April 11, 2011

A client recently emailed me the following question: “I read online that I shouldn’t use lavender essential oil or any products that contain it for A [her two year old son] because it could cause abnormal breast growth!! What do you think?

It’s true that there was an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 wherein the authors claimed to link the use of products containing tea tree and lavender essential oils to prepubertal breast growth (aka gynecomastia) in three young boys. You can read the full article here.

I’d also encourage you to read the related correspondence, which points out some of the problems with the authors’ conclusions, among them are failure to verify the ingredients of the products in question. The authors of the study report that these three young men experienced breast growth that started around the time they started using products containing very low amounts of lavender and tea tree oils, and resolved when the products were discontinued. However, we don’t know if the products were contaminated with other substances, if other ingredients might have been responsible, or if the gynecomastia appeared and disappeared for reasons unrelated to the products in question.

Lavender is not traditionally thought to be an estrogenic plant, nor are there any convincing controlled studies in humans showing or even suggesting that it is. Furthermore, there have been no subsequent case reports of lavender-containing products being associated with gynecomastia (or at least there are none that I have found).

The decision to use lavender with prepubertal boys rests with each parent; please review the information found above and make a choice with which you are comfortable.  From my end, I am perfectly comfortable with using small doses of lavender in children, and use 1-2 drops of lavender essential oil in my 11-month old son’s bath every night.

About Camille Freeman, DCN, RH (she/her)

Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and nutritionist specializing in fertility and menstrual health. I run the Monday Mentoring community of practice and also offer continuing education programs for practicing herbalists and nutritionists (Check out this year's Deep Dive!). I'm also a former professor with the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I taught physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating for 17 years. 

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