Are Lavender and Tea Tree Essential Oils Hormone Disruptors?
When three little boys began growing breasts, their mothers were understandably concerned. Breast growth, known as gynecomastia, is not uncommon in boys during puberty, but it is extremely uncommon prior to puberty.
Since estrogen causes breast growth and the boys' hormone levels were normal, their doctor, Clifford Bloch, looked for potential endocrine disruptors that caused the problem. He concluded that lavender and tea tree essential oils were the culprits.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Bloch and researchers at the National of Environmental Health Sciences published the findings of their 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The National Institutes of Health then published an alert that lavender and tea tree oils may cause breast growth in boys.
Since then, the fragrance and aromatherapy industries have hit back, with a 2013 blog post and a 2013 study finding that lavender oil is not an endocrine disruptor as alleged. That year, three other industry-linked scientists published a letter to the editor in the journal Reproductive Toxicology refuting 2007 finding that essential oils "affect puberty."
If you use essential oils, especially the two common ones named in the controversy, you might wonder if it is safe to use lavender and tea tree essential oils. To reach a conclusion, one must examine the evidence presented in 2007. Three boys, ages 4, 7 and 10, came to Bloch with breast growth. The younger two were prepubescent, but the oldest of the three was in the earliest stage of puberty and his growing breasts were as large as those of a girl entering puberty.
All three children used lavender products regularly: a "healing balm" for the 4-year-old, lavender and tea tree shampoo and styling gel for the 10-year-old and lavender lotion and soap for the 7-year-old. The 7-year-old's fraternal twin brother also used the lavender lotion, but not the soap.
The physician recommended the boys stop using the products, and the breast growth resolved in a matter of months. Bloch worked with a research team to test the common ingredient in the suspected products: lavender essential oil. They also tested tea tree oil.
To perform the test, they exposed cells responsive to estrogen to each of the essential oils diluted in a solvent, as well as the solvent alone and estrogen itself. They compared the cells' response to the essential oils to their response to estrogen (as a positive control) and the solvent alone (as a negative control). They performed the test at different concentrations, ranging from 0.005 percent to 0.025 percent by volume for each essential oil. Above these concentrations, the essential oils were toxic to the cells.
The essential oils had a statistically significant effect on the cells, although not as great an effect as estrogen itself. Their study confirms that "lavender oil and tea tree oil possess weak estrogenic and anti-androgenic activities that may contribute to an imbalance in estrogen and androgen pathway signaling."
Additionally, the scientists referred to previous studies finding estrogenic activity in essential oils, such as a 2002 study that found estrogenic activity in some common essential oil constituents (chemicals frequently found in essential oils).
It took six years, but those who make their living from essential oils hit back. In a post on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website, Robert Tisserand, a shareholder of First Natural Brands, provided a rebuttal. His claims in part rest on low levels of exposure the boys in the initial study must have had. He notes that products like soap and shampoo are washed off before the essential oils could have been absorbed through the skin and questions how much essential oils were in the products or if they were in them at all. Yet this does not explain the estrogenic activity of the essential oils when they were tested in the lab.
The study published that year by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials tested the essential oils themselves. Researchers exposed baby female rats to lavender essential oils at high doses—6,000 and 30,000 times the estimated maximum levels a human would be exposed to through bath and beauty products. As positive and negative controls, researchers used estrogen and corn oil.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that the group of rats given estrogen gained more weight than the control group and those given lavender essential oil. When given the lavender essential oil, in fact, weight gain decreased in the rats. Additionally, they measured the weight of the rats' uteruses and found that those given estrogen were heavier than the others.
The study concludes that lavender essential oil at these high doses has no estrogenic activity. However, they add that the decrease in weight gain when the rat pups were given the essential oil is likely indicates "systemic toxicity."
Recall that in the 2007 study, high concentrations of lavender essential oil were toxic to the cells tested. What would a study find if it used lower doses of lavender essential oils—doses more similar to what a human using lavender bath products is actually exposed to?
Furthermore, the two studies used lavender essential oils from different manufacturers. This leads to the next avenue of doubt in the validity of the finding that lavender and tea tree essential oils are endocrine disruptors. Were the essential oils contaminated in any way?
Studies of other essential oils have found contamination with pesticides and endocrine-disrupting phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics pliable and they can have some estrogenic activity.
A study of essential oils from a wildcrafted plant in Iran mentions phthalate contamination in the plants themselves due to pollution in the water and soil. However, another study of citrus essential oils from Italy found that the phthalate contamination came from plastic used in processing.
Tisserand, along with an Australian researcher and the CEO of the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association, brought up the possibility of contamination in their co-authored 2013 letter to the editor. They criticize the initial 2007 study for using non-organic essential oils, which may have been contaminated and for not analyzing their chemical compositions. They also point out that studies of estrogenic activity of essential oils could find false positive results because they use plastic containers in the lab. The plastic containers could leach estrogenic nonylphenols and phthalates into the essential oils.
In sum, there is no definitive answer as to whether or not lavender and tea tree oils are endocrine disruptors. Given that the initial study was published nine years ago, it appears researchers are in no hurry to find definitive answers and the only rebuttals that have come forward are from those with a clear and obvious conflict of interest.
Wading into the scientific literature on essential oils leaves one with two clear takeaways. First, given the potential for contamination, buying organic essential oils is never a bad idea. Second, there are far more studies showing the beneficial health effects of essential oils than the potential negative ones.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- 29 Wildfires Blaze Across the West, Fueled by Drought and Wind ... ›
- Large Wildfires Scorch Forests in Drought-Stricken Southwest ... ›
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- 'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Admin Asks Supreme Court to ... ›
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›