With the growing popularity of aromatherapy in households, this is a timely and important question. As a parent, it is always best to ask your child’s Pediatrician before introducing aromatherapy in your home.
Essential oils should be used sparingly as these tiny bottles of joy represent potent extractions of aromatic botanicals. They contain the most volatile and chemically reactive light weight components of a plant. A tiny amount goes a long way, especially with children, and proper dilution is important for all ages. Used properly, essential oils can offer natural wellness benefits for people of all ages.
This article will first provide a quick overview of general safety guidelines for people, and then discuss modified usage suggestions for babies and kids. It will also give a list of gentle essential oils as well those that may not be appropriate with kids.
General Essential Oil Safety Guidelines for People
First, here is a quick overview of what expert aromatherapists recommend for adults. With all people, the use of essential oils should be heavily diluted. There are general guidelines for healthy adults, but for kids, more considerations and higher dilution rates are needed.
With topical use, adults should dilute most essential oils to at least 2% in a carrier oil for general body lotions, or to 3-10% for acute local areas. Some essential oils are more potent and require heavier dilution. Especially for those with sensitive skin, testing a small inconspicuous area first is advised.
Further, the diffusion of essential oils should be intermittent, and not all day long. For adults, diffuse for 20-minute intervals. Diffuse in a large open room. Follow the instructions on your diffuser. Typically, for a cool mist diffuser, add 1 drop of essential oil per ounce of water.
Some contraindications may apply related to medical conditions or medications. Always avoid the internal use of essential oils via home-made recipes and without expert advice. Unsafe ingestion can cause mucous membrane burning, toxicity, and serious complications.
Essential Oil Safety Guidelines for Children
With children, essential oils must be more heavily diluted than with adults. Body systems are not fully developed, and children weigh much less. This makes the therapeutic margin of safe use significantly lower.
Listed in this article are general guidelines by age group for children under 16. Further, several essential oils are not appropriate for use with children. Finally, every individual is unique in their tolerance for essential oils. Ask your child’s Pediatrician if you have any questions, and immediately discontinue use if any irritations arise.
But first, here are answers to two of the questions most frequently asked about essential oils and children.
Are essential oils safe for babies?
Babies are especially sensitive and essential oils should not be used without a Pediatrician’s advice. With infants under three months, avoid topical use altogether. Even diffusers need to be used very sparingly.
For babies age three months to two years, continue to work with your Pediatrician before utilizing essential oils topically. For this age group, essential oils must be diluted heavily in a carrier oil, and many essential oils are inappropriate related to their potent constituents. Refer to the dilution guidelines listed in the section, Child Aromatherapy Guidelines by Age Group.
Is lavender essential oil safe for babies?
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) essential oil is considered one of the most gentle essential oils in aromatherapy. Once you get the green light from your child’s Pediatrician, this would be a good essential oil to try first. Follow the guidelines listed further down in this article for proper dilution based on age.
In a diffuser, the aroma of lavender oil can be calming and help promote good sleep. One small study showed that adults and infants alike had reduced EEG activity in their brain after inhaling rosemary or lavender aroma (1). Another study that was double blind and randomized with 66 infants demonstrated a 1% lavender oil for 15 minutes helped reducing crying in babies with colic (2).
Topically, lavender oil may also be helpful. A small study showed that an aromatherapy massage with very diluted lavender helped reduce colic in babies (3). More research is needed to determine a safe and therapeutic amount.
Child Aromatherapy Guidelines by Age Group
Children are much smaller than adults, so their usage duration and amounts need to be smaller. Their little bodies are still developing, and so they are also more susceptible to adverse reactions. Less is more! This pertains to both topical and diffuser use. Avoid the internal use of essential oils unless prescribed by your child’s Pediatrician.
Dilute more heavily with kids and avoid certain essential oils.
With kids, always skin patch test a tiny area before using a formulation topically on larger skin areas. A common place to skin patch test is in the crook of the elbow joint. Place a small amount of the diluted essential oil on the test area and cover with a band-aid. Check the area after half a day for any possible irritation.
If skin irritation occurs, rinse the area topically with the formula or milk that is safe for your child to drink. Water alone will not be effective in removing essential oils from skin since it is not water soluble.
Children can be especially sensitive to strong aromas. A scent that an adult may find delightful could be too potent for a child’s little nose to handle. Dilute essential oils more heavily when diffusing in homes with children and pets. Avoid excessively strong scents and discontinue use if your child complains about the aroma.
Take great care when utilizing essential oils with babies and kids. Do not overuse essential oils. Dilute, do not use for prolonged periods, and avoid certain excessively strong and chemically reactive essential oils. Here is an overview by age group.
Babies Under Three Months of Age
- Avoid topical use.
- Dilute kid safe essential oils twenty times more than you would for an adult with the use of a cool mist diffuser. Diffuse in very short intervals such as 2 minutes on, and an hour off. Avoid diffusing near a baby’s sleeping area.
Children Ages Three Months to Two Years
- Topically, dilute kid safe essential oils to 0.25%. This equals about 1 drop of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
- With the use of a cool mist diffuser, dilute kid safe essential oils 10 times more than you would for an adult. Diffuse in very short intervals, such as 5 minutes on and an hour off. Avoid diffusing near a baby’s sleeping area.
Children Ages Two to Four Years of Age
- Topically, dilute kid safe essential oils to 0.5%. This equals about 2-3 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
- With a cool mist diffuser, dilute kid safe essential oils five times as much as you would for an adult. Diffuse in short intervals such as 5 minutes on and an hour off. Avoid diffusing near sleeping areas.
Children Ages Four to Six Years of Age
- Topically, dilute kid safe essential oils to 1%. This equals about 5-6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
- With the use of a cool mist diffuser, dilute kid safe essential oils 3 times as much as you would for an adult. Diffuse intermittently for no more than 10 minutes on and an hour off. Avoid diffusing near sleeping areas.
Children Ages Six to Fifteen Years
- Topically, dilute kid safe essential oils to 2%. This equals about 10-12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
- With a cool mist diffuser, dilute kid safe essential oils twice as much as you would for an adult. Diffuse intermittently for no more than 15 minutes on and 30 minutes off. Avoid diffusing near sleeping areas.
What essential oils should be avoided around kids?
Certain essential oils are not appropriate for use with children. While there can be chemo-varieties among plants, below is a general list of common potent essential oils that have a low therapeutic margin.
- Basil, estragole CT
- Clary sage
- Eucalyptus, 1,8-cineole CT
- Star Anise
What essential oils are good for kids?
Here is a list of some essential oils that are gentle, and more appropriate for kids. Contraindications may apply with certain individuals.
- Bergamot FCF (Citrus bergamia) offers a light citrus scent that can help uplift mood. Choose FCF (furocoumarin free) to prevent phototoxicity with topical use and sun exposure.
- Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a stimulating note that blends well with other essential oils to boost mood and have a warming effect topically.
- Cedarwood (Juniperus virginia) has a woody aroma that has been used to help ward off insects and open breathing.
- Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) is blue in color related to its calming chamazulene content.
- Fir (Abies balsamea) offers a clean woodsy scent that can freshen the air and may help with congestion.
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is a gentle essential oil that provides a soothing rose-like floral aroma.
- Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) is a bright and happy scent like a ray of sunshine.
- Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) has a complex warm, herbaceous, and relaxing aroma that may help with minor skin issues.
- Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) folk remedies suggest it may provide topical analgesic, antimicrobial, insect repelling, and warming effects.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has a relaxing aroma that may help topically with minor bug bights, scrapes, burns, and itching.
- Lemon (Citrus limonum) cleans the air with a fresh citrus scent. Choose steam distilled lemon with topical use to avoid phototoxicity.
- Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) has a tangy citrus aroma that blends well with other essential oils in a diffuser. Select steam distilled lime oil to avoid phototoxicity with topical use.
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) is sweet, citrussy, and complex in its scent.
- Neroli (Citrus x aurantium) comes from the blossoms of orange trees. The aroma is heady, floral, and strong. Blend with other essential oils to lessen the potent scent.
- Orange (Citrus sinensis) has a scent that is light, sweet, and mood-uplifting.
- Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii) offers a gentle floral aroma that might provide insect repelling activity.
- Patchouli (Pogostem cablin) is an aroma recognized for its smokey, earthy, woody, and relaxing scent.
- Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) comes from the leaves and twigs of citrus trees. It’s aroma is woody and slightly citrussy, and does a great job of freshening the air.
- Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is a woody favorite with potential analgesic, antimicrobial, and decongestive activities.
- Rose (Rosa damascena) is a beloved floral sedative scent.
- Spruce (Picea nigra) is like a walk in the woods and may offer antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tussive activities.
- Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) blends well with other essential oils to offer a bright and rejuvenating scent.
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been revered for its topical antifungal and antimicrobial activities.
To answer the question of if essential oils are safe for babies and kids, here is the answer. First, know basic safety guidelines for using essential oils. Then make modifications based on age and the unique preferences and sensitivities of each individual.
It is important to reduce exposure amounts when utilizing aromatherapy with children. This includes both concentration and duration.
Essential oils from some plants are inappropriate to use around kids. Additional contraindications may apply based on medical conditions, sensitivities, and personal preferences. Always ask your Pediatrician if you have any questions before use.
When utilized safely, essential oils can offer a variety of therapeutic benefits! Start with essential oils listed as being good for kids. Benefits can include mood boosting or calming, skin soothing, insect repelling, analgesic, or potentially antimicrobial activities.
- Sanders, C., Diego, M., Fernandez, M., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., & Roca, A. (2002). EEG asymmetry responses to lavender and rosemary aromas in adults and infants. International Journal of Neuroscience, 112(11), 1305-1320.
- Vaziri, F., Sahebkaram, Z., Bahrami, R., Pourahmad, S., & Azima, S. (2018). Lavender Oil
Aromatherapy on Infantile Colic and Maternal Mood: A Double Blind Randomized Clinical Trial. Pharmaceutical Sciences, 24(1), 38-43.
- Çetinkaya, B., & Başbakkal, Z. (2012). The effectiveness of aromatherapy massage using lavender oil as a treatment for infantile colic. International journal of nursing practice, 18(2), 164-169.