Truths of Essential Oil Research

Updated: Mar 11

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to a webinar from the Franklin Institute of Wellness on scientific studies and how they are conducted in regards to essential oils. Some of you may remember the tumult that ensued a number of years back when it was "found" that boys who used products with tea tree essential oil and/or lavender essential oil suddenly started growing breasts?

The children sadly had been using products with tea tree essential oil and/or lavender essential oil. After a doctor visit or two, the Doctor suggested changing the shampoo/soap the children used and apparently the problem disappeared. So a connection was made between the essential oils and hormone disruption. The doctor then alerted the NIH as to his findings, as he should have. You may think that in these few cases, the essential oils must be the cause, however, it's not exactly the case and it is never so easy. What was not mentioned is that some boys during prepubescence have naturally occurring Gynecomastia which usually resolves itself within 6 months. It turns out that there was never an actual study to truly verify if those essential oils actually caused "Gynecomastia" - the official term for breast growth in males. How a scientific study is carried out is not as simple as that and, it turns out, not so easy to prove. In fact, science isn't there to create proof ... it's there to show a correlation, such as smoking and lung cancer. During a portion of an actual scientific study, not only would you need humans for it, but after the initial product was used and seen to create the effect of gynecomastia, in an actual study the product would have to be reintroduced to see if the Gynecomastia returned. This and other procedures were never carried out, hence no study conducted. The real questions and issues have never been resolved: were the occurrences of Gynecomastia related to the products and the essential oils? Was it an environmental issue? Or was it a temporary hormonal condition that happens naturally with some unfortunate boys?

In order to truly understand if Tea tree and Lavender, and possibly other essential oils, are hormone disruptors a very controlled study has to be carried out. What has actually been tested to date are some chemical components of some essential oils such as Linalool*, Linalyl acetate*, 4-terpineol*, Limonene, eucalyptol, and others. In lab tests, some of the components have shown little demonstrative activity* as estrogen and anti-androgen activity in lab tests. Essential oils when they are taken apart and studied never tell the whole story of an essential oil. Chemical components of essential oils have been dissected in lab studies to be tested against cancer and many many other diseases. Sadly, when they the chemical components are taken apart, it actually ruins the unity and healing power of an essential oil. Essential oils are a balance of chemicals ... take only a part of it and the other chemicals are not there to balance it out.

What does this mean? Should we stop using these oils? Hold on! Don't throw away your Essential Oils! One single study or a notification from one or two doctors on their findings never is enough to show proof. The quality of the research plays a huge part. Turns out we need real human studies and a look at the following:

  • Dose-response assessments (such as how much exposure is safe, what is the threshold level?);

  • Whether environmental factors play a part

  • Are any other influences that would have affected these children? What were the other ingredients in the products they used?

  • Exposure assessment (How many were exposed?)

  • Were the Essential Oils adulterated? (The product(s) would have to be tested for adulteration)

So, don't jump to conclusions and continue using your oils in a safe manner. If there are ever any issues, such as skin irritation, stop using the oils and consult a trained professional or a doctor if necessary.

Find the Franklin Institute of Wellness here:

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