With Essential Oil use on the rise, more people are using aromatherapy as a natural, medicinal alternative for their children; and with properties that can calm anxiety, help sleep, clear congestion, and heal skin conditions, it's no wonder parents are interested! However, it's important to keep in mind that essential oils are very concentrated and that young children's immune systems are not fully developed and are therefore more susceptible to adverse effects.
Let's first talk about the most popular way to use essential oils with children and that's via diffusion. You may have heard that essential oils such as Peppermint, Eucalyptus or Rosemary can clear congestion and help kick a cold, and while these are great choices for adults, these oils contain high amounts of menthol or 1,8- cineole which can cause slowed respiration in some children. Due to this risk, Peppermint should not be diffused around or applied to children under age 6, and Eucalyptus should be avoided on or around children under age 10. Diffusing child-safe oils such as Lavender, Mandarin or Chamomile can help calm and relax kids before bedtime or try using a few drops of Cypress, Pine, Fir or Spruce to help relieve congestion. Even when diffusing essential oils that are considered safe for children, make sure the space is well ventilated and the child is supervised in case of adverse reactions.
Since infants and children have much thinner and more sensitive skin than adults, essential oils should be used with caution on the skin of children under age 2. It is imperative to properly dilute essential oils before applying topically, no matter how pure the oils are. Newborns are especially vulnerable to adverse effects of over-use or improperly diluted essential oils. Child-safe essential oils should be diluted at .25% in a carrier oil before applying to children up to age 6. A .25% dilution translates to 1 drop of essential oil to 4 teaspoons of carrier oil. In addition to providing a safety barrier against irritation, sensitivity, and phototoxicity, using essential oils in a carrier oil provides a good medium for the oils to be absorbed, as well as helping the essential oils spread over a larger surface of the skin. Some great carrier oil options for essential oils are coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and apricot kernel oil. Use diluted essential oils topically for rashes, bruises, minor cuts and scrapes, itching (including bug bites) and other skin-related issues such as eczema. For children under 2, hydrosols are a great way to get the benefits of essential oils but in much less concentrated form. Hydrosols can be used topically on skin, sprayed in a room or on linens for inhalation benefits.
So what essential oils should you avoid using on or around young children? Glad you asked! Here's a list:
- Anise/Aniseed Pimpinella anisum – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 5
- Cassia Cinnamomum cassia, Cinnamomum aromaticum – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Clove Bud, Clove Leaf, Clove Stem Syzygium aromaticum, Eugenia caryophyllata, Eugenia aromatica – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Eucalyptus Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus maidenii, Eucalyptus plenissima, Eucalyptus kochii, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus Autraliana, Eucalyptus phellandra, Eucalyptus smithii – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 10
- Fennel (bitter), Fennel (sweet) Foeniculum vulgare – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 5
- Lemongrass Cymbopogon flexuosus, Andropogon flexuosus, Cymbopogon citratus, Andropogon citratus – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Niaouli (cineole chemotype) Melaleuca quinquinervia – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 6
- Peppermint Mentha x Piperita – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 6
- Rosemary (1,8-cineole chemotype) Rosmarinus officinalis – avoid using (topically or diffused) on children under 6
- Verbena (Lemon) Aloysia triphylla, Aloysia citriodora, Lippa citriodora, Lippa triphylla – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Wintergreen Gaultheria fragrantissima, Gaultheria procumbens – avoid due to methyl salicylate content
- Ylang-Ylang Cananga odorata – avoid topical useon children under 2
These are the most common essential oils that should not be used on or around children. For a complete list, please visit learningabouteos.com
Wondering what essential oils are considered safe for children when used properly? I've got a list for that too:
- Black Pepper
- Blue Tansy
- Clary Sage
- German Chamomile
- Juniper Berry
- Pines -except Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), or Huon Pine (Dacrydium franklinii)
- Roman Chamomile
- Siberian Fir Needle
- Sweet Marjoram
- Sweet Orange
- Tea Tree
Finally, lets talk about phototoxicity, which is the reaction that some essential oils can have on the skin when exposed to the sun. Reactions including severe sunburn, blistering, swelling, and changes in skin tone can be severe. Here is a list of child-safe essential oils that have phototoxic properties, the number next to the oil is the number of drops allowed per ounce of carrier oil before there is a danger of phototoxic reaction:
- Bergamot – 1
- Lime (cold-pressed) – 4
- Orange, Bitter – 8
- Lemon (cold-pressed) – 12
- Grapefruit – 24
Notice there's no section on how to safely give essential oils to your children internally? That's because there's not a safe way. Never give essential oils to your child internally. I don't care how pure, how therapeutic grade they are, or if the Pope himself blessed them, just don't do it. Side effects of taking essential oils internally can include irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining, kidney damage and liver damage.
I hope this information gives you the confidence and knowledge to use essential oils effectively and safely on your children! Have additional questions on using essential oils safely? Comment below!
The information in this post is based on personal experience and research as well as information from Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young and the Herbal Academy of New England.
Information contained on this site is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis. All persons should consult their medical care provider prior taking or relying upon any herbal product, especially women who are pregnant or nursing, and persons with known medical conditions.