WITH GUIDANCE FROM A QUALIFIED PRACTITIONER ESSENTIAL OILS AND OTHER ASPECTS OF AROMATHERAPY CAN SAFELY BE USED TO TREAT MANY MINOR AILMENTS IN BABIES AND CHILDREN. HOWEVER EXTRA SPECIAL CARE NEEDS TO BE TAKEN WHEN TREATING YOUNG CHILDREN, FOR REASONS OUTLINED BELOW. YES, ESSENTIAL OILS ARE “NATURAL” BUT THEY ARE ALSO HIGHLY CONCENTRATED AND HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO CAUSE ADVERSE REACTIONS. THERE ARE OTHER GENTLER AROMATIC OPTIONS AVAILABLE WHICH MAY BE PREFERABLE FOR BABIES AND YOUNG CHILDREN. I WOULD RECOMMEND CONSULTATION WITH A QUALIFIED AROMATHERAPIST FOR CHILDREN WHO ARE UNDER 12 MONTHS OF AGE; HAVE A DIAGNOSED MEDICAL CONDITION OR ARE ON MEDICATION.
Why do we need to be careful when using essential oils for babies & children?
1. Neonatal skin does not mature until 3 months of age so is more sensitive and permeable. We need to think carefully about what we apply to baby’s skin.
2. Due to their immature systems babies and young children are less capable of metabolizing substances and dealing with any adverse reactions.
3. Early bonding between babies and their parents is very important. This is facilitated when babies can recognise their parent’s “signature” scent. Other fragrances can hinder this process. This is especially important for mums and babies when establishing breastfeeding.
4. Consider why aromatherapy is being used. Is it really necessary? Use of essential oils is often best reserved for when there is a real therapeutic need, not simply to improve the aroma of a product.
Some general safety points when using essential oils
- Essential oils must be stored in dark bottles with a dripolator and kept out of reach of children, preferably in a cool, dry environment.
- Do not apply pure essential oils undiluted to the skin or take internally unless under supervision of a qualified clinical Aromatherapist/Aromatic Medicine Practitioner.
- Remember less is more! Don’t exceed the recommended dose (see dilutions below).
- Components of some essential oils are photosensitive, i.e. they make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Avoid putting these oils on the skin before sun exposure: Lemon, Bergamot, Lime, Grapefruit & Bitter Orange.
- When adding essential oils to the bath always blend in a dispersant before adding to the water. If you don’t have a dispersant you can add the essential oils to about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or unscented shower gel and then disperse into the water.
- It’s advisable to do a patch test on people with sensitive skin. If skin irritation occurs wipe area with vegetable oil then wash with soap and water to remove the essential oil.
- Vaporising/diffusing essential oils:
Don’t use continuously. General rule is to diffuse for the same time on and then same time off, eg. 30-60mins ‘on’ then 30-60mins ‘off’. Ensure good ventilation, especially with babies, children, asthmatics and pets.
Safety issues for babies and children
As well as the above safety measures consider the information below:
1. There’s no need to use essential oils on a daily basis on children unless indicated for health reasons.
2. Do not apply essential oils to or near a child’s face. Peppermint oil should not be applied near the face of children under 3 years of age. Care also needs to be taken when using eucalyptus essential oil. Constituents in these oils can slow breathing and cause neurological problems in some children. See table below for recommendations.
3. Always, always dilute before adding to water/bath, see above.
4. Only use essential oils you know are definitely safe for use in children. Low dilutions are necessary for young children, see recommendations below.
5. Base oils, infused oils and hydrosols can be a valuable alternative.
Cold pressed, vegetable, nut or seed oils are preferable for babies; for more information see my previous blog.
Infused oils are base oils infused with different herbs, for example calendula, arnica and hypericum. These oils have wonderful therapeutic benefits.
Hydrosols are a wonderful alternative for babies and young children. Hydrosols are floral waters or waters of distillation, usually a by-product of essential oil distillation.
Hydrosols contain approximately 0.05% concentration of aromatic molecules, compared to a 100% concentration in pure essential oils. This makes them a much safer option for children under 6 years of age. Consider using Lavender hydrosol for inflamed skin or to help settle; Tea tree or Rosalina hydrosol in the bath for cold and flu.
6. Even diffusing essential oils can pose a risk to babies and young children. Some therapist will advise not to diffuse essential oils at all around babies. However, with some care you can still enjoy the aroma and benefits of essential oil diffusion. Consider the following:
- Ensure the space is well ventilated and the diffuser is placed well away from baby
- Use much lower quantities and low irritant, gentle essential oils
- Do not diffuse continuously – 30-60mins ‘on’, then same time ‘off’
- Why are you vaporising essential oils, for fragrance or therapeutic reasons.
- Maternal wellbeing is important, and many mums feel their mood shifts with the scent of their favourite essential oil or blend. If this consists of essential oils we need to avoid around babies, consider the use of a personal aroma-inhaler instead.
7. As mentioned above, consultation with a qualified aromatherapist is recommended for children who are under 12 months of age; have a diagnosed medical condition or are on medication.
Suggested concentrations for use of essential oils in massage and topical application:
Premature infant: no essential oils
Birth – 6 months: use essential oils ONLY if absolutely necessary:
Consult a qualified aromatherapist for advice
6 months – 12 months: 1-2 drops essential oil in 20 mls base oil
1 – 2 years: 1-2 drops essential oil in 10 mls base oil
2 – 6 years: 2-3 drops essential oil in 10 mls base oil
6 – 12 years: 3-4 drops essential oil in 10 mls base oil
> 12 years: 4-6 drops essential oil in 10 mls base oil
NB: this is a guide only; concentrations also depend on the issue being treated, particular essential oil used, where you’re applying the oil and the frequency of application.
Some essential oils that are potentially irritant and should be restricted or avoided with babies and young children:
Clove Bud – Red Thyme – Cinnamon Bark – Cinnamon Leaf – Oregano – Peppermint – Eucalyptus – Lemongrass – Fennel – Basil – Wintergreen
Citrus oils and Pine oils that could be oxidised
This is not a complete list of course. Generally it’s best to stick to a few known gentle and safe essential oils. I recommend choosing from the following: true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia); mandarin (Citrus reticulata); sweet orange (Citrus sinensus); rosalina (Melaleauca ericifolia); Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutitia).
Safety advice for peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils is outlined below. There are many different types of eucalyptus, here we are referring to species such as Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus, which contain a constituent called cineole.
Can be diffused
Can be diffused
Can be diffused
Tisserand Institute https://tisserandinstitute.org/safety-pages/
Our babies are precious and we need to assist them in transitioning into the big wide world. Aromatherapy can be a wonderful resource to support families during this journey. As a parent to two daughters I have grown to rely on my aromatic first aid kit for all sorts of childhood ailments over the years. However, I have also seen terrible misuse of essential oils with some unfortunate outcomes. Essential oils must always be used with great care, but especially so with babies and children.