By Sarena-Rae Santos, contributing writer
Essential oils are a go-to for many families. Still, unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding essential oils all over the internet, resulting in preventable injuries. Much of this misinformation stems from MLM companies claiming that since essential oils are natural, they’re safe. The reality is, certified aromatherapists disagree.
Yes, essential oils are natural, but they are also highly concentrated and can have substantial impacts. Naturopathic Pediatrics states that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea or up to 10 teaspoons of a tincture.
Remember that essential oils are isolated concentrations, so while it may have one of the constituents be equivalent to those amounts of tea and tincture mentioned, it is not more effective than those because it is missing so many other components that make herbs so amazing. Teas, tinctures, and essential oils all have a place in our lives, so it is important to learn to use them safely!
With that said, although essential oils are a safer option than most medications and pharmaceuticals, they are still potent, so they should be used cautiously. It’s critical to understand which oils are safe for which ages and how to use them properly. It is best to keep all essential oils out of the reach of curious little hands.
What is Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that has been around for thousands of years and has been used in many ancient cultures like China, India, Egypt, and more. Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts, also known as essential oils, to promote health and well-being while improving the health of the body, mind, and spirit (1).
There are hundreds of different types of essential oils, both pure and blended, and they can be used alone or in combination with other essential oils to provide even more health benefits.
Essential oils have been studied for quite some time. There is plenty of science to back up the known benefits of aromatherapy, including, but not limited to:
- Pain management
- Improving sleep quality
- Reducing stress, agitation, and anxiety
- Soothing sore joints
- Treating headaches and migraines
- Alleviating side effects of chemotherapy
- Easing the discomforts of labor
- Fighting bacteria, viruses, or fungus
- Improving digestion
- Boosting immunity
To treat an ailment with essential oils successfully, you must use them properly, so let’s discuss some dos and don’ts when it comes to essential oils.
✅ DO dilute all essential oils as directed on the bottle.
❎ DO NOT ingest essential oils.
✅ DO use essential oils topically and always dilute them.
❎ DO NOT apply directly on the skin.
✅ DO use caution around pets and children
❎ DO NOT disregard safety information
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 (2). When using essential oils with children, I personally recommend either diffusing or diluting essential oils in a mild carrier oil.
Consider finding a reputable brand of essential oils, such as Plant Therapy or Earthley Wellness. I highly recommend double and triple-checking all essential oil directions (even if you’ve used them before) before using them on your children.
Common Kid-Safe Essential Oils (2+ Years Old) (3):
- Blue Tansy is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties, alleviating allergies, and helping soothe troubled or irritated skin.
- Cedarwood Atlas is best known for helping calm emotions, but it also helps soothe a flaky scalp and to support a healthy digestive system.
- Copaiba Oleoresin is best known for its ability to alleviate sore muscles and joints from normal wear and tear and relieve occasional digestive upset.
- Cypress is best known for supporting a healthy respiratory system and giving emotional strength.
- Egyptian Geranium is best known for being a marvelous skin-balancing oil that can improve the overall skin complexion and is also uplifting and gentle.
- Green Mandarin is best known for being uplifting and helping soothe nervous tension and sadness, especially when diffused.
- Helichrysum Italicum is best known for supporting the body through post-illness fatigue and convalescence, mainly by boosting normal immune function.
- Indian Sandalwood is best known for promoting a calm, relaxing atmosphere and helping balance the skin.
- Lavender is best known for helping produce a calm, peaceful, tranquil environment to promote peaceful sleep and soothe the skin.
- Neroli is best known for being comforting when dealing with grief, nervous tension, or exhaustion.
- Roman Chamomile is best known for its soothing and gentle effect that helps ease children and adults to sleep.
- Tea Tree is best known for clearing blemishes, reducing skin redness, and supporting the immune system.
Earthley Wellness’ Kid-Safe Essential Oils (2+ Years Old:
- Blue Bliss Essential Oil Blend is designed to have you blissed out and relaxed. Our unique, limited edition summer scent is a blend of blue tansy’s sweet, apple-like aroma with a touch of lavender and the richness of sandalwood. This beautiful blue blend promotes a calm mood, relaxation, and peaceful sleep.
- Calming Essential Oil Blend is designed to keep you calm. The sweetness of ylang ylang is combined with cedarwood and the freshness of sweet orange in this calming scent. This blend promotes a calm mood to reduce feelings of anxiety.
- Immune-Support Essential Oil Blend is designed for natural, kid-safe immune support. The blend combines the antibacterial and anti-viral properties of frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, and fir needle to create this power-packed blend. Keep your family healthy, naturally!
- Morning Burst Essential Oil Blend is designed to start the day feeling happy and refreshed. Fresh, sweet citrus peel combines with citrus blossoms for the best get-going blend. Start your morning with this invigorating and uplifting blend.
- Ouchie Stop Essential Oil Blend is designed to soothe cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises. This simple blend combines Roman chamomile, copaiba, and vetiver to promote healing and relieve minor pain.
- Rustic Essential Oil Blend is designed to refresh your space delightfully. This rustic-like scent combines the freshness of bergamot with the intensity of frankincense, along with uplifting notes of coriander and patchouli. This blend of refreshing, relaxing oils makes your home smell clean and calm.
- Scalp and Skin Essential Oil Blend is designed to encourage soothing and healing. We combined the citrusy notes of geranium and neroli with the richness of sandalwood to create this therapeutic essential oil blend. Use topically to repair dry or damaged skin, soothe a dry scalp, and reduce redness. This blend is calming and relaxing.
- Spring Blossoms Essential Oil Blend is designed for floral lovers. The sweet aromas of rose-geranium and lavender combine with neroli’s orange blossom notes to create this delightful floral scent. This blend is relaxing and uplifting, perfect for promoting happy yet calm moods.
- Tummy Soothe Essential Oil Blend is designed for unhappy tummies. Soothe upset tummies with a gentle massage. We’ve combined dill weed, bergamot-mint, and spearmint oils to fight bloating, gas, and indigestion.
Some of these essential oils, as well as others, may be safe to use on younger children. I recommend doing your own research and drawing your own conclusion to determine if you are comfortable using essential oils with children under two.
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.
Of course, there are many ways to achieve the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, like in a diffuser, personal inhaler, or humidifier, as well as topically and in the bath or shower, but first, let’s discuss proper dilution.
Understanding How to Dilute Essential Oils
As I said earlier, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding essential oils all over the internet. One common assumption is that you don’t need to dilute essential oils, which comes back to the claim that since they are natural, they’re safe. The reality is that certified aromatherapists disagree. Wendy Robbins states undiluted use of essential oils on the skin can be harmful and potentially cause severe irritation or sensitization (4).
Additionally, 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 (5).”
“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, when using essential oils topically, dilution is critical. For a minimum dilution of 0.2%, you would add the following:
- 0.5 drop of essential oil diluted into 10 ml of carrier oil
- 1 drop of essential oil diluted into 30 ml (1 ounce) of carrier oil
- 2 drops of essential oil diluted into 60 ml (2 ounces) of carrier oil
- 4 drops of essential oil diluted into 120 ml (4 ounces) of carrier oil
For a maximum dilution of 5%, you would add the following:
- 10 drops of essential oil diluted into 10 ml of carrier oil
- 30 drops of essential oil diluted into 30 ml (1 ounce) of carrier oil
- 60 drops of essential oil diluted into 60 ml (2 ounces) of carrier oil
- 120 drops of essential oil diluted into 120 ml (4 ounces) of carrier oil
Using Essential Oils in a Diffuser
Diffusing essential oils is an easy and cost-effective way to achieve therapeutic benefits. A diffuser also allows you to use essential oils without directly applying them to your skin, so it’s generally the safer option, especially for children. These small appliances work by creating steam mixed with essential oils and water. The oils then disperse into the air in tiny doses.
When dispersed, the droplets, which are much smaller and diluted, are breathed in and may land on the skin. When diffusing an essential oil for the first time, watch for breathing problems, rashes, racing heartbeat, or mood changes. If you notice any of these, discontinue diffusing the essential oil. Although these cases are rare, it is important to know what to look for, just in case!
Based on the oils diffused, the benefits of essential oil aromatherapy may include:
- Tackling sickness
- Killing airborne germs
- Lifting mood
- Easing depression
- Promoting restful sleep
- and much more!
Of course, thousands of essential oil diffusers are on the market, so if you’re looking for a recommendation, I use Sierra Modern Home’s Wifi Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Humidifier.
How to use an essential oil diffuser:
- Choose a location for the diffuser. Typically, placing a diffuser in the middle of an open room for even distribution is recommended.
- Add water to the diffuser. Be sure not to fill above the max fill line to extend the life of your diffuser and ensure proper functionality.
- Add essential oils to the water. Be sure to check the directions of your essential oil bottle. Typically speaking, you only need 2-10 drops of essential oil.
- Turn on your essential oil diffuser. Some models have options for constant mist, while others have the option to mist on and off in time increments. Choose the option that works best for you.
Tips when using an essential oil diffuser:
- Ensure you use high-quality essential oils.
- When using a diffuser around kids and/or pets, always ensure the essential oil is kid and/or pet-safe.
- Make sure you empty and dry out your diffuser between uses.
- Clean your diffuser at least once per month.
Of course, you could achieve the same benefits by using essential oils in a personal inhaler or humidifier, but I recommend sticking to a diffuser, applying it topically, or properly adding it to a bath for children.
Using Essential Oils Topically
When using essential oils topically, never apply neat (without proper dilution), and avoid using essential oils near the genitals, mouth, nose, eyes, and ears (2).
Before using essential oils topically, always perform a patch test, especially with children. To perform a patch test, simply apply a small (no larger than a dime) amount of diluted essential oil to the leg or arm and wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. If a reaction occurs, such as redness, inflammation, or being painful to the touch, immediately wash the area with soap and water, then apply carrier oil over it (this will dilute it). Never use just water, as water doesn’t properly dilute essential oils. If no reaction occurs, applying the essential oil is likely safe.
Earlier, I recommended diluting essential oils in a mild carrier oil. Carrier oils are fatty oils that consist primarily of fatty acids. Good quality carrier oils used within aromatherapy are typically cold or expeller-pressed. My recommendations, especially for children, are:
- Argan oil
- Coconut oil
- Cucumber seed oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Sweet Almond Oil
Using Essential Oils in the Bath
Using essential oils in a bath is a bit tricky because essential oils do not stay mixed with water. Instead, the essential oil floats to the top, touching the skin at full strength, potentially causing severe irritation and even chemical burns. You must dilute the essential oil in a soluble, like vegetable glycerin, first and then add it to the bathwater (6). Carrier oils don’t work in this scenario because the carrier oil would also float in water. Contrarily, vegetable glycerin is water soluble, which allows the essential oil to emulsify before being added to the bathwater.
Additionally, essential oils at higher risk of causing irritation and sensitization should be avoided in the bath, even if you solubilize them. Learn more about essential oils that are more likely to cause irritation and skin sensitization here.
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.