Are Essential Oils Safe for Babies?
By now, we are sure you’ve heard the stories surrounding essential oils and aromatherapy. If you’re living on this planet and have access to the internet, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the headlines about peppermint oil being a miracle cure for nausea, or oregano oil’s powerful antifungal properties. Many of us have at least one friend from high school who tried their hand selling doTERRA oils, and it’s easy to see why. The global essential oil market is expected to reach almost $12 billion USD by 2022. (That’s not a typo, folks. Twelve billion. With a “B.”)
Essential oils are big business, and people who like them, like them a lot.
What are they used for?
It would be a much more efficient approach to list the afflictions that essential oils aren’t said to remedy. Just about every affliction in the book seems to have an essential oil solution if you ask the EO advocates. Doctors and researchers might be more likely to refer you to the success stories of tea tree oil for acne prevention, or citrus oil’s ability to prevent bacterial growth, since those are more scientifically established. But just for the sake of brevity, we can tell you that EOs, as well as some of their individual components, possess antimicrobial, antiviral, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties as well as purported psychogenic effects such as relieving stress, treating depression, and aiding with insomnia.
Do they work?
It’s hard to say. Most studies involving essential oils haven’t been extended to clinical trials yet. People who use them will swear up and down that they’re effective, but the peer- reviewed scientific studies are still on the fence, largely because it’s difficult to study the effectiveness of a lot of essential oils because they don’t contain one specific component. In an individual oil, up to 400 substances can be identified (1).
Are they safe for babies?
Sorry to keep being so ambiguous, but that really depends on how they’re used. So far it would appear that there are very few negative side effects from essential oils when they’re used as directed. However, it’s important to note that, in the US, they do not require approval from the FDA.
One notable exception is the estrogen-like effects noted for lavender and tea tree oils which have been linked to breast enlargement in prepubescent boys when applied over long periods of time (2).
Will lavender oil help my baby sleep?
I mean, maybe? Much like any other aromatherapy remedy, it might help a little, it might help a lot, or it might have no effect whatsoever. It depends on the baby.
What HAS been proven to help your baby sleep more soundly through the night is the development of their independent sleep skills. Babies who can get themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the night sleep for longer stretches at a time and have lower proportions of active sleep and higher proportions of quiet sleep (3).
So by all means, if you’re comfortable with using essential oils safely and you find them effective, then go to town. But if your baby needs a thorough, comprehensive approach to help address the root causes of their sleep issues, then we are ready to help with a step-by-step approach and all the support you need while they master those independent sleep skills.
Better nights are right around the corner! For some tips on using EOs safely, have a look at these guidelines from our friends at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Don’t use undiluted oils directly on the skin. Oils in their full form can be harmful if applied directly to the skin. Safe dilutions for children generally range from 0.5- 2.5% depending on the condition and the age/weight of the child. Oils can be added to carrier oils, distilled water, and lotions.
Don’t add undiluted oils to bath water. Since oil and water don’t mix, the concentrated form could irritate the skin.
Don’t swallow oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated oils that can be toxic if swallowed.
Don’t overuse oils. Be mindful of how often and how much you use on your child. For example, don’t use a lotion that contains lavender, and then apply an essential oil.
Don’t use peppermint oil on children less than 30 months old. Peppermint used on children under 30 months of age can increase the risk for seizures.
Don’t use oils near a heat source. Using essential oils near a heat source can cause a fire.
Don’t use essential oils near the eyes, ears, and nose.
Do buy oils from a reliable source. “Check the source of the essential oils to avoid oils that might contain contaminants,” Gujral says. “Look for credible companies that list the scientific name of the oil, source of the oil, and who also list a contact number to answer any questions you might have.”
Do avoid sunlight for some essential oils. Always check the caution remarks for each essential oil you use.
Do store oils in a cool dry place. Store oils in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight and out of reach of children.
Do apply a patch test first. Before using an oil on your child’s skin, apply on a small area of the skin and wait 24 hours to see if there is an adverse reaction before using again.
Do consult an expert. If you have any questions about how to use an oil or the dilution ratios to use on your child, consult an expert before use.
(1) Ramsey, J Tyler et al. “Essential Oils and Health.” The Yale journal of biology and medicine vol. 93,2 291-305. 29
(2) PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Aromatherapy With Essential Oils (PDQ®): Patient Version. 2021 Oct 26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65820/
(4) Burnham, Melissa M et al. “Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study.” Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines vol. 43,6 (2002): 713-25. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00076