I have been an active advocate of alternative health therapies for 10 years, and I am the author of a book on essential oils.
The Benefits of Essential Oil
You've probably heard a lot about the benefits of aromatherapy for your mental and physical health. Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic extracts from plants to alleviate the symptoms of common, non-severe ailments. The use of essential oils (or EOs) is indeed helpful for decreasing stress, improving sleep, and overall happiness—and the benefits of aromatherapy are no secret.
Known to be thousands of years old, aromatherapeutic techniques were first used in Egyptian culture for smudging, and in incense, resins, balms, and oils. In the early 1900s, Rene-Maurice Gattefossé identified lavender as antimicrobial and coined the term aromatherapy in his book Gattefossé's Aromatherapy. The practice of aromatherapy was officially founded in 1964. Plants are the basis for most modern-day treatments, and the natural therapeutic properties of aromatherapy are no different.
Essential Oils for Toddlers and Young Children
While aromatherapy for adults is talked about frequently, did you know that aromatherapy can also be soothing for children? In fact, it is suggested by some physicians the natural components of oils can contribute to the care and healing of children in lieu of some potentially harmful substances found in pharmaceuticals.
Aromatherapy includes inhalation and the topical application of EOs, however, some important steps must be taken before use with children. Read on to learn about best practices for introducing essential oils to your children.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Toddlers and Children?
Adults use EOs for everything from treating ailments to stress reduction and aromatherapy. Aromatherapy and oil use on children is not well researched, but there is evidence that supports oils can be used on children and toddlers.
An Introduction to Toddler Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Use
Aromatherapy can curb children's anxiety, help them sleep, and improve focus. Oils safe for use on babies are also safe for use on children. Read more about the use of essential oils on babies in my article "Essential Oils for Babies and Toddlers."
Understanding the health of your child and the goals of aromatherapy will help you decide if aromatherapy is the solution for you.
The following aromatherapy oils have been deemed safe for children and toddlers:
- Distilled Lemon
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata)
- Tea Tree
Consult Your Pediatrician
Consult with your child's physician first before using aromatherapy. You want to be sure your child has no existing allergies and prevent any contraindications.
Inhalation vs. Application of Essential Oils
Safety is critical when handling oils; be sure to do a patch test (see below) before introducing your child to a new oil. These EOs are derived from plants, and the natural therapeutic properties of the oil penetrate the central nervous system and can encourage the release of specific neurotransmitters. Aromatherapeutic benefits are normally gained in one of two ways:
Essential Oil Inhalation
When inhaled, aromatic molecules stimulate physiological responses. This means aromas can trigger a sense of calm, pleasure, memory, sleep, and appetite. One of the most popular ways to disperse oils is with a diffuser. Diffusers can be ceramic, electric, reed-based, or use other methods. I recommend diluting oils that go into a diffuser, but be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions.
Massage is one of the most popular uses for essential oil applications and aromatherapeutic methods. Historically, some oils were also used for first aid. German Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and can be applied in the proper dilution to localized inflammation. Tea tree and eucalyptus oil are applied to alleviate flu and sinus symptoms. I recommend using oils to alleviate mild symptoms, and to talk to your doctor if you're experiencing any pain or irritation that you're considering treating with aromatherapy.
How to Dilute Essential Oil
It's recommended by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) that oils used on children should be diluted to 1% or less. For example, if you have a 12 oz spray bottle, you'll add:
- 0.12 oz of essential oil (or 3.5 mL, or scant 3/4 of a teaspoon)
- 11.88 oz of filtered water or carrier oil
There are about 600 drops of EO per fluid ounce, depending on the dropper manufacturer on the bottle.
Diluting for Inhalation vs. Topical Application
When diluting EOs for inhalation via diffusion, you'll want to use water to dilute rather than a carrier oil. EOs can be diluted in a carrier oil, lotion, or water for topical application.
|Measurement of EO||Equivalent Drops of EO||Volume of Carrier Oil, Lotion, or Filtered Water||Dilution Percentage|
33.3 oz or 4.1 cups or about 1 liter
Do a Patch Test
After you've properly diluted your EO of choice, before applying any oil to your child, perform a patch test. A patch test will determine whether or not your child will have an allergic reaction to the oil. To do a patch test:
- Apply a dime-sized amount of your dilute oil to your child's leg or arm.
- Wait for a day (24 hours).
- If any inflammation, redness, rash, or nausea occurs, do not use this EO on your child.
Carrier Oils Suitable for Young Children
A carrier oil is an oil meant for soothing and adding moisture to the epidermis. Most carrier oils are similar to baby oil and are safe for the skin, though I still recommend doing a patch test before applying to a large area on your child's body. It's best to err on the side of caution; the only carrier oils regulated by the FDA are those that are meant for oral consumption as well as for skin. Below are a few of my favorite carrier oils.
Why It's Great: The chemical composition of jojoba oil is strikingly similar to the natural chemical composition of the human sebum. Hence, it is generally safe for your skin, even when directly applied. This is just one reason why jojoba oil is one of the most recommended types of oils for toddlers and young children; it rarely harms their sensitive skin.
When to Use It: Jojoba oil is also quite effective in treating various skin conditions on children, particularly diaper rashes which is very common in children. To cure rashes, you can add a few drops of the oil into your palm and rub it directly against the area affected by rashes. Do this often to relieve your child from the rashes without any side effects.
Words of Caution: Jojoba should not be consumed orally.
Why It's Great: By using almond oil regularly as a massage oil or in addition to their bath, children's skin will be exposed to vitamins A and E, as well as zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
When to Use It: Almond oil, after being tested in a patch test, is excellent for massage. The vitamins in almond oil can revitalize the skin and moisturize it, even when conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are present.
Words of Caution: Almond oil may come into contact with other nuts while in production, so steer clear if you have a serious nut allergy. As with all essential and carrier oils, do a patch test to ensure your child isn't allergic.
Why It's Great: Olive oil is chock full of vitamins A, D, K, and E, linoleic acid, and antioxidants. When used in moderation, olive oil can moisturize your toddler's skin.
When to Use It: Olive oil is best used for infrequent massage.
Words of Caution: The downside of using olive oil as a carrier oil is that it contains oleic acid. Oleic acid can cause redness and irritation on adult skin, therefore, it's higher-risk for the permeable skin of toddlers and children (Chun-Yu et al, 2019).
Grape Seed Oil
Why It's Great: Grapeseed oil is a product of winemaking, so if you're a winemaker you could soon create a closed-loop system when it comes to acquiring carrier oils! Grapeseed oil contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E.
When to Use It: Grapeseed oil is excellent for massage or for oil in a bath.
Words of Caution: The contentious aspects of grapeseed oil lay with its derivation and processing. It's likely that, for non-organic grapeseed oils, chemical solvents that can be harmful towards the skin are used in the extraction process. For this reason, it's important to buy organic grapeseed oil.
Safe Essential Oils and Benefits for Children
What It's For: Chamomile oil is highly recommended by pediatricians in treating various skin conditions and pain relief in infants due to its natural healing properties. In fact, several baby and toddler products have been created with chamomile oil as its main ingredient. Chamomile is also suggested to lower the likelihood of intestinal spasms and potentially relieve colic symptoms.
How to Use It: Chamomile oil can be applied on a toddlers' bottom, which helps protect them against dampness that can lead to diaper- or pull up-related skin rashes. That way, you can help protect your child's from other more serious skin conditions like soreness and inflammation.
Caution: Be sure to check any medications your child currently takes before using chamomile. Chamomile can cause adverse effects if mixed with the wrong medications.
2. Distilled Lemon
What It's For: Distilled lemon oil can be uplifting, and can be diffused or applied after a nap or in the morning. According to Komiya et al 2006, lemon essential oil has an "anti-stress," or calming effect, on mice.
How to Use It: The benefits of distilled lemon are best achieved via diffusion.
Caution: "Expressed" lemon is photosensitive and can irritate the skin if applied topically. I recommend distilled lemon oil because it doesn't have these properties.
What It's For: Dill is known to be antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and a mild sedative. Dill can help soothe digestion. It's useful for getting a better night's sleep and easing constipation symptoms.
How to Use It: Dill can be diffused or applied topically.
Caution: There is limited scientific evidence that suggests how or why dill soothes digestion. Like all oils, be sure to do a patch test before use; dill can be irritating to the skin especially for those allergic to carrots. Dill and carrot are both from the Apiaceae plant family.
4. Eucalyptus (radiata)
What It's For: Eucalyptus is known for its expectorant capabilities. Eucalyptus is in products like Vick's VapoRub that, while over-the-counter, are recommended by doctors for congestion symptoms regularly. While the explicit effects of eucalyptus on the lungs are not well studied, it's thought that eucalyptus reduces muscle spasms that inhibit breathing.
How to Use It: Eucalyptus is used most effectively when diffused into the air.
Caution: There are two types of Eucalyptus; Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus. The radiata variety is safe for children, but globulus is only safe for use on adults.
What It's For: If you examine some of the baby products you use, you will notice that lavender oil is a frequently used ingredient. Aside from being delicate and mild, lavender EO offers a distinctive aroma that helps to calm youngsters' nerves.
How to Use It: Lavender is suggested for use on toddlers with sleeping disorders. Just a few drops of oil can help your child relax and induce sleep. Here are two application techniques to provide better sleep for your young one:
- Add a few drops either on their blanket or pillow. Due to the oil's relaxation properties, you will instantly notice an improvement in your child's sleeping habits so you too can have better quality sleep at night.
- Add a few drops of lavender EO into the toddlers' pre-bedtime bath, along with a few tablespoons of carrier oil.
Caution: Few cautions are specific to lavender oil. Be sure to dilute this oil and resist the temptation to use it directly on the skin.
What It's For: Mandarin is primarily for soothing and is a great alternative to lavender if lavender is irritating or doesn't have the calming effect you hoped for.
How to Use It: Mandarin is best used diffused.
Caution: Mandarin is favored over other orange-esque citruses because it is not phototoxic. When diluted and applied to the skin, it is less likely to cause an irritable reaction.
7. Tea Tree
What It's For: Tea tree is a known antimicrobial disinfectant and can be used on fungal infections such as diaper rash. I recommend talking to a pediatrician before using tea tree oil on your child's sensitive parts.
How to Use It: Heavily dilute tea tree oil—0.4% to 0.25% will do—when applying topically. It's best to use tea tree with a carrier oil, as it can have moderate dry effects.
Caution: Tea tree is very potent and can be harmful or deadly if ingested by children or pets. Be sure to dilute and keep tea tree out of the reach of children.
Safety Tips When Using Essential Oils on Toddlers
Here are basic reminders when applying EOs on toddlers:
- Consult with your pediatrician before using aromatherapy. This will ensure that they have no existing allergies and prevent any contraindications.
- Take time to read labels when buying bottled essential oils to ensure oils are all-natural or organic rather than produced from synthetic ingredients, which could cause harm to your toddler.
- Do not buy oils that warn about using them for topical treatment. They might be too strong for use on toddlers.
Summary of Tips for Working With Essential Oils
- Use only 100% essential oils
- Be sure to do a test patch
- Dilute in a safe carrier oil, lotion, or water
- Be wary of keeping bottles of oil in full or partial sunlight
- Oils can stain clothing and furniture
Chen, C. Y., Lee, Y. H., Chang, S. H., Tsai, Y. F., Fang, J. Y., & Hwang, T. L. (2019). Oleic acid-loaded nanostructured lipid carrier inhibit neutrophil activities in the presence of albumin and alleviates skin inflammation. International journal of nanomedicine, 14, 6539.
Komiya, M., Takeuchi, T., & Harada, E. (2006). Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice. Behavioural brain research , 172 (2), 240-249.Chicago
Nan Lv, X., Jun Liu, Z., Jing Zhang, H., & Tzeng, C. M. (2013). Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes. Current drug targets, 14(8), 872-879.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Criss on December 02, 2009:
This article isn't about making topical scents, it's about using essential oils for therapeutic purposes. When true essential oils are used properly they affect mind, body and emotions. They are nature's medications and can be used instead of (and at times) with pharmaceuticals.
This was a great article, thank you for creating and posting it. I just wish people in the United States would come to understand that aromatherapy/essential oils don't just smell good. lol
perfumelover on July 18, 2009:
This is really interesting. I only recently got into looking up children's perfumes (but only for older children). I guess I never considered topical smells for babies. But this makes sense! Thanks for sharing the saftey aspect--so important!