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Parents of pre-pubescent boys may want to check the ingredients of their young sons? personal care items. Researchers have found that skin and hair care products containing tea tree oils and lavender have an estrogen-like effect that appears to cause enlarged breasts, a condition called gynecomastia.
Tea tree oil, which comes from Australia and the islands of the south Pacific, is believed to be antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. It is used in soaps and lotions as an antibacterial, and to combat various skin conditions like acne and eczema, and is often used by health-care professionals as an antiseptic for burns, cuts, and insect bites. Lavender, found in all types of personal care products, is also used as an antiseptic as well as for its soothing properties and fragrance.
But when the substances were tested on human breast cancer cells, they seemed to imitate the actions of female hormones (estrogen) and overwhelm and suppress male hormones (androgens).
?There?s definitely an association between exposure to lavender oil and tea tree oil and gynecomastia,? said Derek Henley, lead author of a study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.
Dr. Clifford Bloch, a pediatric endocrinologist and co-author of the study, first became curious when he had five young male patients with gynecomastia. When he investigated, he discovered that all had used products containing tea tree oil and/or lavender. After stopping their use, the condition disappeared in all five boys.