Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lavender & Tea Tree Estrogenic????

You may have heard reports that Lavender & Tea Tree essential oils are estrogenic and caused young boys to grow breasts. Concerned myself with xenoestrogens, I decided, of course, to look in to the subject.

Even though the story is all over the news and the Internet, there is actually only ONE study that makes these claims. So, I took a closer look at the study.

Originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study details three young boys who had developed gynecomastia (breasts). The doctors treating the boys learned that each of them were using products with lavender or tea tree essential oils, and once they stopped using these products, the breasts went away. The researchers then took these case studies and decided to test the essential oils on human tissue in a lab. According to their study, the essential oils acted estrogenically, and thus could have been the cause of the breast development in the boys. However, I, along with numerous researchers and doctors have found some major flaws in the study.

Before I get in to more specifics--just a quick note. Looking at the footnotes of the study, you'll notice that all of the doctors who conducted the research are sponsored by numerous drug companies. 'Nuff said.

Three doctors (Kathi J. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H., Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157; Aviva J. Romm, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510; Paula Gardiner, M.D., M.P.H., Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215) wrote a commentary on the study:
The study by Henley et al. (Feb. 1 issue)1 raises many questions. Product names were not provided. Did the authors contact manufacturers to report concerns or ask about constituents? The variability, adulteration, and contamination of herbal products have been widely reported,2,3 as have discrepancies between labels and contents.4 Plastic containers may contain phthalates, known endocrine disrupters.5 What was actually in the products cited in this report?

None of the hormonal testing showed abnormal results, except in Patient 2, who had elevated levels of testosterone (not estrogen). There was no report on ultrasound examination or needle biopsy, nor were subsequent weight changes reported. Might the patients' gynecomastia have reflected another pathophysiological process that resolved spontaneously?

Traditional use and clinical trials have not suggested estrogenic effects of tea tree or lavender oil, though estrogenic effects have been reported for other essential oils and plants. Are occupational exposures to lavender and tea tree associated with estrogenic symptoms? In vitro testing alone is not adequate grounds for indicting traditionally used products and may raise public fear.
The doctors bring up a few great points here, number one in my book is, what other estrogen mimickers were present in these products used on the young boys? Parabens? Phalates? The ingredients are not documented and could be a number of things--even from using bottles made with BPA.

But what about the laboratory tests they did on petri dishes of human cells? If you look carefully at their study, you'll notice they didn't apply pure lavender or tea tree essential oil on the cells they were testing, they used a solvent to dilute the oils. The solvent is dimethylsulfoxide---which, as it turns out, is an estrogen mimicker! (as documented here.)

The bottom line is that lavender and tea tree essential oils have been used for thousands of years with no history or evidence of estrogen mimicry. They're probably the most widely used essential oils in baby products, so of course the three boys in the study were using them. If lavender and tea tree essential oils were truly estrogen mimickers, we would have known about their effects long ago.


Unknown said...

A sample size of three subjects is hardly enough to generalize to the population.

Unknown said...

Awesome research! Thank you for debunking the debunkers!

As you have I'm sure noticed, there seems to be a growing number of attacks on natural and organic products. It is frustrating that big pharma and industrial giants are blurring the positive message and effects of natural and organic products.

Keep up the fight!! I am purchasing from you today to keep supporting your great products and your work to keep getting the word out on health through organics!

nettelyn said...

Thanks for looking into the "science" behind the news stories. I am sooo skeptical about scientific reports now that it seems almost pointless to read them. However, I want to be an informed user of herbal products because there are times and circumstances in which certain herbs should not be used. Thanks

Natural Pathfinder said...

After 48 years of putting toxins in and on my body I appreciate your products and research. I like being able to read a label and recognize the ingredients. I've had man-boobs since I was a child and would not take off my shirt during gym class. I was brought up on a normal American diet and remember using Prell, Johnson's Baby Shampoo and Coppertone Suntan lotion. I probably drank excessive amounts of Kool Aid and Coca Cola but other than that I think being overweight and heredity might have played a part? I'm hoping that switching back to the basics will make a difference in my future and the future of my children. The shame is that the younger generation cannot afford to buy organic products at this time.

Johnny and Alisha said...

Thank you so much for this information! I've been using California Baby Lavender and Tea Tree shampoo on my boys for years, and tea tree oil mixed with olive oil to treat their athlete's foot. Now I know it's okay! :)

tea tree essential oil said...

Thanks for this very informative article. I do find it a joke when scientists look for problems in all the wrong places. Why pick on natural products? Part of me wonders if its because there's just no money in lavender and tea tree for the pharmaceutical industry, so they have to stamp it out one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I'd stumbled across an article about this (published in the past week, no less) and was worried about the 32 fl oz of tea tree oil face wash I'd purchased a year ago and have been using regularly since. Your research has alleviated any worries I might have had about lavender and tea tree oil.

Anonymous said...

This was extremely helpful. My ND also doubted that this study was valid based on her experience of using Lavendar Oils.

Anonymous said...

If you were to advise parents who do wish to opt for alternative EOs what would would you suggest for daily use for DIY baby wipes ie antifungal do and one for baby bath? Is cedar wood a good option for toddlers ( 23 months old) have you heard about black cumin seed oil is that also a safe alternative? thank you for your help and information

Harebrained Thoughts said...

I would object to your article. There is significant studies that Lavender and Tea Tree have phytoestrogens (not xenoestrogens which are chemical estrogens) and can affect the body and cause hormonal imbalance particularly in women that have estrogen dominance. While I would agree with you that this study was biased, and most likely false, I disagree with your conclusion that because this study is false there is NO estrogenic effects from Lavender and Tea Tree. Dr. Peter Eckhart, who I was happy to be able to work with a few years ago has had significant issues with Lavender, Rosemary and Tea Tree in treating patients with hormonally driven diseases. He found that when these three oils were removed from their skin care they had much more success balancing their hormones. Now are the effects of phytoestrogens so great that they will impair the hormones of healthy people? In most circumstances no. But the effects are strong enough to inhibit recovery in those battling with hormonal diseases. And to site that lavender has been used for thousands of years with no estrogenic effects is false. First, because they lavender they used thousands of years ago was an aromatic oil, much more like a tincture, and much less concentrated. And also, lavender has been used to help treat low estrogen, and other hormonal issues for many many years, thus confirming it's effects on the hormones. Whether you want to conclude the effects are good or bad is up for debate, but concluding it is a myth that they contain phytoestrogens seems to be going against science.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really do say the following not being mean to you, but to give perspective. Citing Dr. Peter Eckhart as a reliable source would be the same as citing Sesame Street's Big Bird. They have one thing in common: they're both fictional characters. Dr. Peter Eckhart is a fictional entity created by two people in the mountain of Colorado. He is not a medical doctor, nor does he even exist. You can read all about it here:

There is no evidence to suggest that lavender, tea tree or rosemary are harmful phytoestrogens. In fact, this study from 2009 found that lavender oil had NO estrogenic effects: And this study found that tea tree oil was a very potent anti-oxidant that has a high potential to kill breast cancer cells:

Joey Lott said...


In the commentary that you quoted it states that "estogenic effects have been reported for other essential oils." Can you offer any insights into what essential oils are meant to have genuine estrogenic effects in humans?

Thank you for doing this research. This information about lavender and tea tree has continued to get reported over and over in all sorts of contexts, and I'm glad you actually took the time to look into it.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Essential oils that may have estrogenic effects would be basil and tarragon, due to their estragole content.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit confused about this tea tree and lavender being estrogenic or not. Why then would a successful company like Original Sprout specifically manufacture products that say on their FRONT label: "FREE & CLEAN - No parabens, nanoparticles, lavender, tea tree, petrolium oils, musk, propylene glycol, sulfates, gluten, soy or dairy"? And on the back their products specifically say: "Worry-Free - Fragrances free of phytoestrogens lavender and tea tree, phtalates, clove or musk".

Look at Expensive but Amazon sometimes has them for a little less. - I switched to these products since my mother recently was diagnosed with a very aggressive uterine tumor that is possibly from years of exposure to high estrogens (phyto, xeno and regular) - tumor was tested. Having 3 children, I'd rather be safe than sorry, we are already exposed to so much, might as well limit what we can. Thanks for your information and I love it, just had to share this with you all.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Why would a company like Original Sprout put that on their labels?

Because they're feeding off of the misinformation!

But take a look at their ingredients list for their shampoo! First of all you can't find their ingredients lists on their website--first red flag. I found out their ingredients and now am seeing why they have something to hide:

INGREDIENTS: Aqua [Water with Organic Extracts of Organic Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf, Organic (Arnica) Montana Flower, Organic Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit, Organic (Calendula) Officinalis Flower, Organic Vaccinum Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Fruit], Schinziophyton Rautanenil (Mongongo) Kernel Oil, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Protein, Panthenol, Extracts of Fortunella Margarita (Nagami Kumquat) Fruit, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwifruit/Mang├╝eyo) Fruit, Melia Azadirachta (Neem Fruit), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycol Distearate, Polyquaternium-7, Parfum with Extracts of Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Fruit, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit, Di-Steareth100 IPDI, Dipteryx Odorata Seed, Ananas Sativus (Pineapple) Fruit, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut), RubusIdaeus (Raspberry) Fruit, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Caprylohydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid, Laureth-4, Sodium Hydroxide, Vegetable Glycerine.

Look at the ethoxylated chemicals in there! Polyquaternium-7, Di-Steareth 100--these are chemicals created with the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which and its carcinogenic by-product can remain in the product. Plus they're still using SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCE! They say "parfum with extracts of..." In other words they use some natural scent extracts along with their synthetic fragrance!

Plus they use quaternary ammonium compounds, (guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, polyquaternium-7) which have been implicated for possible xenoestrogenic activity.

So...not so "worry-free" after all!!!

Stephanie Greenwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn said...


I was directed to your site by my wife after I told her I overheard a story on NPR this morning regarding young girls developing breasts at an early age. The guests(wish I could remember their names) were asked to provide the listeners with a few common household estrogenic items parents could look out for and sure enough, tea tree and lavender oil were the two they mentioned.

So I started researching your site, then another, then another. The results varied of course and for me, I like to see studies and sources sited as it helps paint a clearer and balanced picture. I have to say I am quite impressed with your insight, high level of knowledge and ability to site studies and sources.

You can add another reader, supporter and dare I say follower to your great cause. Keep up the great work.


Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thank you so much, Shawn! We're so happy you found us! :D

gaylep said...


I read this article and comments with interest. I have uterine fibroid, and estrogen, or rather circulating estrogen from a sluggish liver play a big part in their growth or retardation. I'm wondering if anise is also estrogenic. I'm not sure if it belongs to the same family as tarragon and licorice. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Since we are talking about estrogen affecting children, babies and preteens keep in mind their diet and if you are breastfeeding your diet. Flax and soy products are loaded with estrogen. I avoided soy products while I was pregnant and now still while I am breastfeeding.

My auntie has breast cancer and her naturopath and doctor both recommended that she avoid flax and soy products because of the estrogen they contain.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

That's a great discussion point, @Anonymous. Actually soy and flax contain no estrogen, but phytogestrogens, which act different from estrogen in the body. The studies on soy are mixed, concerning their particular phytoestrogens and if they are beneficial or harmful (the science leans more towards their being beneficial.) The studies on flax, however, lean heavily towards them being beneficial, especially for someone with hormone imbalances. If her doctor advised against eating flax due to breast cancer, the doctor is just not aware of how beneficial they can be, or possibly because they may interact with the cancer drugs like tamoxifen. You can read more about them here:

Anonymous said...

Renwin Yee, MD's pen name is Peter Eckhart, MD. This was on another blog. He used a pen name because of racial discrimination. Renwin Yee, MD graduated from Medical School at University of Hawaii. His undergraduate degree is from Cornell University.

The person trying to discredit Peter Eckhart, MD sells lavender and tea tree oil. She never identifies herself. For all we know, she may have dropped out of high school.