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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Boys with Boobs

I have to admit that there's a small, uncouth part of me that is perversely interested to see what kind of miscreants Google will dump at my doorstep as a result of that title (not to mention the inevitable scolding I'm bound to receive in my next emailed missive from Dame Joan).  :-)


I recently read a titillating story [sorry, I couldn't resist] over at the website of a physician friend (Albert Fuchs, M.D.) about the potential dangers of using products containing lavender and tea tree oils. 

Dr. Fuchs points out (quite correctly) that many people who would normally do extensive research about side affects and contra-indications before taking any prescription medication will often use products containing natural substances without the slightest concern for the product's potential safety or efficacy.

The story itself (which he found in The New England Journal of Medicine) was about three prepubescent boys who experienced breast tissue enlargement... a condition known as gynecomastia (thus the title of this post) after using supposedly 'safe' natural products. 

Here's the important part in his own words:

Detailed questioning revealed that all three boys were using topical products containing lavender oil or lavender and tea tree oil.  One boy’s mother was regularly applying a balm containing lavender oil on his skin.  The second boy was using a hair styling gel and a shampoo both of which contained lavender oil and tea tree oil.  The third boy was using lavender-scented soap and lavender-scented skin lotions.  All three boys’ gynecomastia resolved after discontinuation of these products. 

But the real money quote (IMHO) was the following:

Testing in the laboratory of lavender oil and tea tree oil on human breast tissue showed that these oils have estrogen-like effects.

That stampede-like sound you hear is millions of um, athletic women running to the store to buy creams and moisturizers containing lavender and tea tree oils... only because they're like, totally into the scent, mind you. 


Posted by David Bogner on February 14, 2007 | Permalink


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Umm, is there any connection between this post and the fact that today is Valentines Day? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: westbankmama | Feb 14, 2007 10:42:48 AM

OMG! And here I've been using essential oil of lavender and tea tree oil on my FEET!


Posted by: zahava | Feb 14, 2007 11:37:43 AM

westbankmama... just a coincidence. Really!

Zahava... So THAT'S why your feet are so big! ;-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 14, 2007 2:00:43 PM

We should all remember that all natural does NOT mean good for you!

Uranium is all natural too - I hope we don't see people running to rub uranium all over themselves!

Posted by: Aharon Fischman | Feb 14, 2007 4:04:22 PM

dammit, am i going to have to throw out my lavender-uranium bath bubbles now? such a party pooper. all of you.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Feb 14, 2007 5:20:49 PM

Not to bring the room down or anything, but I am glad you mentioned this post for a completely different reason. For those of us who have endured breast cancer, some cancers are estrogen sensitive and will grow if this hormone is taken in any way. I guess I'll be staying away from lavendar and tea tree oil!

Posted by: Tracey | Feb 14, 2007 5:42:50 PM

Now I know how to put the "tit" in the titkabeil!

Posted by: Elisson | Feb 14, 2007 5:42:52 PM

Aharon Fischman... Besides, Uranium doesn't leave you smelling fresh and flowery like lavender oil (but it probably gives you a similar 'tingly' feeling like the tea tree oil).

Steg... Far be it from me to say you shouldn't smell like marie curie after a bath. ;-)

Tracey... Just for the record, although there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest a link between estrogen and breast cancer... there is no clinical proof. Here is a very well written article by a female MD on the topic.

Elisson... As I was writing this post I thought to myself, 'self... I'll bet that nobody would dare take this topic beyond the limits of good taste'. And then I remembered who I was dealing with. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 14, 2007 6:21:41 PM

I am afraid it is not true that there is no link between estrogen and breast cancer. The article your brought is not accurate. Many peer reviewed articals state that there is a very clear link between the two. Many years ago they would treat osteoporosis patients with estrogen until many of the women developed breat cancer. ( Osteoporosis occures more frequently in older women because of the depletion of estrogen levels...)
Sorry for the boring comment. I am currently studying for an Endocrinology exam. :) :)

Posted by: Avigayil | Feb 14, 2007 6:37:25 PM

Avigayil... I'm certainly in no position to dispute any peer-reviewed research you might be referring to... but the article I linked to was far from an isolated shout in the wilderness. My point is that the estrogen link to breast cancer is far from a settled argument in the medical community. One of the most intriguing questions asked by the author of the peice to which I linked was; if estrogen is the culprit behind breast cancer, why is it that breast cancer statistics in women start to go through the roof in the very years when estrogen levels are bottoming out in their systems?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 14, 2007 6:48:05 PM

Boys with Boobs

This could be the title of a good book.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 14, 2007 7:24:20 PM

Cool, thanks for giving me a place to post all those lewd comments that I sent to Albert after he wrote that article.

As far as we know, it only works for man-boobs.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Feb 14, 2007 9:03:22 PM


Thanks for the plug! If anyone could put a PG13 rating on my posts, I knew you could.

In terms of women using it for breast enhancement, (or Zahava using it for whatever,) remember that estrogen supplementation doesn't cause breast enlargement in adult women, and also has side effects. So I would avoid lavender scented skin products for men or women.

I hope your dad is well.

Posted by: Albert Fuchs | Feb 14, 2007 9:49:21 PM

Dr. Fuchs said "In terms of women using it for breast enhancement, (or Zahava using it for whatever,) remember that estrogen supplementation doesn't cause breast enlargement in adult women, and also has side effects. So I would avoid lavender scented skin products for men or women."

Not to nitpick, but "estrogen-like effects" and estrogen is not nearly a tautology. Quacking does not a duck make.

Posted by: Barzilai | Feb 14, 2007 10:28:43 PM

Your point is well taken, and the only way to know for sure what the effects of lavender oil is on adult men or women is to test it. (I mean in a scientific trial, not at home.) All I meant was that all we know currently about lavender oil is that it causes gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in prebubescent boys and has estrogen-like effects on human tissue in the test tube. Estrogen itself also causes gynecomastia in prepubescent boys. So I was just warning not to leap to the conclusion that lavender would cause breast enlargement in women, since for example estrogen doesn't. I hope that clarifies.

David: I really worry what kinda traffic you'll be getting from these comments!

Posted by: Albert Fuchs | Feb 14, 2007 10:57:11 PM

Wow... Dame Joan is still at it?!

Hmm... well, I figured that whatever effects lavender would have on mammary gland development, it probably wouldn't really affect adults. Oh well.

Posted by: Irina | Feb 15, 2007 3:11:04 AM

Well crap! I just rushed into the bathroom to look at the label of my shampoo. It contains Lavender Extract! Dang! Now what?


Posted by: benning | Feb 15, 2007 3:18:55 AM

I also use tea tree oil and lavender when I give myself a pedicure. However, my feet haven't gotten bigger, but I have noticed that I've gone up a cup size. Hmmm, wonder if there is a connection?

Posted by: jaime | Feb 15, 2007 4:00:12 AM

my shampoo. It contains Lavender Extract! Dang! Now what?

You may start growing boobs on your head.

I think there's a Star Wars species like that.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Feb 16, 2007 1:17:26 AM

So....there I was, surfing the 'Net at work, headin' on over to see what was new with Der Treppmeister....with two guys looking over my shoulder at the monitor while they were shootin' the bull. And I typed in the URL, up came the page....and there it was...."BOYS WITH BOOBS."

*closed browser rapidly*

Thanks a lot, pal. >:-(


Posted by: K Newman | Feb 16, 2007 7:37:30 AM


what breast cancer statistics are you referring to? Diagnosis of breast cancer in women?

The link between estrogen receptors and breast cancer is fairly established - things are not as easy as they may seem. As part of a standard routine samples of breast cancer are being testes for estrogen receptors (75% are positive).

Part of the answer to your question could be (and this is pure speculation) that there is a change in estrogen receptors.

There is a free article by the journal of endocrinology here:

Posted by: medbrain | Feb 18, 2007 9:55:27 AM

Sorry, I meant to address treppenwitz, not Avigayl.

Posted by: Medbrain | Feb 18, 2007 10:10:21 AM

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