The in vitro antifungal activity of tea oil, the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia, has been evaluated against 26 strains of various dermatophyte species, 54 yeasts, among them 32 strains of Candida albicans and other Candida sp. as well as 22 different Malassezia furfur strains. Minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) of tea tree oil were measured by agar dilution technique. Tea tree oil was found to be able to inhibit growth of all clinical fungal isolates. For the investigated dermatophytes MIC values from 1,112.5 to 4,450.0 micrograms/ml with a geometric mean of 1,431.5 micrograms/ml were demonstrated. Both C. albicans strains and the other strains belonging to the genus Candida and Trichosporon appeared to be slightly less susceptible to tea tree oil in vitro. However, their MIC values, which varied from 2,225.0 to 4,450.0 micrograms/ml (geometric mean 4,080 micrograms/ml), indicated moderate susceptibility to the essential oil of M. alternifolia. The lipophilic yeast M. furfur seemed to be most susceptible to tea tree oil. MIC values between 556.2 and 4,450.0 micrograms/ml (geometric mean 1,261.5 micrograms/ml) were found against the tested M. furfur strains. However, when calculated as percentage tea tree oil of the agar, the above-mentioned concentrations correspond to 0.5-0.44% tea tree oil content. These values are far below the usual relatively high therapeutic concentrations of the agent; approximately 5-10% solution or even the concentrated essential oil are used for external treatment. In comparison with tea tree oil, in vitro susceptibility against miconazole, an established topical antifungal, was tested. As expected, very low MIC values for miconazole were found for dermatophytes (geometric mean 0.2 microgram/ml), yeasts (geometric mean 1.0 microgram/ml), and M. furfur (geometric mean 2.34 micrograms/ml). It is suggested that the in vivo effect of tea tree oil ointment in the therapy of fungal infections of the skin and mucous membranes as well as in the treatment of dandruff, a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, may be at least partly due to an antifungal activity of tea tree oil.