Using essential oils with kids? Here are six things you never want to do!

There seem to be  two sides to the equation of using essential oils with children.

One group is so afraid of essential oils that they’d never use them on their kids.

The other extreme is parents who never bother to learn how to use oils for children and just do whatever they think of.

I believe that there is a balance between those two extremes, a place where well-informed parents can be confident that their essential oil choices are safe and effective.  There is no reason for someone who is well-informed to be afraid.

On the other hand, I strongly implore parents, do not make health choices of any type for your children based entirely on the experiences of a friend, word of mouth, or internet searches.  That is just not smart!

So let’s talk about some of the mistakes that parents on both sides of the spectrum make and how we can find balance in the middle.  It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments at the end.

Mistake #1:  Reading essential oil horror stories online and not understanding the context.

Essential oil scare stories sweep through social media like wildfire through a drought ravaged forest.  We live in a world where click-bait is king, and the more sensational a story is, the more traffic a person will get.  In the world of the net, traffic=money.

Most of the time there are a few simple reasons for the essential oil horror stories and scare posts:

Flat out misunderstanding.

A great example of this is the Facebook post about citrus oils on a Styrofoam plate being equal to what happens I your stomach when you ingest them.  That one is really scary sounding, but just because a person sounds intelligent and has internet access, it doesn’t necessarily mean they know what they are talking about.  (By the way, that particular scare post has been debunked several times. Unless your stomach is made of styrofoam, you should be just fine.)

Differences in essential oil school of thought.

There are several prominent presences on the web with very wide reach and that present their arguments in a fairly dogmatic and confrontational way.  Much of this is borne out of a wish to help instill safe practices with people who choose not to do their own research (but want to use essential oils anyway). This difference in methods and when it matters (and when it doesn’t) is explained thoroughly in this article. This extremely conservative view of essential oil use does have its uses, though.

The more popular essential oils become, the more companies pop up to try to capitalize on the market.  But it is important that parents know that many oils are adulterated with synthetic or undisclosed substances and since there is no regulation of the essential oil industry, assurances of “certification” or claims of purity are not backed up by a third-party standard.

When using oils that you haven’t thoroughly researched for quality, you really should, for your safety, take extra precautions.

Of course, I highly recommend doing your research into quality, who does what, and why it matters, BEFORE you buy any essential oils.  I decided to be cheap and jump on the bandwagon without doing my homework, and when it was all said and done, I was left with over $200 of low quality, therapeutically questionable oils Major face-palm moment.

Improper use or carelessness.

Unfortunately, there are always some people who will ignore instructions, or make ill-informed assumptions, even when it is with something as important as their health and well-being.

Good example:  The warning label on your hair dryer warns you against using it in the tub.  Seriously, how many people actually had to do that before they started putting that warning label on it?  Apparently more than a few.  I bet you still use your hair dryer though.

When you see these sad stories, just ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do we know which brand of oil is implicated and whether the person purchased it directly from the company or a trusted retailer?
  2. Did this person have an underlying medical condition that made them more vulnerable to adverse health events?
  3. Was this an accident caused by inappropriate use of the essential oil (ignoring package directions, failing to consult a reference guide or the culmination of many instances of using a product improperly over time)?
  4. Was this caused by carelessness (leaving oils out where children or animals could access them, not carefully confirming which oil you have before applying or consuming)?

You can read more about some of these issues around safety in general in the article The True Dangers of Essential Oils.

Mistake #2:  Assuming that since essential oils are natural, that you can’t make any mistakes.

Genuine essential oils are natural, that is true, but there is a vast difference between the strength of, let’s say a peppermint leaf and the peppermint essential oil that comes from it.

Essential oils are more concentrated than the herbs and plants that they come from, and the botanical compounds are sometimes very strong.

Essential oils should be treated with respect, not fear.

Information and knowledge are the keys to using oils with safety and confidence.  Parents need to investigate the proper usage of oils with the different members of their families and consult those references regularly.

Less is always more when you use essential oils, particularly topically and internally.  You are not trying to overwhelm your body.

When you are using oils with a child, you need to make sure that you are helping them with methods and oils that are right for their age.

A few examples of mistakes that can be made, even high-qualityquality oil:

  • Essential oils in the eyes and ears can cause intense pain, irritation of mucous membranes and tearing up.
  • Cooling/warming essential oils on delicate skin can cause significant discomfort.
  • Citrus oils can cause photosensitivity if you expose your skin to direct sunlight.
  • Using too much oil, or failing to dilute when indicated can result in skin irritation.

The key to avoiding circumstances like this is to:

1.  Follow all label directions when using essential oils.  Better yet, make sure that you follow the guidance of an age appropriate reference book (when working with children, consult a book specifically geared towards that age group).

2.  Use common sense.  Don’t put essential oils in your child’s eyes or ears, and don’t put them on sensitive private areas unless they are part of a tried and true recipe for babies.  Dilute as indicated, and even more with a fatty vegetable oil more if their skin feels uncomfortable or reddens.

3.  Start low, and go slow, especially if you are new to oils, or your child is new to oils.  Less is always more.

4.  Pay attention to your child.  Every person has a unique body chemistry, which means that your child’s response to an essential oil will show you what you need to do next.  Not getting results you want?  Switch to another option.  Seeing discomfort?  Dilute more, change the application site, or stop using that oil.  Uncomfortable with the options that you have?  Don’t go against your better judgment.

Ultimately, parents need to be as dedicated to knowledge with essential oils as they are with any other remedy they use in their family.  Please pick up a reference book or two if essential oils are your choice for your family.

Mistake #3:  Having a disappointing experience with a brand of oils and assuming that all brands of oil behave the same way.

I hear this all the time, and it was my first objection to getting involved with essential oils again.

You see, I assumed that essential oils are a standard product (they’re not), assumed that they were all purchased out of the same pool of available oils (they mostly are, but some companies have exclusive rights to certain sources of oils), and that all were as pure and effective as any other brand (personal experience showed me vast differences between brands).

Three things to know when you are comparing essential oil companies.  

  1. There is no such thing as certification. Claims of certification are internal standards which may or may not be based on extensive company experience.
  2. The essential oil industry is unregulated and there is no purity or labeling standard that companies have to abide by.  I could label my essential oils “Triple Certified Origen Certified Therapeutically Clinical Essential Oils” if I wanted to.  Sounds really official, but I don’t have to prove ANYTHING to use it.
  3.  If you want quality, you have to look past the marketing nonsense and do your research.  If you don’t know who actually produces your essential oil and how they do it then it doesn’t matter whose label is on the bottle or what that label says.  It’s how the oil gets from the seed to inside of your bottle and the steps that it took to get there that matters.

Quality absolutely does matter!

When I first tried essential oils it was a disappointing experience in pretty much every way, and frankly I wrote them off as “voodoo” after that.

It was pretty much only by accident that I even tried another brand of oils, and much to my surprise saw immediate results.  The following years have only reinforced to me that quality absolutely makes a difference in effectiveness.

What does an expert say?

Talking with my teammates who have used other brands has only confirmed this even more fully to me. In fact there is a series of really great quotes from essential oil researcher and expert, Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD. in his book The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy:

  • “Considering that deception has become an integral part of economic reality in some areas of commerce, it is no surprise that it is rampant in the field of essential oils as well.  An ocean of processed oils lies between the seeker and a comparatively minute quantity of truly authentic oils.” (p. 58) emphasis mine
  • Most essential oils used for aromatherapy in the U.S. are fabrications and not genuinely and exclusively from a single plant source.” (p. 58) emphasis mine

From his book Advanced Aromatherapy:

  • “The composition of essential oils depends on many factors, such as growing conditions, climate, methods of harvesting, and distillation…Due to their complexity, genuine essential oils have achieved results that their mass-produced, standardized, watered-down namesakes can never hope to equal.” (p.7) emphasis mine
  • “Such factors as cultivation and harvesting, methods of preparing materials for distillation, special characteristics of the equipment used, the duration of the distillation process, and many others all influence the final product.  An essential oil is not simply the calculated product of a precisely quantifiable physic-chemical process, but the product of the person making it.” (p. 12) emphasis mine

It is important to keep this in mind when you are deciding whether to use essential oils on your children.  You want to make sure that they are genuine and that they work.

Mistake #4:  Believing that any essential oil is appropriate to use on a child.

While a great many oils are very useful to use on children, it is not necessary to go for the biggest guns in your arsenal when you are looking for an essential oil to use.

Just like you would carefully consider which oil to use on yourself, consider the appropriateness of an oil before you use it on your child.  This requires that you understand what the primary use of an oil is, and whether there is a gentler option that may be more appropriate.

Just be mindful, and be informed.  Consult your references, ideally a child specific reference.There are a great many gentle and effective essential oils that you can use, so please do your reading first.

Mistake #5: Relying on a person/website/chat room/Pinterest to diagnose or prescribe treatment for your child.

I see this all the time.  This one is very near and dear to my heart. It really needs to stop.

Parents, if you have time to get on Facebook or Instagram and post a picture of your child with an ailment (or describe it) and ask for a diagnosis, please think of a few things:

Your friends probably know less about the situation than you.

When you post a picture of your child on Facebook and ask your friends to tell you what to do, you are asking them to diagnose your child’s condition and prescribe a treatment.  Both of those things are considered out-of-bounds by the FDA.  Your friend could get in trouble for answering you.   Only a licensed medical doctor can diagnose and prescribe, and very few would do so without an office visit.  Please use your family doctor in circumstances where you need a professional opinion.

You should have reference tools you could consult faster.

In the time that you spend posting that information, you can consult your reference book to get advice on how to help your child on your own.  There are treasure troves of information in reference books, and they will be much more reliable than a non-medical friend.  Please have references and use them.

A pretty pin does not necessarily mean good or safe advice.

Please do not rely on Pinterest as your source of information on how to use essential oils. Yes, you can find lots of recipes and tons of diagnostic information there, but unless you are trying out a blend of oils for cleaning, I personally believe that you are taking a great risk.  Just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean that it is safe.  I’ve said it a ton of times already, but please get a reference book specific to children, they are much more reliable evidence based resources than anything you will find on the internet.

Mistake #6:  Not diluting essential oils before using them on children.

I’ve written before about dilution.  There is a false understanding of essential oils that really must be cleared up. You absolutely do need to dilute some essential oils.  Read the bottle label.

It is very unwise to use every essential oil without diluting. You may use a select few essential oils (such as lavender and tea tree) without diluting them, but that is not the majority of essential oils.  It is definitely the exception, not the rule.

Many popular oils like Thieves blend say you should dilute them with 1 drop of the essential oil to 4 drops of a fatty carrier oil.  These are the instructions from the label.  Even oils that are mild, like Clary Sage, should be diluted 1 drop essential oil to 1 drop carrier oil.   You just don’t want to set yourself or your child up for a lifetime of skin irritation or potential sensitization to an oil.

Now keep in mind, the usage instructions on the bottle are for a healthy adult, and you are looking to use them on a child. That means you cannot go by the instructions on the bottle for a small child.  You need to consult a reference book that refers specifically to children and their safety needs.

So what do the references say about diluting oils for children?

    • In general, a survey of my child specific guides gives this advice:
    • One source says: “When applying most other essential oils on children, dilute them with a carrier oil.  For dilution, add 15-30 drops of essential oil to 1 oz. of a quality carrier oil.”
    • Another suggests “Dilute all essential oils for babies.  When in doubt mix a 1:30 blend.  This is one part or drop of the essential oil and 30 parts, or drops carrier oil…Using a carrier oil such as V-6 also will create a more sustained effect and reduce possible over-sensitivities especially in newborns.”
    • Yet another says: “Lavender is safe to use on children without dilution…When applying most other essential oils on children, dilute the oils with carrier oil.  For dilution, add 15-30 drops of essential oil to 1 oz. of quality carrier oil.”

Kids aren’t just mini-adults!

Just keep in mind, children are so much smaller than adults, in the case of a baby, they could be 1/10 the size of a small adult.  Not only that, but their physiological way of responding to remedies is different as well.

Just remember, children are special, and we need to follow guidelines specific to them!

That covers six of the most common mistakes I see with kids and essential oils.

No matter where you find yourself, though, there are always things to learn to make sure you’re using essential oils safely with your kids.

What mistakes would you add to the list? Sound off in the comments.

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