“There’s an oil for that!” You’ll see this phrase on just about every Facebook group dedicated to moms. You’ll see things like:
“Help! My baby won’t sleep!” Put some Lavender on their feet.
“My toddler has a horrible fever!” Rub some Peppermint on his spine and it’ll bring down his fever naturally.
“Teething is turning my kid into a monster!” Rub some Clove oil on his gums.
Today’s mothers are looking for more natural options to help their children. I applaud their efforts. Getting rid of the synthetic toxins in your home can be highly beneficial to everyone’s health. What I do have a problem with, however, is the misinformation that is spreading like wildfire.
My certification research project was on the safe use of aromatherapy in children. I chose that topic because I am super passionate when it comes to children's safety. I know there is A LOT of conflicting information out there. In fact, I believed some of these so called “tips”. After attending aromatherapy school, I sadly realized that this advice seemed to be more marketing-based than safety-based.
The goal of this blog post is to give solid, general advice regarding aromatherapy in children as taught by certified aromatherapists and industry experts. I'm not going to throw a ton of research at you since this is a blog. However, I will skim the surface regarding basic safety guidelines. As a mom, I want other moms to know the real truth, because none of us want to possibly harm our kids.
Children age 0-2
First things first, the use of topical essential oils is not recommended at this age. Before you go all crazy on me, hear me out. There are more gentle, yet still highly effective methods out there. Essential oils are POTENT. Children, especially this young, have smaller bodies, are more sensitive, and their skin is more permeable. Their bodies have a more difficult time metabolizing essential oils [i]. Therefore a more cautious approach is required.
Think of it this way. Would you give a baby the adult version of Tylenol? Would you give them the same dosage you give yourself? Would you insist to your doctor that your child should get the adult version because you think it would be more effective? No, of course not. Tylenol is highly concentrated substance and can be toxic if improperly used. Instead you use a lesser dose of a gentler version and can still achieve the results you are looking for. Same applies for aromatherapy in children.
Instead of topically, use gentle essential oils at this age aromatically, starting at 6 months old. Babies are born with a structurally mature olfactory system. [ii] Inhalation is an important route of exposure not only because of the role of odor in aromatherapy, but from a safety standpoint. It presents a very low level of risk to most people.[ i ] A baby can receive the benefits of inhalation through smelling oils on his/her mom. This is called indirect inhalation. Another example would be a room diffuser. A few drops of gentle oils ran in an electronic diffuser for 15 minutes is all that is needed for a baby to reap the benefits.
When it comes to babies, the topical use of carrier oils, butters, and hydrosols are recommended over essential oils. We will discuss these modailities in a future post.
Children age 2-5
Essential oils should be used cautiously at this age; stick to diffusing whenever possible. Inhalation is actually MORE effective than topical in most instances. However, you can use topically in a carrier oil/butter/gel/lotion at a .5- 1% dilution if there is a first aid situation.
Children age 6-12
At the age of six, topical use is considered safe at a 1% dilution. This means 5-6 drops of an essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. Topical use is appropriate with skin concerns, first aid, and for use in soaps. Before applying, do a patch test on the inside of the child’s elbow to look for any irritation. If irritation occurs, do not apply those oils topically again without future guidance.
Inhalation can be direct or indirect at this age. Indirect can be through room diffusion. Direct can be through aromatherapy inhalers, also known as aromasticks. These inhalers are portable and discreet. Apply 10 or less drops to a cotton wick that fits inside a vented tube. Close one nostril and take a deep inhale with the other nostril and vice versa.
Inhalation can be used for respiratory support, in instances of colds or allergies. The inhalation route is also successful for emotional and behavioral issues. For example, inhalation of Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) was used for induction of anesthesia in children ages 5-14. They found the group that inhaled Sweet Orange was more relaxed and cooperative than the control group. [iii]
Not all essential oils are considered safe for children, even when properly diluted. Some companies claim that their oils are safe because they are pure. I would plead with you to please listen and take this to heart. It doesn’t matter what brand it is. It has to do with the chemical components of the oil, not the quality of the oil.
For example, oils containing the components 1,8-cineole and menthol are discouraged for children. These components are excellent for respiratory issues but can cause respiratory distress in small children. They can be used cautiously with children 6 and older. Save the Eucalyptus species (such as Eucalyptus Globulus) until they are at least 10 years old, due to its very high 1,8 cineole content. Never apply oils high in these components near or to the face. Diffuse them in very small amounts first to see how your child responds before applying topically. Also, Wintergreen and Birch should be avoided at all costs with children due to the chance of causing Reye’s Syndrome.[ i ]
Are there parents out there that have used these oils on their children without problems? Absolutely. But I have talked to moms who used these discouraged oils on their kids and it caused bad reactions. Some of these moms had used these oils previously without issues. I'm not trying to scare people, I just want you to be educated. Just because you've used them before without problems, doesn't mean that problems won't occur. Why risk it when there are safer alternatives out there?
If you take away anything from this post, please take away these two things when using essential oils with children:
1. ALWAYS DILUTE. Always. Always. Always. I don’t care how gentle the oil is or what brand you are using, your children (and you too) need to dilute them before putting them on your skin. This will have to be a separate post as well since the reasons are too long to list here.
2. NEVER INGEST. There are way too many unknowns when it comes to ingestion and its effect on our bodies. Do not use your child as a guinea pig. Safety first. It is not worth the risk.
If you are unsure what is safe for your child, I highly recommend the book Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young. This book is full of scientific data that has been collected and analyzed by an aromatherapist (Tisserand) and chemist (Young). Consulting with a qualified aromatherapist (one with more than 200 hours of schooling) is another great option. A consultation permits a more holistic and customized approach to a child’s issues. This allows parents to become confident that they are using aromatherapy wisely with their children.
Next time you see a post on Facebook giving advice on aromatherapy, be sure to keep in mind the author’s education and experience. Just like you go to a doctor for medical advice or a mechanic for your car, you should seek advice from qualified aromatherapy professionals to ensure safety. Aromatherapy is an excellent way to introduce children to natural healing. Just make sure you are doing it safely so it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Please SHARE this post and help out a mom who might be struggling knowing what is safe to use with her kids!
[i] Tisserand, Robert and Young, Rodney (2014), Essential Oil Safety. London: Churchill Livingston.
[ii] Buckle, Jane (2015), Clinical Aromatherapy Essential Oils in Healthcare Third Edition. St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone, an imprint of Elsevier Inc.
[iii] Mehta, S., Stone, D. N. and Whitehead, H. F. (1998), Use of essential oil to promote induction of anaesthesia in children. Anaesthesia, 53: 720–721. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2044.1998.537q-az0584q.x.