What's Safe with Essential Oils, Kids & Colds

If your house has children, you can bet that at some point, wiping a runny nose will be part of your winter routine. Trips to the Kleenex box will be frequent. Sleep might get disturbed. Sniffling will be a constant sound as you repeat "Go blow your nose" over and over again. While the common cold is in fact, common, that doesn't mean it doesn't throw a wrench into a busy household routine. Here are some DOs and DON'Ts when it comes to sniffles and children.

What are the first oils that pop into your head when you think of combatting a cold? Chances are  that these oils are contraindicated in children. For example:

  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a BIG no-no for children under three years. Peppermint contains a large amount of menthol. Menthol stimulates cold receptors in the lungs. "This triggers a reflex in young children which slows breathing significantly, sometimes dangerously". (Robert Tisserand, www.roberttisserand.com). I have heard stories from parents who have used peppermint in bathtubs and on their babies with adverse, very scary effects.
  • Oils high in 1,8 cineole, such as Eucalyptus** (Eucalyptus globulus/radiata), Rosemary ct. 1,8 cineole, Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora), Niaouli ct. 1, 8 cineoleand Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans Baillon). While these oils can be very helpful in supporting the respiratory system in adults, they can have a harmful effect on small children when used improperly. They can cause central nervous system and breathing problems. They should not be applied on or close to the faces of children under 10. (Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety ;Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014).         

**Now there are ways to use Eucalyptus safely with children. But it is not my recommended first choice when it comes to small children due to the fact that it does hold safety concerns. If you plan on using it with your child, especially a very young child, then please seek guidance from a professional before doing so.  The first line of defense should be gentle essential oils and other holistic methods. You don't need to head straight for the "big guns" first.

  • Any immune blend of Cinnamon/Clove/Eucalyptus/Rosemary. There are several contraindications with the oils in these blends for children. You've learned about about Eucalyptus and Rosemary above. Clove is contraindicated in children and Cinnamon is a dermal sensitizer. I don't even usually recommend these types of blends for adults, much less children. 


I divided some general advice into age groups. That being said, the younger the child, the more caution is needed. 

  • For babies 6 months and under: using a humidifier is best. No essential oils unless under the guidance of a professional aromatherapist. 
  • For children ages 6 months-2 years. Diffusion is my first course of action. I save topical use for when it is necessary and make sure it is highly diluted (.25-.50%). Diffusing gentle oils such as Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) or Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) could be helpful. To help with sleep, try diffusing Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). For this age group, diffuse a few drops for 15 minute periods then stop. Do not diffuse continuously. Before bed, diffuse without the child in the room, then turn it off.  Wait another 15 minutes before reintroducing them to their crib for bedtime, especially if on the younger end of this age group.
  • For children 2-10: I still recommend diffusing first but topical use is generally ok as long as it is a 1% dilution. Here are some good oils to use:  Cedarwood, Fragonia, any of the Spruces or Firs, Tea Tree, Frankincense, and Rosalina. Throw a citrus oil in the mix to help their immune system.
  • For children 10+: Generally most essential oils are safe as long as the child is not asthmatic or has other breathing issues.

Here's hoping you don't have to use this blog post! If you don't want them to get sick in the first place, check out this blog post to learn natural ways to stay healthy this winter.

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