Which essential oils are safe for kids?
If you’ve tried to answer that question by researching online lately, you know that there is a ton of conflicting information out there. Some say EVERYTHING is safe, some say virtually NOTHING is safe. What’s a mama to do?
A couple of years ago, I decided to get over my sticker shock and try to answer that question for myself. I purchased a copy of Essential Oil Safety, which was written by world renowned essential oil expert Robert Tisserand and his co-author, Rodney Young. Considered the most evidence-based resource available, Essential Oil Safety took 10+ years to write and contains over 4000 citations.
Safety is my top priority, so whether it’s this bug bite balm, this “breathe easy” vapor rub, or another natural remedy or beauty recipe, I always consult Essential Oil Safety while creating products for my family and yours.
Of course, there are a lot of essential oil uses I haven’t covered (yet!) here, so I thought I’d put together a handy-dandy guide of how and when and when NOT to use essential oils with children that’s based on Tisserand’s work.
You’ll find that the oils mentioned are linked to a brand I love for its quality, commitment to providing safe usage instructions, and pricing – Plant Therapy. However, I also use and love Vibrant Blue Oils, and there are other good brands out there as well.
Essential Oils That Are Considered Safe For Children 2 And Under
The recommended dilution ratio for this age group is .25% (1 drop per 4 teaspoons carrier oil)
Aromatherapists often prefer hydrosols to essential oils when considering topical application for children under two. However, there are many oils that can be diffused safely and applied topically when used appropriately. I personally would not apply essential oils topically to a child under three months old. As essential oil experts Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young explain:
Great caution is necessary for infants. Since neonatal skin does not mature until three months of age, it is more sensitive and more permeable to essential oils. A newborn is also less equipped to deal with any adverse effects than an adult because of lower metabolic capacity, i.e., enzymes present in lower concentrations. (11) These cautions apply even more to premature babies, and here it would be prudent to avoid all use of essential oils.” (Essential Oil Safety, p. 48-49)
Oils that are considered appropriate for diffusing and occasional (diluted) topical application in children two and under
This is not a definitive list. However, it does include many oils that are commonly available. I’ve listed some of the properties of each oil alongside their name, including properties associated with topical application. I think it’s valuable information to have, but I still typically favor hydrosols and diffusion rather than direct application for children under two.
- Basil linalool (Ocimum basilicum) – Relaxing, mood lifting, helpful for soothing sore muscles
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) – Bright, clean, uplifting citrus scent. Bergamot is phototoxic unless you purchase one that is filtered to be bergaptine-free. If not using bergaptine-free, a maximum dilution of 0.4% (about 5 drops in 4 tablespoons carrier oil) is recommended to avoid phototoxicity. (source: Essential Oil Safety)
- Black pepper (Piper nigrum) – Helpful for soothing achy muscles
- Blue tansy (Tanacetum annuum) -Also called Moroccan blue chamomile, this oil has skin soothing properties. It may also promote feelings of being clear-headed when pollen counts are high.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Relaxing. Supports restful sleep. Also very useful in homemade bug spray.
- Cedarwood Atlantica (Cedrus atlantica) – Calming, smells amazing in this Wild Vanilla No. 2 Solid Perfume Recipe. Skin soothing.
- Cedarwood Virginian (Juniperus virginiana) – Lovely woodsy scent, relaxing and beneficial for skin. It’s also one of the recommended oils in my children’s vapor rub.
- Chamomile/German (Matricaria chamomilla L) – Relaxing, helpful for sleep, may support clear thinking when pollen counts are high
- Chamomile/Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) – Relaxing, helpful for sleep, helpful for soothing sore muscles
- Cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum verum) – NOT cinnamon bark. Smells lovely when diffused during the holidays. Can have a warming effect when applied to the skin, but it can cause irritation if too high a concentration is used. The maximum recommended dilution in Essential Oil Safety is 0.6% (about 7 drops in four tablespoons carrier oil)
- Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus) – Great addition to homemade bug spray. Can also be used to make outdoor citronella candles.
- Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) – Helpful for relaxation and restful sleep.
- Copaiba balsam (Copaifera officinalis) – Supports healthy respiratory function and soothes achy muscles.
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) – Soothes upset tummy’s and calms emotions.
- Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) – Supports healthy respiratory function. Thought to have an emotionally grounding effect during challenging experiences.
- Dill weed (Anethum graveolens) – Helpful for digestion. Supports immune function. The maximum recommended dilution for this oil is 1.2% (about 7 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
- Fir needle (Abies sibirica) – Supports healthy respiratory function
- Fragonia (Agonis fragrans) – Smells a lot like eucalyptus and supports healthy respiratory function. Works well in homemade vapor rub.
- Frankincense carteri (Boswellia carteri) – Immune support, helpful for soothing cuts, bruises and other injuries, relaxing, also thought to promote youthful looking skin
- Frankincense frereana (Boswellia frereana) – Immune support, helpful for soothing cuts, bruises and other injuries, relaxing, also thought to promote youthful looking skin
Frankincense serrata (Boswellia serrata) – Calming, thought to promote youthful looking skin
- Geranium bourbon (Pelargonium x asperum) – Very helpful in homemade tick spray
- Ginger root CO2 extract (Zingiber officinalis) – Helpful for digestion and soothing sore muscles
- Grapefruit/Pink (Citrus x paradisi) – Uplifting. Can cause photosensitivity. Maximum recommended topical use is 4% (4 drops per teaspoon of carrier oil)
- Helichrysum italicum (Helichrysum italicum) – Considered one of the top oils for promoting youthful skin, helpful for scars, and supportive of the immune system. Rare and somewhat expensive.
- Helichrysum splendidum (Helichrysum splendidum) – Considered beneficial for skin, but not as much as Helichrysum italicum. Supports healthy respiratory function.
- Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) – Calming, supports healthy respiratory function
- Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)
- Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)- Calming, helpful for soothing bug bites, sunburns, and other skin irritations
- Lemon/expeller-pressed (Citrus x limon) – Mood lifting, supports immune function. Can cause photosensitivity. Maximum recommended topical use is 2% (12 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
- Lime/expeller-pressed (Citrus x aurantifolia) – Uplifting, supports immune function. Can cause photosensitivity. Maximum recommended topical use is 0.7% (about 4 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
- Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) – Mood lifting, supports healthy respiratory function, and can also be used in homemade bug spray
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) – Calming
- Marjoram/Sweet (Origanum majorana) – Relaxing, helpful for sleep.
- Neroli (Citrus x aurantium var.amara) – Often used in skincare products due to it’s ability to promote beautiful skin. Thought to be helpful for easing emotional tension.
- Orange, Blood (Citrus sinensis) – Mood lifting
- Orange, sweet (Citrus sinensis) – Mood lifting
- Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia) – Digestive support, skin soothing
- Patchouli (Pogostemon Cablin) – Thought to promote the appearance of youthful skin. Great addition to men’s personal care products, like homemade deodorant or body wash.
- Petitgrain (Citrus x aurantium) – Thought to be beneficial for skin, especially oily skin.
- Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) – Supports healthy respiratory function and soothes sore muscles
- Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) – Supports healthy respiratory function (similar to eucalyptus)
- Sandalwood/Australian (Santalum Spicatum) – Calming, thought to be helpful for oily skin
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata) – Similar to peppermint, but safer for use with small children. Helpful for digestion. Maximum recommended topical use is 1.7% (about 10 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
- Spruce/Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) – Supports healthy respiratory function.
- Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) – Immune support. Bright, uplifting citrus scent
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) – Immune support, helpful for cuts and scrapes. Also considered helpful for acne-prone skin.
- Turmeric rhizome CO2 extract (Curcuma longa) – Soothes joint discomfort
- Vanilla CO2 extract (Vanilla planfolia) – Smells amazing in this vanilla body spray recipe, which I spritz on my kids hair after they bathe.
- Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) – Relaxing and emotionally grounding. Wonderful in this homemade beard oil recipe.
Essential oils that are considered appropriate for diffusing around children aged two and under
- Jasmine absolute (Jasminum sambac) – Calming
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) – Clean citrus scent. Great addition to homemade bug spray.
- Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) – Relaxing. Helpful when you’re in de-stress mode.
Special Case: Eucalyptus Radiata and Eucalyptus Globulus
There’s been a lot of controversy about whether or not eucalyptus – which contains a constituent called 1.8 cineole – is safe for use with children. Too much can sometimes act negatively on the temperature receptors of children’s lungs and cause slowed breathing, so it’s often avoided.
However, for children under three, Robert Tisserand says that eucalyptus globula and radiata can be diffused (1-2 drops) and applied topically at a concentration of 0.5% (2 drops in 4 teaspoons carrier oil).
“I believe these guidelines are super-safe, if anything a little over-cautious. If you’re wondering about other types of eucalyptus oil, E. citriodora is safe for young kids, though is less likely to be therapeutic, and the safety of E. dives is uncertain,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Essential Oils That Are Considered Safe For Children 2-6
All the oils listed above are considered appropriate for children ages two to six. The difference in this category is that many of the oils designated previously designated as “for diffusing only,” . . . .
- Jasmine absolute (Jasminum sambac) – Max dermal use of 0.7% (about 4 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) – Max dermal use of 0.6% (about 7 drops in four tablespoons carrier oil)
- Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) – Max dermal use of 0.8% (about 5 drops in two tablespoons carrier oil)
. . . can be applied topically – when properly diluted – after age two. Unless otherwise noted, the recommended dilution ratio for this age group is 1%. (1 drop per teaspoon of carrier oil)
Special Cases: Peppermint and Eucalyptus Essential Oils
Another favorite for respiratory support is peppermint (Mentha x piperita) which also contains the constituent (1.8, cineole) that sometimes acts negatively on the temperature receptors of children’s lungs and causes slowed breathing.
According to Robert Tisserand, peppermint can be diffused with care around 3-6 year olds and applied topically at a concentration of 0.5% (2 drops in 4 teaspoons carrier oil). In the comment section of the above post, he clarified that “with care” means about two drops in the diffuser.
For eucalyptus, he recommends a 1% maximum dilution of eucalyptus globula or radiata (4 drops in 4 teaspoons carrier oil) for children ages three to six.
Essential Oils That Are Considered Safe For Children 6 to 10
This category includes every oil in the previous categories, but after age six it is considered appropriate to apply peppermint, eucalyptus radiata, and eucalyptus globulus at a dilution ratio of 1.5%. (1 drop per teaspoon of carrier oil)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is also considered appropriate after age six.