By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger
Sickness is inevitable; unfortunately, you can be sure that your little one will come down with a bug at some point. With illness, they may have congestion, which occurs when the nasal cavity and adjacent tissues and blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid, causing a stuffy or plugged feeling, often referred to as a stuffy nose (1).
Nasal congestion usually isn’t serious for older children and adults; it’s more of an annoyance. But congestion for younger children, especially infants whose sleep is disturbed by their nasal congestion, might have a hard time feeding as a result. So what can you do? That’s where essential oils come in.
How to Safely Use Essential Oils with Children
Aside from never using essential oils internally or undiluted, trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins recommends extreme caution when using oils with children. When using essential oils with children, I personally recommend either diffusing or diluting essential oils in a mild carrier oil such as almond or coconut oil.
Wendy Robbins has an Essential Oil Topical Dilution Ratios for Babies and Children Chart, which suggests no essential oils for premature infants and a maximum dilution of 0.2% (up to 3 months old) to 5% (ages 15+). Wendy Robbins states:
“Essential oils and essential oil blends for use with children must be used at significantly lower dilutions than when used by an adult. Additionally, many essential oils should not be used at all with children (2).”
“Newborns have very thin skin, and sensitive, under-developed immune systems. It’s best to avoid essential oils with them because it can create a much stronger effect on them than older babies or children. Plus, we don’t know if young babies are allergic to anything – and we don’t want to find out with something as concentrated as essential oils! There are safer ways to help newborns if needed.”
In the end, the choice is yours, but either way, consider finding a reputable brand of essential oils, such as Plant Therapy. I highly recommend double and triple-checking all essential oil directions (even if you’ve used them before) before using them on your children.
An excellent resource for practicing safety when using essential oils with babies and children is Valerie Ann Worwood’s 300+ page book, Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child.
Kid-Safe Essential Oil for Congestion
Since I recommended Plant Therapy, I want to start by saying Plant Therapy’s Kid-Safe Essential Oils are specifically formulated for children ages two and up.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary Sage Essential Oil is widely used for topical, respiratory, digestive, emotional, and feminine issues. Clary sage essential oil has been used to help heal severe dermatological infections caused by several strains of Staphylococcus bacteria (3). Clary Sage essential oil also has antimicrobial properties, which may fight sinusitis or congestion caused by bacteria (4).
There are no known hazards for steam-distilled Clary Sage, but a dermal maximum of 0.25% is recommended (5). Aside from being kid-safe, Plant Therapy lists their clary sage essential oil as safe for breastfeeding, dogs, and horses, but it is not safe during pregnancy.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender Essential Oil is best known for its calming and soothing properties, but it’s so much more than that. Studies suggest lavender essential oil may have analgesic or pain-relieving effects and reduce inflammation (6), which may help improve symptoms of sinus congestion by reducing pain and swelling.
Trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins doesn’t indicate any special precautions when using Lavender Essential Oil (7). Aside from being kid-safe, Plant Therapy lists their lavender essential oil as safe for pregnancy, breastfeeding, dogs, and horses.
Have you heard rumors surrounding lavender being unsafe for pre-pubertal boys? Check out our Lavender Herbal Profile to learn the truth.
Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon Essential Oil is commonly known for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties that are often used for cleaning (8,9). Lemon essential oil has antibacterial properties that fight infection-causing bacteria and may prevent skin inflammation (10).
Trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins cautions that cold-pressed lemon essential oil is phototoxic while steam-distilled is not. A dermal maximum of 2.0% for the cold-pressed lemon essential oil is recommended to avoid the risk of a phototoxic reaction. Additionally, topical use of oxidized lemon essential oil is cautioned against regardless of the distillation method (11). Aside from being kid-safe, Plant Therapy lists their lemon essential oil as safe for pregnancy, breastfeeding, dogs, and horses.
Spearmint Essential Oil
Spearmint Essential Oil is an excellent alternative to Peppermint Essential Oil, which is not kid-safe. Studies have found that spearmint essential oil is effective against several harmful bacteria, including Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and one Candida species (12). Another study found spearmint essential oil effective against eleven Lamiaceae species, including Coridothymus capitatus L., Lavandula stoechas L., Lavandula angustifolia Mill., Mentha spicata L. subsp. condensata, Origanum syriacum L., Rosmarinus officinalis, Salvia fruticosa Miller., Satureja cuneifolia Ten., Satureja thymbra L., Thymbra spicata L., and Vitex agnus-castus L. (13).
Trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins warns that spearmint essential oil is a potential mucous membrane irritant. Wendy Robbins also cautions that there is a low risk of skin sensitization and recommends a dermal maximum of 1.7% (14). Aside from being kid-safe, Plant Therapy lists their spearmint essential oil as safe for pregnancy, breastfeeding, dogs, and horses.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea Tree Essential Oil is well-known for its many health benefits. One study notes that a compound called alpha-sabine in tea tree oil is responsible for its antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties (15). Tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may also reduce inflammation (16), which could help bring down sinus swelling and relieve symptoms of congestion.
Trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins indicates a low risk of skin sensitization when using tea tree essential oil. Wendy Robbins also recommends a dermal maximum of 15% and precautions against using oxidized tea tree essential oil (17). Aside from being kid-safe, Plant Therapy lists their tea tree essential oil as safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding but not for dogs and horses.
Immune-Support Essential Oil Blend
Earthley’s Immune Support Essential Oil Blend is designed for natural, kid-safe immune support, which can be beneficial when congested and potentially fighting an illness. This blend combines the antibacterial and anti-viral properties of frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, and fir needle to create this power-packed blend.
Earthley recommends diluting their essential oil blend to 0.5-2% for topical use (they suggest a neutral, skin-safe oil like jojoba, apricot, or cucumber seed oil) or adding 2-4 drops to a diffuser.
Remember, many oils are not kid-safe at any dilution. Plant Therapy is a reputable online resource dedicated to practicing essential oil safety. Plant Therapy has a list of constituents in oils that should be avoided with children, plus even more kid-safe oils in their article Essential Oils for Kids: What’s Safe and What’s Not.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.