While medical journals have never had the sensational flair of grocery store tabloids, all that may be changing.
The New England Journal of Medicine this week reports that the lavender and tea tree oils found in soaps and body lotions can produce enlarged breasts in boys. The report discusses gynecomastia, or breast enlargement, in three boys ages four, seven and ten years that was reversed when they stopped using the products containing these oils. Subsequent laboratory studies conducted at the National Institute of Environmental Health in North Carolina found that the lavender oil and tea tree oil mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen and block the hormones responsible for inhibiting breast development in men. The effects on girls and women are unknown.
The pediatric endocrinologists reporting this fascinating case series suggest that such effects in other children are dependent upon poorly defined factors including oil concentration; duration, quantity, and frequency of use; and a child’s genetic makeup. This is concerning given that these oils are appearing more commonly in commercial products such as shampoos, hair gels, soaps and lotions.
I’m shocked that this hasn’t hit the media in full force.