Lavender and tea tree oils may cause breast growth in boys

A study published in this week's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that repeated topical use of products containing lavender oil and/or tea tree oil may cause prepubertal gynecomastia, a rare condition resulting in enlarged breast tissue in boys prior to puberty, and for which a cause is seldom identified.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), confirmed in laboratory studies what a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Science Center's School of Medicine suspected after diagnosing three of his young male patients with prepubertal gynecomastia. The researchers found an association between the use of products containing these oils and the rare disorder, but cautioned more research is needed. At this point, the findings are only applicable to young males with unexplainable enlarged breasts who are regularly using products containing these essential oils.

"We want to encourage doctors who may be seeing patients with gynecomastia to ask their patients about the products they are using. Patients with prepubertal gynecomastia may want to consider reducing the use of products that contain these oils," said Ken Korach, Ph.D., chief, Laboratory Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS and author on the study. "Although we found an association between exposure to these essential oils and gynecomastia, further research is needed to determine the prevalence of prepubertal gynecomastia in boys using products containing lavender and tea tree oils. Results of such epidemiological studies are important to tell us how strong the association is between topical application of the oils and prepubertal gynecomastia"

The three otherwise healthy Caucasian boys, ages four, seven and 10 years, had normal hormonal levels when they were diagnosed with gynecomastia by Clifford Bloch, M.D., in Colo

Contact: Robin Mackar
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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