory: tea tree oil plays a role in reducing inflammation which calms redness, swelling and irritation
- Antiseptic: this oil is an effective antiseptic that activates white blood cells to fight infection and promote healing
Tea tree oil can prevent infection at the wound site to target inflammation and help prevent the formation of keloids.
One small clinical trial examined a traditional treatment plus the antimicrobial effects of a tea tree oil dressing on Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It was found to decrease healing time in nine out of ten participants and outperformed the conventional treatment.
Another study examined the effect of terpinen-4-ol on oral bacteria. It was found to be highly effective in killing Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria.
In-vitro studies have also shown terpinen-4-ol to effectively suppress inflammation, a major instigator of keloid formation.
Tea tree oil has been used successfully since the 1920s as an antiseptic, to disinfect the skin and prevent infection. It has been shown to be more effective than phenol, also known as carbolic and phenic acid, a widely-used antiseptic.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Keloids
When using an essential oil, it is important to dilute it first with a carrier oil, (such as almond or coconut oil) to avoid irritating your skin. Diluting the oil does not reduce its effectiveness but does lower the risk of irritation such as redness, burning and inflammation.
To begin, combine 3 drops of essential oil to 2 tsp carrier oil. With time, and depending on your skin’s response, you can increase the ratio of essential oil; alternatively, if your skin is sensitive, you may want to reduce the essential oil to 1 drop.
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Topically applied tea tree oil is considered safe for use but can cause allergic reactions. For this reason, it is recommended to perform a spot test before applying the oil to a larger area of skin.
For best results, apply tea tree oil to a minor cut, abrasion, or piercing by using the following method.
How to apply tea tree oil:
- Wash the area with a gentle cleanser and pat dry
- Gently apply the diluted tea oil to the skin using a cotton ball or cotton swab
- Allow to dry
- Follow with any other skin care products in your skin care routine
- Repeat twice a day until the wound has healed completely
Can Tea Tree Oil Make Keloids Worse?
Tea tree oil should not cause worsening of keloids. However, if you have an active skin condition, sensitive skin or allergies, you may have an adverse reaction.
To mitigate these risks, it is important to dilute the oil properly, perform a spot-test to determine if you have any allergies and apply to the specific treatment area only.
Should you develop itchy, red or irritated skin after application, wash the oil from your treatment area and avoid use.
Keloid formation is a result of abnormal wound healing and an overgrowth of scar tissue. This tissue forms due to chronic inflammation of the lower dermis.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has been shown to have a number of medicinal benefits. It has been proven to have strong antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
While this essential oil does not have the ability to treat existing keloids, it can be an excellent preventative therapy as it can kill bacterial, viral and fungal infections, reduce inflammation and speed up wound healing. Suppressing the inflammatory response inhibits the growth of keloids.
Before using tea tree oil, ensure you dilute it properly and perform a spot test first. If you experience redness, burning or itching, discontinue use.