Children are much more sensitive to essential oils and aromas in general, but they can also benefit greatly from their therapeutic uses. There are a number of things that parents need to know before using them to ensure the safety of their child. Looking up a blend or recipe online is not a safe way to use your oils. Let’s cover a few things that you may or may not already know in order to keep your little ones safe.
Overall the immune system of a child is much more immature to that of an adult, therefore they are much less likely to be able to handle adverse reactions, even diffusing for long periods can be overwhelming to them. Newborn babies have an immature nervous system, integumentary system , and liver. Therefore, avoiding the use of essential oils for infants and babies under a few months of age both via topical application and inhalation is probably best. Work with/ask a qualified aromatherapist for more information. In regards to topical use of essential oils, many are not recommended dermally under two years of age.
Diffusing Essential Oils
So if topical use is not the best way for a young child, what is? Inhalation is the ideal method of use for young children. This does not mean however that you should turn on the diffuser and leave it on all day. I do not recommend diffusing for longer than a period of one hour without take a break. In order to explain possible reasons for this, let’s talk a little bit about our sense of smell, or our olfactory system. Our sense of smell goes through five stages, those are: detect, transmit, perceive, analyze, and store. These stages cycle incredibly fast. The reception area of our olfactory system is called the olfactory epithelium. The olfactory epithelium is the size of a small postage stamp in each nostril, and is packed with an impressive 40 million sensory neurons, capable of detecting .0000000013 of an ounce of a scent in a single breath of air (ACHS). Mind-boggling isn’t it! Our olfactory system is so incredibly efficient, that obtaining the therapeutic benefits of these amazing oils happens quickly. Certain oils are stronger than others as well and can be overwhelming diffused for long periods of time, therefore always be sure to diffuse in a well-ventilated room. To receive maximum benefit and not waste your precious oils, follow the diffusing times recommended above. Please make note, nebulizers are very different than diffusers. Nebulizers break down the oil in such a way that the lungs can more readily absorb them, thus they are MUCH stronger than your average diffuser. In this instance, I do not recommend following the times listed above, it would be much too aggressive of a treatment.
You can begin to apply oils topically over the age of two, but dilution amounts are very important. Never use oils topically undiluted, or what some call “neat”. This greatly increases your risk for skin irritation and skin sensitization. Contrary to what you may have been told, skin irritation is not a detox reaction. (See more details here in a blog written by Kristina Bauer a.k.a. The Untamed Alchemist)
Utilize the chart below for dosage guidelines (References noted)
Which Oils Need To Be Cautioned?
So can all essential oils be used on children? The answer is a resounding no. Essential oils are incredibly potent, and caution should always be used. There are a few chemical constituents that should not be used on young children. The first oil I would like to talk about is peppermint. Peppermint has extremely high amounts of menthol, ranging anywhere from 45-55%. The issue with menthol is it may cause rapid capillary dilation and paralysis of the epiglottis can cause respiratory collapse. (Aromaceuticals) Peppermint is therefore not recommended for children under the age of six. (Even if your child has not had a reaction to peppermint, as it does not happen to every child, please be responsible and do not recommend it to other unknowing mother’s.) Another oil that is high in menthol is cornmint.
The second constituent is 1,8 cineole. Here is a list of the oils that contain high levels of 1,8 cineole, some of them common ones, other you may never have heard before:
Eucalyptus – (All forms with exception of Lemon Eucalyptus)
Helichrysum – Helichrysum gymnocephalum
Laurel Leaf – Laurus nobilis
Niaouli ct 1,8 cineole – Melaleuca quinquenervia ct 1,8 cineole
Ravintsara – Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8 cineole
Rosemary ct camphor – Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor/ 1,8 cineole
Saro – Cinnamosma fragrans
Keep in mind that many oils contain the constituent 1,8 cineole. It is important to know what you are using around your children. I recommend this book that speaks to hundreds of oils and their chemical makeup, safety concerns, and more, Robert Tisserand’s 2nd Edition of Essential Oil Safety (Follow the link here).
Oils high in 1,8 cineole should not be used on or near the face of a child under 10 years of age. These oils may also antidote homeopathic remedies, something to keep in mind. The advice in the meme below is in line with Robert Tisserand’s latest interview (Link here and below).
I recommend reading this recent blog written by my colleague Lauren Bridges on the topic of Eucalyptus use around children.
Certain essential oils can cause a phototoxic reaction when applied to the skin and then exposed to the sun or artificial light such as a tanning bed. These reactions can vary, and some may be severe, ranging from red burned skin to possible permanent pigmentation changes, and painful chemical burns. Below is a is a list of those oils. (This applies to areas of exposure, for example if you placed oil topically on your leg, but wore pants outdoors, you would not be affected.) It is important to keep the affected area out of the sun for 12-24 hours after exposure.
Here is a list of oils that should be used topically with caution:
-Bitter Orange (Cold/Expeller Pressed)
-Lemon (Cold/Expeller Pressed)
-Lime (Cold/Expeller Pressed)
If you child suffers with epilepsy, asthma, an autoimmune disorder, or cancer, you should contact a qualified aromatherapist. Not all oils will cause the same reactions for everyone; please do not navigate this for yourself.
Essential oils are potent, it is crucial that you keep them out of reach of children. I have seen pictures online of small babies or small children handling bottles of oil. It is not cute, nor safe to let them hold them. Your children should know from a very young age that essential oils are medicine, and not for their little hands.
Now being an aromatherapist, I certainly do not want to discourage you from using essential oils with your children. I use the following methods on my boys and have for years (now 7 and 9): topically, in a diffuser, in a steam tent, in an aromastick, in a bath, a lotion, a salve, and more. We have some go to oils for supporting a good night’s rest, ones that bring support to the respiratory system when the need arises, help with bumps and bruises, ones that bring comfort, and oils that provide overall support to their bodies own innate healing process.
You will find camps of people that say never use essential oils on children, and others who throw caution to the wind and say that all oils are safe to use on children. My beliefs are not in line with either camp. Essential oils are not an always or never modality. When you follow proper safety guidelines, you can utilize essential oils and know that you are doing the best for your children.
Like so many practices in life I encourage you to become educated on the proper use of essential oils. When using them, please do so cautiously, understanding that there is often misinformation on the internet. You can be assured that I support only educated and proven resources. While essential oils should not be feared they should be respected and used properly to ensure the safety of the individuals using them.
Please note that I am not a medical practitioner. The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. By using this website, you assume full responsibility and liability for your own actions.
American College of Healthcare Sciences (2012) Aroma 101 (p 185)
Tisserand, R., Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety (2nd Ed)