Lavender, tea tree, and breast growth in… little girls?!?

After the release of a case series/lab study pre-print earlier this week, my inbox has been exploding with questions about the latest claims regarding lavender essential oil, tea tree essential oil, and the growth of breasts in young children. You can read the abstract of the manuscript here.

While the claim that exposure to personal care products containing lavender and tea tree essential oils may cause breast growth in young boys has been circulating for over 12 years now, this latest research expands those claims substantially. Over the last 12 years, 2 case series of 3 children each, a medical review, and 2 lab studies have been covered in the scientific literature. This latest publication adds multiple case studies and another lab study to the count.

There are two noteworthy additions in this latest research: 1) The case studies now include girls, and 2) Exposure methods now include not only personal care products, but also inhalation from a diffuser.

Practically, this means that the media blitz we saw from lavender, tea tree, and young boys is going to grow. Rather than claiming lavender/tea tree are dangerous for young boys, the evidence now points to lavender/tea tree being dangerous for all children. For aromatherapists, this means another onslaught of questions about essential oil safety. Essential oil suppliers may see increased letters of concern from customers and clients. For personal care product manufacturers, this poses a significant threat to products aimed at children which contain these two ingredients–in any format.

There are two noteworthy additions in this latest research: 1) The case studies now include girls, and 2) Exposure methods now include not only personal care products, but also inhalation from a diffuser.

What is being done?

Fortunately, through our comprehensive planning process for the extensive research project on lavender oil, tea tree oil, and prepubertal gynecomastia, we were prepared for this news. While the latest research significantly expands the area of concern and provides some strong evidence that these ingredients may not be safe for children, it still fails to provide any level of clarity at the clinical level. These conditions are known to resolve on their own. If anything, these new studies provide yet more confusion and chaos. They certainly do not provide clarity.

The only way to know if these two oils are safe for personal care products and other environmental exposures is to take this research question beyond the lab and select case reports and actually conduct epidemiological research on actual children. Which is exactly what the research team at the Franklin Health Research Foundation is doing, thanks to support from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the Tisserand Institute, AgriFutures Australia, and generous donors like you.

This research project examines exposure to lavender essential oil and tea tree essential oil, as well as several synthetic fragrances, essential oil components, and even extracts. It includes both a case-control and a cross-sectional study so that it can provide clarity and answers that are long overdue.

What can you do?

Here’s your call to action. Funding for this research has not yet been completed. You can contribute by making a tax-deductible donation to the Franklin Health Research Foundation. You can also help by spreading the word about this research project. We have multiple educational events available in the upcoming weeks/months. Stay tuned and subscribe to the FHRF’s newsletter for more details.