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The more you know: tea tree oil

Photo: ronstik/iStockphoto

Essential oils continue to grow in popularity, with many people believing they’re a natural solution for common illnesses.

“Unfortunately,” the National Capital Poison Center says, “sometimes ‘natural’ is confused with ‘nontoxic’ or ‘nonpoisonous.’”

One example: tea tree oil. Also called Melaleuca alternifolia, the essential oil has “a long history of use as a natural remedy for skin ailments and other conditions,” the poison center says. But, as with many oils, it can be poisonous if swallowed. It can also irritate skin in higher amounts.

The NCPC recommends skipping tea tree oil’s “traditional” use as a mouthwash and treatment for bad breath. If you keep tea tree oil in your home, “store it like other medicines: in its original container, locked out of sight and reach of children.”

Keep your pets safe, too. “Veterinary toxicologists have reported that large amounts of tea tree oil applied to the skin of cats and dogs caused poisoning,” the NCPC warns. “Symptoms have included muscle tremors, weakness, difficulty in walking, low body temperature and excessive salivation.”

Learn more about tea tree oil.

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