If you use or have researched essential oils at all in the last couple of years, you've noticed that everyone is talking about essential oils.
By and large, this is wonderful, as essential oils are the pharmaceutical-grade medicines of the natural world and when distilled well, are powerfully potent remedies. They're often touted for their strong antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, which again, by and large is true.
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However, you've likely also noticed that advice about essential oils is quite freely dispensed – some from highly knowledgeable sources and some from, well… we'll just say… vocal… sources.
So, as I myself have collected information with which to make decisions on how to use essential oils in our OWN home, I have stuffed a notebook full of print-outs and notes and torn scraps of paper. After five years, I figured it's time to compile the information into one concise reference. The result is the printable infographic below. 🙂
We've now got a HUGE resource outlining Safe Essential Oils for Babies & Children.
It includes a searchable database, an at-a-glance list of which oils are safe at which age, where to find ethical sources, and what each oil is good for (even for adults).
The biggest area of concern for me with essential oils is that my family knows how to use them safely. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can have a dramatic effect on the body, mind, and spirit. And just because essential oils are natural doesn't mean they're inherently safe. Essential oils should be used carefully, with proper education, and in their proper amounts. It is SO easy to overdose essential oils!
In our family, we most often use them topically for sore muscles and the like, including Mommypotamus' fantastic chest rub, but as you've likely noticed in my recipes through the last few years, I also include them in personal care and cleaning recipes, including laundry detergent, burn cream, deodorant, shampoo, and even occasionally in squeezable homemade children's toothpaste and crayons.
Also, I highly recommend the 100% free e-course from the Aromahead Institute – it's a FANTASTIC starting point for getting to know essential oils.
And of course, I recommend the primary book I've consulted over the years and which I used to prepare this printable guide, Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.
So, here are the highlights of a few important things to know about essential oils before using them. Of course, check with a certified aromatherapist, herbalist, or other medical professional first. Due your own due diligence and take control of your family's health.
In our role as parents and deciding what kinds of medicines to administer, WE mindfully take the Hippocratic Oath as well: First, do no harm. In this case, that means if you're not entirely sure that a certain essential oil won't harm the recipient, exercise caution until you're sure.[Tweet “We as parents must also take the Hippocratic Oath for our children's health: First, do no harm.”]
Wondering what the safety chart includes? Here's a quick rundown:
- Standard dilution chart for essential oils
- Best practices for essential oils
- Ways to use essential oils
- Essential oils that are NOT safe for children under 2
- Essential oils that are NOT safe for children under 6
- Common essential oils that are SAFE for children
- Essential oils that are safe during pregnancy & labor
- Essential oils that are safe during breastfeeding
- Essential oils to AVOID during pregnancy, labor & breastfeeding
- Extra caution notes for pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Essential oils that are NOT safe for pets
- Phototoxic essential oils
- Essential oils to avoid completely
Remember: Essential Oils are Highly Concentrated
Did you know that it takes:
- 150 pounds of lavender flowers to make one pound of lavender essential oil?
- 256 pounds of peppermint leaves to make one pound of peppermint essential oil?
- About 50 roses to create just one drop of rose otto essential oil?
Those are extreme concentrates!
Here's another example: According to Lotus Garden Botanicals, one supplier of ethically-sourced, high-quality essential oils, here's how jasmine absolute is produced:
“Jasmine (Jasmine grandiflorum) absolute is extracted from un-bruised flower blossoms that are collected during the night when flowering occurs. The beautiful blossoms are far too delicate to process with steam distillation whereby the complete aroma of the flower is lost. To put this more into perspective, the same applies to grandiflorum as to its cousin sambac with approximately 8,000 carefully hand-picked blossoms being required to produce 1 gram (about 1 mL) of Jasmine grandiflorum absolute.”
Just think…. all those botanical compounds are distilled and concentrated into each drop of essential oil – and now we're rubbing and eating and inhaling those drops! It's important to keep in mind just how concentrated essential oils can be.
Essential Oils Should Be Properly Diluted
Because essential oils are so very concentrated, essentials oils should very rarely be used “neat” (undiluted). Doing so can cause irritation or allergic reaction.
Instead, add them to lotion or massage oil or other carrier oil before rubbing them on your skin. There's a dilution chart listed in the infographic above, as well as the proper dilution ratios for babies, children, pregnant women, etc.
As a general rule for adults, essential oils should be diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil in a 2-3% solution. For children above six, a 1% dilution is sufficient. For one teaspoon of carrier oil, that's 2-3 drops for adults and 1 drop for children.
One safe way to test your body's reaction to any essential oil is to rub a small amount, diluted, on the inner part of your arm near the elbow and observe for any reaction.
Using Essential Oils on Babies and Children
This is one area of essential oil use that is most widely misused! In fact, the misconceptions and misinformation swirling around how to use essential oils on babies and children is what first
drove me inspired me to create our Essential Oil Safety Cards – I wanted parents to have comprehensive, easy-to-read information ready at hand for when they were using essential oils on their kids!
I also moved all the information that was once here about how to use essential oils safely with babies and children and moved it (and VASTLY expanded it) into its own resource. It includes a searchable database, an at-a-glance list of which oils are safe at which age, where to find ethical sources, and what each oil is good for (even for adults).
Essential Oils During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Extreme care should be used when taking essential oils while pregnant or nursing.
Oils should be completely avoided during the first trimester, both because there is evidence that essential oils can cross the placenta and because a number of essential oils can cause either contractions or blood clotting, which during early pregnancy would likely cause miscarriage. Also, many women have a highly-sensitized sense of smell during the first trimester and many essential oils would be overwhelming.
The one exception to this would be if you discover a certain scent that helps alleviate morning sickness. Lemon, peppermint, lavendar, and mandarin can be diffused or wafted for very brief intervals of time for nausea relief. Ask your doctor if you have any conditions that would mandate avoiding these oils completely during this time.
During the second and third trimesters, essential oils may be used sparingly and at half-dilution.
During labor, essential oils may be used for aromatherapy to help manage pain and encourage greater focus, as well as oils like clary sage may be used to induce labor if applied by a midwife or attending doctor. Avoid adding essential oils to a birthing tub, however, as the oils will float on the top, which can irritate the baby's skin, burn the baby's eyes, or inhibit proper respiration as he or she emerges from the water.
During breastfeeding, a number of oils should be used sparingly or avoided, but in general, most properly diluted oils are acceptable. Peppermint essential oil should be avoided because there is strong evidence that it can inhibit milk production.
Is it safe to ingest essential oils?
This is a highly contentious issue, so I'll just give one quick quip.
Remember how I said at the beginning of this article that essential oils are pharmaceutical-grade medicines? And that they're known for being antibacterial, antiviral, and so on?
Well, think of this: in conventional medicine, what do we take when we need something antibacterial or antiviral? We take an antibiotic or a viral remedy! And what do antibiotics do? They wipe out the infesting bacteria, along with the good bacteria, in order to stop the ill invasion on our bodies. That's why you usually need to take a large dose of probiotics during and after a round of antibiotics in order to repopulate your gut with all those billions of healthy, happy bacteria.
The same is true for essential oils. They are not discriminatory when it comes to bacteria, either, so they need to be used with as much caution and intentionality as a conventional antibiotic.
And this is important:
The human gut contains a diverse eco-system made up of trillions of bacteria, comprising over 400 species, all of which are essential to our overall well-being. And while we're constantly learning more about the roles all these various bacteria play, we do know that the health of our gut drastically affects our overall health AND that imbalances in the gut exhibit body-wide, often as problems in the skin, nervous system, and even as behavorial issues.
By no means am I saying that essential oils shouldn't be taken internally! I'm merely saying that they should not be taken lightly or on a whim. When taken under the care of a trained professional, these compounds can powerfully assist healing if used properly, but can inflict organ damage, exacerbate allergic reactions, and alter hormones – in addition to effecting critical long-term gut health – if misused.
Essential oils are a huge gift for those of us who want to treat and heal our families with natural, effective, safe remedies. However, with great gifts come great responsibility, in this case to properly steward the potent natural remedies we have at hand.
Here's to your long-term health and the health of your family!