I saw yet another video today showing a family with young children using essential oils.

Mom passes them around for everyone to inhale…

Mom and Dad unscrew the caps, shake the oil on their hands, and rub them on their infants and children…

Mom adds them to her water…

Dad talks about leaving a legacy, and Mom says that even if the oil she is choosing is “not the best choice” that she has still done something positive…

Everyone smiles.

The Reality

Unfortunately, using essential oils around young children is not all sunshine and roses. Due to essential oils being highly concentrated, there can be serious adverse consequences to using essential oils – especially when applied without diluting. Children are particularly sensitive to aroma and products applied to the skin. A child’s immune system takes years to fully develop, making them less able to deal with the adverse effects which may arise when concentrated products are placed on the skin without dilution.

Essential oils are never recommended for use without first diluting, especially when using them on children. You can find dilution guidelines by going here: Diluting Essential Oils.

Although it’s generally recommended to avoid using essential oils with young children, even older children can react negatively to some essential oils when inhaled.

For example, Eucalyptus and certain chemotypes of Rosemary should be avoided on children under age 10, and Peppermint for children under age 6 due to the possibility of slowed respiration caused by 1,8-cineole and menthol, respectively. It should not be used topically or inhaled. Read more about those and other essential oils in our Essential Oil SINGLES Safety Files or Essential Oil Profiles in the UEOS Library.

Before you panic, recipes for safe and effective alternatives to anti-congest blends can be found here: Anti-Congest Essential Oil blend recipe.

Signs You Are Overdoing Topical Use

Some negative reactions can be seen right away:

  • redness
  • irritation
  • itching

This could be due to one of the following:

  • using oxidized essential oils
  • not diluting the essential oil enough before applying to the skin
  • using an essential oil that you are allergic to

or a combination of the above.

If you notice any of this happening, apply a carrier oil (jojoba, almond, coconut oil) to the site in question, then wash off with warm, soapy water. Re-apply a carrier oil on top to soothe the skin – don't re-apply essential oils on the skin for a few days.

Sensitization is another thing altogether. Unlike allergic or irritant reactions which show up right away, sensitization reactions may not be visible for some time. Sensitization is a delayed reaction which involves the immune system, and is not reversible.

My biggest fear when I see the type of video described in my first comments, is that the children are going to grow up sensitized to essential oils and be unable to use them at all due to the over-use and lack of dilution when applied by the parents.

Signs You Are Overdoing Inhalation

Some negative inhalation reactions can be noticed right away:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • headache
  • struggling to breathe
  • lethargy

and other allergy-like symptoms.

This could be due to one of the following:

  • diffusing too long
  • diffusing too close
  • diffusing an essential oil not safe for children

or a combination of the above.

If you see any of this happening, it usually resolves when you stop diffusing and get access to fresh air.

First Things First

Here are some things to keep in mind even for the essential oils SAFE to use with children:

  • Essential oils should be used cautiously and with intention.
  • It is recommended that essential oils NOT be used (in any form including inhalation) with babies before the age of 6 months due to their thinner skin and immature immune systems.
  • After the age of 6 months, you may diffuse essential oils SAFE for children for a specific purpose and short periods of time.
  • After the age of 2 years, you may use essential oils SAFE for children topically when needed for a specific purpose, and at a low dilution.

Lea's Top 12 Essential Oils SAFE for Children

When used appropriately, in the right situations, with the proper dilution and application, the following essential oils have shown to be safe to use with children (in alphabetical order) along with a tip on how to best use:

  • Bergamot Citrus bergamia​, Citrus aurantium​ – diffuse for daytime calming
  • Cedarwood (Atlas) Cedrus atlantica​ – diffuse for nighttime sedating
  • Copaiba Copaifera officinalis, Copaifera langsdorfii – apply diluted topically for pain
  • Fir Needle (Siberian) Abies sibirica – diffuse for respiratory issues
  • Frankincense Boswellia carterii/sacra/frereana/serrata – apply diluted topically for skin damage
  • Geranium Pelargonium graveolens, Pelargonium x asperum – diffuse for crankiness
  • HelichrysumHelichrysum italicum (Helichrysum angustifolium); Helchrysum stoechas​ – apply diluted topically for pain
  • Lavender (Bulgarian) Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis, Lavandula vera​ – diffuse for calming or sedating, apply diluted topically for pain
  • Lemon Citrus limon – diffuse to elevate mood, or use in cleaning recipes
  • Orange (Sweet) Citrus sinensis, Citrus aurantium var sinensis – diffuse for digestive issues
  • Sandalwood (Australian) Santalum spicatum, Santalum cyngnorum – diffuse for nighttime sedating and apply diluted topically for pain
  • Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia – diffuse for clearing the air of germs

For a longer list of essential oils safe for children, download the Guide to Using Essential Oils Safely with Children by clicking here or the image below.

Lea's Top 14 Essential Oils to AVOID with Children

There are essential oils which should be avoided with children – either just inhaling, just topically, or both (never ingesting)- due to various reasons noted below. Some essential oils have several different species or chemotypes – some are safe for children, and some are not.  Please take note of the species or chemotype noted to lessen confusion with other essential oils with the same name.

  • Anise Pimpinella anisum​ – avoid inhalation and topical use all ages
  • Birch (Sweet) Betula lenta – avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum – avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Cassia Cinnamomum cassia, Cinnamomum aromaticum – avoid topical use under age 2 years old
  • Clove Syzygium aromaticum, Eugenia caryophyllata, Eugenia aromatica – avoid topical use under age 2 years old
  • Eucalyptus Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus maidenii, Eucalyptus plenissima, Eucalyptus kochii, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus Autraliana,Eucalyptus phellandra, Eucalyptus smithii​ – avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Fennel (Bitter, Sweet) Foeniculum vulgare – avoid inhalation and topical use all ages
  • Ho Leaf/Ravintsara Cinnamomum camphora (cineole chemotype) avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Lemongrass Cymbopogon flexuosus, Andropogon flexuosus, Cymbopogon citratus, Andropogon citratus – avoid topical use under age 2 years old
  • Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, Myristica officinalis, Myristica moschata, Myristica aromatica, Myristica amboinensis – avoid inhalation and topical use all ages
  • Oregano Origanum onites, Origanum smyrnaeum, Origanum vulgare, Origanum compactum, Origanum hirtum, Thymbra capitata, Thymus capitatus, Coridothymus capitatus, Satureeja capitata – avoid topical use under age 2 years old
  • Peppermint Mentha x Piperita – avoid inhalation and topical use under 6 years old
  • Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis (1,8-cineole chemotype) – avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Wintergreen Gaultheria fragrantissima, Gaultheria procumbens – avoid inhalation and topical use under 10 years old
  • Ylang Ylang Cananga odorata – avoid topical use under age 2 years old

To print this list, download the Guide to Using Essential Oils Safely with Children by clicking here.

Learn more about the safety of essential oils in the UEOS Library.

When YOU Want to use Them

If you (adult) want to inhale essential oils not safe for kids, instead of diffusing in a main area your children are in, the best solution is to use a personal inhaler like this one from Rivertree Life.

If you do decide to diffuse essential oils not safe for children, be sure it is in a room your children are not currently in. After diffusing, give the room an hour to air out before letting kids in. To accelerate the process, you can open a window for about 15 minutes before letting your children back in the room (the objective is to eliminate all aroma of the essential oil). Using a fan along with a window might eliminate the aroma in only 5-10 minutes.

Using essential oils not recommended for children topically is also OK, as long as you follow these guidelines:

  • When applying topically under clothing, give yourself 15-30 minutes before getting close to your children. This should give the essential oil enough time to evaporate so the aroma is virtually undetected when you are around your children.
  • When applying topically to exposed skin, give yourself about 30 minutes before getting close to your children. Higher dilutions of essential oils – for example, a muscle blend using Peppermint and Eucalyptus at a 20% dilution – may take longer to evaporate (up to an hour), but a 2% dilution of the same in a lotion might be safe after 15 minutes.
  • When using in wash-off personal care products like shampoo or soap, it is safe for you to use, as you are washing the product off and little aroma remains.

Cleaning with Essential Oils

Oh, and what about cleaning with essential oils? Yes, you can clean with essential oils not safe for kids, just be sure they are in a different room when you are spritzing your counter or wiping things down. Give the essential oils a few minutes to evaporate before your kids return to the room. If your kids are near you, in the same room, or helping you clean, be sure to use essential oils safe for children to be around.

Final Word

Please do your own research before using essential oils as presented by marketers who have a business to sell products. Our children rely on us to look out for their best interest. Let's not let them down.

I'd love for you to let me help you learn to use essential oils safely by accessing our safety files and profiles in our library: UEOSlibrary.com.