MAR 26, 2018 06:40 PM PDT

Tea Tree, Lavender Essential Oils can Disrupt Hormones

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Regular exposure to tea tree or lavender essential oil has been linked to the abnormal growth of breasts in boys; a condition called prepubertal gynecomastia. New research presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society has strengthened that connection. It shows that consumers should exercise caution with the use of essential oils, which are considered to be harmless and are commonly used in toiletries and household products. 

"Our society deems essential oils as safe," said the lead investigator of the study J. Tyler Ramsey, a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. "However, they possess a diverse amount of chemicals and should be used with caution because some of these chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors." Endocrine disruptors interfere with hormones.

A growing number of cases of pre-pubescent male gynecomastia have been reported that have coincided with skin exposure to tea tree and lavender essential oils. The problem also stopped after the boys stopped using the oils, Ramsey noted. Laboratory studies by members of the NIEHS research team have also indicated that the oils have characteristics that are like the hormone estrogen. They also have properties that inhibit testosterone, called anti-androgenic, which might also be impacting puberty through the hindrance of the male hormone. 

The NIEHS scientists studied the oils in depth by choosing components that are standard parts of every formulation. Four compounds are in both oils: eucalyptol, 4-terpineol, dipentene/limonene and alpha-terpineol; while the other chemicals were in one or the other: linalyl acetate, linalool, alpha-terpinene, and gamma-terpinene. Cancer cells were then exposed to the compounds, and the researchers assessed any changes that occurred in genes related to estrogen and androgen.

Essential oils are considered safe, but there appear to be some health risks. / Image credit: Max Pixel

While there was a huge variation in the intensity of the effect, all of the tested chemicals had estrogenic or anti-androgenic characteristics. These changes, Ramsey said, are consistent with the typical hormonal conditions that cause gynecomastia. 

"Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further," he added.

Ramsey also noted that many of these chemicals are present in 65 other essential oils, or more. These products are not regulated by the FDA, and consumers should be aware of the risks.


Sources: Science Daily via The Endocrine Society

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUL 30, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUL 30, 2018
A Complete View of the Fly Brain at Nanoscale Resolution
Researchers have completed a massive project to create a high-resolution map of the adult fruit fly brain....
AUG 21, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
AUG 21, 2018
Another Hurdle in Modeling the Human Brain is Overcome
Miniature, simplified versions of human brains were just improved with the addition of an important cell type....
AUG 27, 2018
Microbiology
AUG 27, 2018
Why Some Viruses are so Infectious
If you've seen a headline about norovirus on a cruise ship, you know some viruses are known for their ability to spread through a population....
AUG 28, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
AUG 28, 2018
Finding the Source of a Common Immune Cell
Neutrophils are a highly abundant type of immune cell, outnumbering every other kind that runs through the bloodstream....
AUG 31, 2018
Videos
AUG 31, 2018
One Class of Diabetes Drugs Can Increase Risk of Genital Gangrene
The FDA has issued a serious warning about a group of type 2 diabetes drug called sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors....
SEP 29, 2018
Videos
SEP 29, 2018
CRISPR Technology may Have Serious Drawbacks
The CRISPR gene-editing system has been touted as a miraculous tool, but it has its problems....
Loading Comments...