A recent (end of January) case report generated a lot of furor in the herbal community by implying that certain soaps and body care products containing lavender and tea tree oil were causing abnormal breast growth in young boys. There are numerous reasons why this conclusion is suspect (to say the least); check out the herbsandinfluenza blog for a quick recap.
What I was immediately concerned about was the lack of investigation on the effects of common plasticizers and parabens that are present in many of these skin care products. Phthalates are a common, dangerous, and highly estrogenic class of chemicals that are part of this mix. A new report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives analyzes the urine of prepubescent girls for estrogenic compounds. The conclusions: enterolactones (byproduct of plant lignans such as those contained in flax) and phthalates were the most common urinary metabolites found in these girls. And while plant lignans have been consumed since we've existed as a species, phthalates are very new - and generally much more potent in the physiology.
In light of this new information, I believe that the original report on breast growth in young boys should be taken more seriously: not as a warning sign that lavender will disrupt everyone's endocrine system, but that artificial compounds present everywhere in our consumer products and sporting a very long half-life are skewing the hormonal balance not only of our species, but probably of the entire environment. Perhaps some follow-up research will come out of this, and plastic packaging will be reconsidered (don't hold your breath).