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.