Revisiting Lavender and Tea Tree Oil & Breast Development in Young Boys

Okay, so I’m reading Samuel S. Epstein, MD’s new book Healthy Beauty: Your Guide to Ingredients to Avoid and Products You Can Trust to review it.  (BTW – If you buy the book from the link, I get some change, and I mean just a little bit of change, because it is linked through my Amazon affiliate account). This isn’t the review because I’m not done with the book yet.

Nevertheless, I got a little annoyed at a paragraph in the book. And when I get annoyed, I am compelled to blog.

Why did I get annoyed?

First, because a citation wasn’t right. The citationwas in Chapter 5, endnote 36, which was the wrong reference. It should have been endnote 37. Okay, no big deal (I shouldn’t even quibble since my own book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, has some typos not to mention a big mistake in the summary on the back cover). But the fact that the citation was wrong leads to the second reason. 

So the second reason, and the more important reason, is because lavender and tea tree oils are presented conclusively as posing a “hormone disruption dilemma.” Dr. Epstein writes that they cause breast enlargement in young boys. Which is why I was even looking at the citation to see if there was some new medical study other than one from several years ago, which I talked about in a blog in 2008.

And there isn’t one cited – just the same article as before. And that article – a brief report – links lavender and tea tree oils to prepubertal gynecomastia (breast enlargment) but it isn’t conclusive. Also, it isn’t clear whether the products contain true lavender and tea tree essential oils, or synthetic versions.

The article cites 3 incidents of enlarged breast development. The first case reported using a compounded “healing balm” containing lavender oil with no more information. The second case reported using a styling gel and shampoo containing lavender and tea tree oils, but no information on a stay on skin product. The third case reported using lavender-scented soap and intermittent use of lavender-scented commerical skin lotions, both of which may well not have been lavender essential oil but a synthetic lavender scent.

Now, laboratory testing has confirmed that lavender oil and tea tree oil possess weak estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities. So I don’t dispute the possibility that lavender and tea tree oils may be linked to unwanted breast development in young boys.

But it is a possibility. And I think that it is more honest to state that it is a possibility, instead of scaring people. With the information that it is a possibility, many may choose alternative skin creams and lotions that don’t contain such ingredients.

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  1. Carmalewis says:

    So, I used real lavender oil almost every night in my sons room on his pillow because my homeopath said it was calming!!?

  2. I really have to question what other types of things were different in those instances. For example, the soy intake or other phytoestrogens that could be to blame? Tea tree and lavender… really? Melaleuca company made an awful lot of sales for tea tree oil over the years and I would think if it really was a problem… they’d have seen it (in high numbers). But I agree – possibility (although slim), yes. Causes? No study proves anything. It merely suggests possible relationships.

  3. The same study said that systemic androgen and estrogen levels were unaffected. That said, the only danger would be in the topical application of these oils to breast tissue. UMD did a study that concluded lavender oil could be used to treat some types of hair loss. The effect could very well be powerful where applied locally, but harmless otherwise. I think the moral of this story is that boys and men should not be rubbing lavender and tea tree oil on their body. Leave it to the scalp and nothing more.

  4. Reenie Rogers says:

    Many foods have phytoestrogens, such as all soy foods made from soy beans: soy milk, commercial soy desserts, tofu curd, soy powder protein, tempeh and veggie burgers and tofu pups. Other estrogenic foods include alfalfa, apples, beets, carrots, cherries, chickpeas, citrus fruits, black-eyed peas, eggs, cinnamon, celery, dairy foods, eggs, fennel seed, flax seeds, garlic, potatoes, wheat, yams, pomegranates, red beans, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and sage. It seems like we need to use discrimination when and what we eat and put on our skin.

    Read more: What Foods Contain Estrogen Hormones? |

  5. There are 39 different varieties of lavender. There are two (that I know of after my own research) that do cause hormonal disruptions and should be avoided in those with hormone related cancers like breast. They are Lavender spike (lavendula latifolia) and French lavender (lavendula dentata)
    Most lavender scents (that are not synthetic) are from lavendula angustifolia (English lavender) and some are a combination of several varieties.

    Whether they would cause breasts in boys is another question…

  6. SerranoMom says:

    This is what the NIH had to say about the tea tree oil and lavender delimma…

  7. I think that your summary of this author scaring purple misses the big picture. These compounds were suspected. Cell culture confirmed that the did indeed show endocrine disruption. The big picture: this IS scary. Because who the hell needs to use lavender and tea tree so desperately as to take this risk? And to your desired autumnal studies: I am not enrolling my son, thank you!


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