Interactions between components of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia


Cox Building L9, Centre for Biostructural and Biomolecular Research, University of Western Sydney, Bourke Street, Richmond, 2753, New South Wales, Australia (e-mail:


Aims: This study compared the antimicrobial activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil with that of some of its components, both individually and in two-component combinations.

Methods and Results: Minimum inhibitory concentration and time-kill assays revealed that terpinen-4-ol, the principal active component of tea tree oil, was more active on its own than when present in tea tree oil. Combinations of terpinen-4-ol and either γ-terpinene or p-cymene produced similar activities to tea tree oil. Concentration-dependent reductions in terpinen-4-ol activity and solubility also occurred in the presence of γ-terpinene.

Conclusions: Non-oxygenated terpenes in tea tree oil appear to reduce terpinen-4-ol efficacy by lowering its aqueous solubility.

Significance and Impact of the Study: These findings explain why tea tree oil can be less active in vitro than terpinen-4-ol alone and further suggest that the presence of a non-aqueous phase in tea tree oil formulations may limit the microbial availability of its active components.