Clearing the Confusion
by Alicia Voorhies, RN
I get this question a lot whenever I recommend children's products made with lavender or tea tree oil, so I called my go-to resource for all things skincare and herbs, Melinda Olson, nurse and founder of Earth Mama Angel Baby.
When concerns about the safety of lavender and tea tree oil first came out in 2007, we spent a great deal of time researching the reported issues about these time-tested essential oils. Since then, this story has circulated, and been the source of much confusion, misunderstanding and fear.
Here's the back story: In 2007, two doctors released their opinion that two boys had developed gynecomastia, or enlarged breast tissue. The one apparent commonality was that they boys had both used care products containing lavender and/or tea tree oil. The doctors' study did not, however, take into account any other factors that may have been the cause of the gynecomastia. They didn't look at their lifestyle, environmental exposure, or diet. Were they eating meat or drinking milk contaminated with growth hormone? Were other known endocrine disruptors like BPA in their water bottles or canned foods? Were they eating foods heated in plastics? The study did not ask these questions. Nor has there ever been a subsequent evidence-based study to evaluate the validity of the conclusion that lavender and/or tea tree essential oil are the cause of gynecomastia in boys. Yet despite the lack of usual scientific practices or a large-scale control group, the study was widely published on the internet, causing much concern!
Another common misconception is the confusion between an essential oil used diluted in personal care products vs. being ingested or used undiluted on the skin. While they are called “essential oils”, aromatherapy oils are really highly concentrated volatile oils and not fixed oils like olive oil or canola oil. If left in an open container, essential oils that have no fat molecules will evaporate. Fixed oils will not. When reading about the safety of essential oils, be sure to note the mode of application – I'd never recommend anyone drink either lavender or tea tree essential oil. These plant oils have been used externally for thousands of years, and according to our research, it is our belief that they are safely used externally, when diluted in personal care products. There is, however, a plethora of evidence-based research to document their efficacy (plus they smell fantastic!).
I trust Melinda's expertise implicitly, so I feel a whole lot better about using these essential oils on my kiddos. I hope her insight helps put your mind at ease too!
P.S. Both essential oils are rated zero for toxicity on the respected Skin Deep Database. Check them out HERE and HERE.
P.P.S. If you use essential oil as much as I do for natural remedies, be sure to check out Greenwalla's tips for choosing the safest options out there.