Recently an article was published in Parents magazine that basically laid out every parent’s horror story about using essential oils on their children. The article concludes that when it comes to using essential oils “You don’t want to experiment on your children.” Wow. That is groundbreaking information. You mean that you might want to explore safety information before exposing your child to a foreign substance? No way. But how safe are essential oils really?
According to this article, they are exceedingly dangerous, but I disagree on many fronts.
Essential oils have been used for millenia on children and adults alike. No one is claiming that essential oils are without risk. This is why it is so important to know safety parameters surrounding the use of essential oils before using them. However, essential oils are not nearly as dangerous as this extremely one-sided article would have you believe.
Here is a breakdown of what is misleading about this article. There is also a reasonable discussion of how safe essential oils really are in children.
Basil Burned my Child’s Foot and there was No Remedy Online!
In the opening lines of the article, the journalist conveys a story of a child with an ear infection and the croup. The mom read online that rubbing basil essential oil on the foot could help. But following application, the child was screaming in pain and the skin was red with a rash.
First and foremost, essential oils are not medications. They should not be treated as such. A child with a double ear infection may need care of a physician, antibiotics, or perhaps even draining of the eustachian tube. The premise of using essential oils for medicinal purposes does not reflect how the essential oils are labeled.
That said, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that we were looking for scientific evidence that some essential oil can kill bacteria related to otitis media or externa. In just a couple of clicks, you can find easy-to-access, meaningful scientific studies that detail essential oil usage in the treatment of ear infection.
For example, tea tree essential oil at a dilution of 2% can kill more than 71 organisms related to otitis externa in vitro. Multiple studies indicate that essential oils have a role in killing bacteria related to ear infections, and that even in very low concentrations may still have impact.
Bottom line, you can get excellent information on the topic. It is simply that medical information needs to come from reliable sources. “I realized that all these oil protocols had no scientific backing at all.” Not true. You simply trusted random advice from social media, instead of taking a moment to do the research on your own.
Know the Oils That Can Irritate the Skin
Secondly, basil irritates the skin. It is highly concentrated in 1,8-cineole, a known skin irritant. 1,8-cineole has lead to all kinds of safety warnings in young children. Loads of easy-to-find blogs warn against everything from seizures to respiratory distress. Again, this information is exceedingly easy to find. Find it before blindly following the advice of a random stranger in a Facebook group or Pinterest Pin.
Since this mother chose a known hot oil, she ignored the number 1 safety precaution when using essential oils on children. Dilute the essential oil. A quick Google search of “Top Safety Considerations Essential Oils” reveals more than 33 million hits. At least the top five mention dilution as a critical safety point for using essential oils. There was no patch testing mentioned. This is another key safety consideration to use consistently around children.
Moms, I Know You’re Doing Your Best
This critique is in no way to mom shame. She certainly was doing the best she could. However, if you’re going to place a foreign substance on your child’s skin, it behooves you to ask some questions in advance.
I will, however, uninformed doula shame. The woman quoted in the story is a doula. As an advocate for women who are pregnant and nursing, it is critical that doulas and other people within the health care system know basic safety tenants before using or recommending essential oils. Would this doula recommend basil essential oil for a client’s child without research? Then why would she with her own child?
My Kid was Screaming After a Bath in Essential Oils!
Dilution is warranted when adding essential oils to a bath. A mom reports that her child was screaming after adding tea tree oil to a bath. Yes, dilution increases the safety of using essential oils in a bath and a simple Google search can help you understand how clutch dilution is when using essential oils with children.
I Rubbed Essential Oil on My Nursing Breasts, and then Fed my Child.
Okay, my big question here: Have you put that essential oil on your face before exposing the 3-day-old child’s face, as reported in the story? Many essential oils are in appropriate to be placed on delicate skin such as the face, underarms, genitalia, or mucous membranes.
Placing essential oils on sensitive skin such as lactating breasts is a known risk of using essential oils. It does not take much digging to find this information online.
As stands to reason, applying essential oils to broken or irritated skin is also risky. Since breastfeeding breasts may be inflamed, additional caution is warranted.
Essential Oils are Endocrine Disruptors.
Poison Control Center Reports are Rapidly Accelerating.
“Poison-center calls about essential-oil exposures have more than doubled in recent years, soaring from 10,729 in 2012 to 23,390 in 2017.”
Even with the uptick in reporting, the roughly 24,000 reports do not even crack the top fifteen list of reported poisonings for children. According to the 2017 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, children are more likely to be harmed by cosmetics, household cleaners, analgesics, vitamins, topical medicines, and pesticides than by essential oils.
In fact, the mean increase in serious exposures to essential oils has increased only by 11 per year. This pales in comparison to an increase of almost 1800 exposures for both sedative hypnotics and analgesics.
“Children should never ingest essential oils.”
If this is true, then we are bound to oppose the Food and Drug Administration’s stance that dozens of essential oils are Generally Recognized as Safe for Human Consumption. You also must ignore the many food products, including candies and sodas, that contain essential oils. Humans have literally been consuming essential oils as a normal part of the diet since the dawn of time.
Certainly, ingesting a large amount is unwise. But very small amounts, especially when diluted in food and beverages is generally considered safe.
There is exceptional information about the safe use of essential oils in children and infants. It is why I have this website. This is why I wrote this book. It is why I am hosting a Book Club this fall.
Stop the fear mongering. Do your research, and make the best decision for you and your family.
Unsure where to start? Start here.