Background and aim: Tea tree oil, a distillation product of the Australian tea tree (Melalence alternitolia) is increasingly used as an alternative remedy for various dermatological diseases. Tea tree oil contains several allergenic monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. In this multicenter study it was evaluated, whether the increasing use of tea tree oil has lead to an increased frequency of sensitization in Germany and Austria which would justify its inclusion into the standard series.
Patients and method: For patch testing a standardized tea tree oil was used, dissolved 5% in diethylphtalate (DEP). Consecutive patients of 11 dermatological departments in Germany and Austria were tested. Readings were taken on day 2 and 3 according to the guidelines of the German Contact Dermatitis Research Group (DKG).
Results: 5% tea tree oil was positive in 36/3375 patients (1.1%). Sensitization frequencies showed great regional variations and ranged from 2.3% (Dortmund), 1.7% (Buxtehude), 1.1% (Essen), 0.7% (Graz), to 0% (Berlin, Vienna). 14/36 patients (38.9%) also showed a positive patch test reaction to oil of turpentine.
Conclusion: Our results show that tea tree oil is an important contact allergen for some centers. It should be tested, if medical history suggests its previous use. Considering the great regional differences in frequencies of sensitization its inclusion into the standard series is not recommended yet.