Well, Possibly Yes and Possibly No.

The Yes Vote.

Results from a 2007 study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the USA  showed lavender oil to have an estrogen mimic effect plus a simultaneous androgen inhibiting effect when tested on human cells.  This puts lavender oil in the class of chemicals known as “endocrine disruptors” – a family containing things like pthalates, parabens and soy.   

The findings came to light after three boys aged between four and eleven presented at their doctors with enlarged breasts.  All three had been using lavender infused personal care products  and all three had otherwise normal hormone levels. Upon ceasing use of the products the breast area returned to normal within two months. The link was then tested in a laboratory to further quantify and analyse the essential oils effect on the cell – endocrine disrupting behaviour was observed.

And the case for “NO”

Well as we have all seen before there are scientific studies and scientific studies. Apparently the one above was pretty poorly constructed:  The oils tested in the lab were not identified and blueprinted making it hard to work out if they were “pure” or not, the exact habits of the boys and the formulations of the lavender products were not fully documented and the boys wider history was not taken (did they have a largely soy based diet for example).  All of these facts (and more according to Robert Tisserand) point to a duff piece of science.

The Verdict.

So, should we all hang up the lavender?  Well, if the above study could be verified by further, more thorough trials and  the cellular impacts were found to be reversible (as in this trial) then behavioural changes should be enough. However, as these body changes would be psychologically damaging and physically worrying, the cosmetics and aromatherapy industries would probably seek to review usage guidelines and exposure limits to keep consumers safe.

However, if the above study does prove to be a dud it is still worth taking your aromatherapy book off the shelf, flicking through the pages and looking up any of the following oils “Lavender, Bergamot, Clary Sage, Fennel, Geranium,  Tea Tree Oil…..”  All of these oils mention “hormone” something or other in their list of properties meaning that the Aromatherapy industry acknowledges the fact that these potent plant oils do have some special powers on the body. 

FACT: Plants contain phytoestrogens.

 FACT:  The only “standard” for essential oils is the therapeutic one (BP or equivalent). Essential oils that  do not carry a “therapeutic” certification  vary in their constituents as they are natural. Natural doesn’t have a set standard which is why we like it!

Science like life is rarely black and white and it is interesting that in this case the way that the “lavender boob” science was picked apart mimicked the way that the “Paraben in breast tissue” report was dissected before it, only this time the shoe is on the other foot.  While I would love to pull some cutting edge research out of the bag, I don’t currently have any so it is up to you to make up your own mind at this point.

Whatever you decide, sleep easy and have fun being you.