Essential oils

I hate to say it, but essential oils come off kind of girly. They smell nice. They’re used in beauty products. They’re sold in colorful, flowery packaging.

That may be why a lot of men are hesitant to use them. But there’s SOOO much more to essential oils than a pleasant smell and some pretty packaging…

They have medicinal benefits that apply to women AND men. If you’re a man who’s used peppermint oil to ease a headache, lavender oil to relieve anxiety or tea tree oil to clear your skin, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But if you ARE a man who’s fully embraced the benefits of essential oils (frilly packaging be damned), there’s something you should know…

These oils are potent substances that act as effective forms of medicine. And like any potent substance that can make significant changes to your body, they come with a risk of side effects. Particularly for men…

Several studies show that essential oils can disrupt male hormones and maybe even make young boys develop breasts.

Essential oils throw hormones off-kilter

A 2018 study found that several chemicals in essential oils can increase estrogen and inhibit testosterone.

Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) isolated eight common components in lavender and tea tree oil. Then they applied these components to human cancer cells in a test tube.

They found that all eight components promoted estrogen while blocking testosterone in these cells.

Related: The signs and dangers of estrogen excess for men

But hold up… why did the NIEHS decide to look at the hormonal impact of essential oils in the first place?

Well, because past research found that compounds in lavender and tea tree oil could mimic estrogen and block testosterone in human cells. And there were also the boys developing breasts…

A child hormone specialist at the University of Colorado at Denver began seeing more and more young boys with a condition called gynecomastia (a.k.a. male breasts). Gynecomastia is rare and it’s usually hard to pin down a cause.

But this doctor noticed a similarity among his patients. One boy’s mother was applying healing balm to his skin that contained lavender oil. Another was using shampoo and hair gel that contained lavender oil and tea tree oil. And another used soaps and lotions containing lavender oil.

When the boys stopped using these products, so did their abnormal growth of breast tissue.

Are essential oils dangerous to adult men?

Now, researchers don’t know what effect these essential oils could have on the hormones of full-grown men… or women, for that matter. But any substance that alters your hormonal balance could be dangerous.

The answer isn’t to rid your house of lavender and tea tree oil, though. Researchers say the chemicals they tested in lavender and tea tree are also found in at least 65 other essential oils. So, the problem’s bigger than just these two oils.

You should, however, treat essential oils like you would any other form of potent medicine… with caution. Use them, but don’t overdo them. Using them in your shampoo, lotion, hair gel, and cologne or perfume may be too much, for example.

You should also do follow safety guidelines when using essential oils, like:

  • Researching oils before you use them. Understand their potential uses and side effects. Your library likely has a comprehensive essential oil guide you can borrow.
  • Keeping undiluted essential oils away from your skin. These oils are extremely concentrated and can cause serious skin irritation. Some oils come pre-diluted with a carrier oil. If an oil is not diluted, buy your own carrier oil like coconut oil, jojoba oil or almond oil.
  • Being cautious when using essential oils on young children. Avoid using undiluted oils on young children and do your research before doing any DIY aromatherapy on kids. Essential oils used on children should only be a fraction of the concentration used on adults, and that concentration should be calculated using body weight.
  • Not using essential oils on pregnant women without the guidance of a health professional. Pregnant women are advised to use lower essential oil concentrations and avoid certain oils altogether (like camphor, rosemary, sage, and savin oil). Rather than worry about doing anything that will negatively affect the baby or mother’s health, it’s better to work with someone who knows what they’re doing.
  • Not taking essential oils internally without the guidance of a health professional. Whenever you’re ingesting a substance as potent as an essential oil, don’t wing it. Contact someone who’s trained in the medicinal use of essential oils, so you don’t experience any serious side effects.


  1. More evidence essential oils ‘make male breasts develop’ — BBC News
  2. Oils ‘make male breasts develop’ — BBC News
  3. Chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil appear to be hormone disruptors — Endocrine Society
  4. Essential Oil Safety — Aromatherapy Trade Council

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