Trust your instinct - a beginner’s guide to using aromatherapy with children:
Essential oils are pure aromatic plant essences - they are distilled from flowers, fruit, leaves, resins, roots, seeds, and wood. They are used for their healing properties the world over - in , for example, they are only available through licensed, qualified parishioners. In the United States, we have free access to essential oils - but with this comes with some important cautions: Only some of the essential oils available are suitable for children; others are not suitable for children and some are even dangerous to children (children with epilepsy should not come in contact with stimulating essential oils).
When used correctly however, essential oils can be of great benefit, and will not conflict with your child’s medically prescribed drugs. Always research the oil of choice thoroughly before using with your infant or child - ask advice from a qualified practitioner, or see the references at the end of this article.
That said, essential oils can be a wonderful way of supporting your child's health, happiness and well-being. Essential oils can be very therapeutic and nurturing to both your child and you, the caregiver. Essential oils are used externally (on the outside of the body) in your child’s bath, body lotions, oils, creams, gels, compresses, foot baths, or in an oil warmer. The effects of aromatherapy will generally fall into one of three main categories:
- Assisting in healing from minor illnesses and accidents,
- Supporting your child’s overall sense of well-being, and
- Assisting your child in getting quality rest.
When using essential oils with your child, it is imperative that you find a reputable supplier of therapeutic-grade essential oils, using organic or wildcrafted varieties when possible. Synthetic copies of oils commonly used in perfumery are not appropriate, and may even be harmful to your child’s health. To maintain efficacy, essential oils should be kept in dark amber or cobalt glass containers, in a dark and cool location, away from the child’s access. Wooden storage boxes from craft or 'Pier One' type stores can make a nice container for the bottles.
Methods of Using Essential Oils
There are two methods of using essential oils with your child:
- Inhalation - through a diffuser, nebulizer, or adding to a humidifier reservoir, and
- Topical Application - diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil and applying topically. Adding essential oils to a bath combines the two methods, though we will cover it under topical application.
For topical application, essential oils are diluted in varying strengths depending on the use and age of your child. The concentration can vary from one drop of essential oil per tablespoon of carrier oil, to a couple of drops per teaspoon of carrier added to a drawn bath, to an equal ratio of carrier and essential oil applied directly to your child’s feet (as in the case of gentle Lavender). In other words, there is a huge variation in dilution levels depending on the circumstances. Mamas, do your research and then trust your instinct. Only you and your child baby know exactly what is right for your situation.
Age of Child and amount of Essential Oil per One Ounce Carrier Oil for Topical/Massage Application
General dilution rate guidelines of essential oils in one ounce of carrier oil:
- New-born (Consult primary care physician before use): 1-3 drops essential oil / ounce
- 2-6 months: 1-3 drops essential oil / ounce
- 6-12 months: 1-4 drops essential oil / ounce
- 1-4 years (unless very small): 5-8 drops essential oil / ounce
- 6-7 years: 5-10 drops essential oil / ounce
- 9-12 years: 5-12 drops essential oil / ounce
- 12 years to young adult: 10-15 drops essential oil / ounce
DO NOT USE AN ESSENTIAL OIL NEAT (undiluted) on children’s skin, unless indicated to do so for a specific condition. If your child has very sensitive skin, it is important to test a small area before using a new single oil or blend. Keep essential oils away from the eyes. When using citrus oils - orange, bergamot, lemon, tangerine, mandarin, and lime - do not use where the skin will be exposed to sunlight for the next 12 hours. These oils are considered 'phototoxic', and can react from the sun's rays. They may be used in a bath, however, where they will be washed off the skin when the bath is done.
Essential oils are not to be taken orally (by mouth). When your child is taking medications, reduce the amount of essential oil by half the amount recommended for their age group.
Carrier Oils for Children
Sweet Almond oil is generally regarded as the safest and best overall carrier oil for use with babies and children. Apricot kernel oil is also considered extremely safe with children over 6. Jojoba oil can be added at about 10% concentration for any blend - it has a soothing effect on the skin and is good for hair.
Topical Application - Nurturing Touch Massage Recipes
There is nothing better for any child than the loving, nurturing touch of a parent. A gentle hug, a smile, a kiss on the cheek all reassure the child and help the parent and child to bond. These everyday forms of connection are instinctual and children thrive from it.
Research shows that massage can help children’s growth both physically and emotionally. In hospitals, studies done with premature babies show that touch is an essential aspect of the children’s ability to thrive.
Using aromatherapeutic nurturing touch massage can be therapeutic to both the child and the parent. Using a light, conscientious tough you can massage your child’s feet, arms, hands, back, abdomen, and even legs. The massage should always be done with loving intention and the work is done in the direction that the blood flows-from ankles to leg; from wrist to shoulder, etc.
Here are a few suggested blends for this wonderful method - each is in one (1) ounce of Sweet Almond oil:
- Restful Sleep - 4 drops lavender, 2 drops Roman Chamomile
- Happy Child - 3 drops Rose, 1 drop Neroli
- Calm and Relaxed - 3 drops Petitgrain, 3 drops Neroli
- Emotional Nurturing - 1 drop Rose, 1 drop Vanilla, 2 drops Lavender
For a Baby oil blend, to be used as a moisturizer OR massage oil (note: the frequent washing of a baby's skin actually makes it difficult for them to retain vitamin C; application of a quality skin oil will help them keep adequate supplies of this important nutrient).
- 1 ounce of organic sweet almond oil or hazelnut oil
- 1 drop of pure Lavender essential oil
- 1 drop of Vanilla essential oil
- 1 ounce of organic sweet almond oil
- 2 drops of pure Lavender essential oil
- 1 drop of pure Chamomile (German) essential oil
The above blends can also be added to the bath. One teaspoon with the following amount of essential oils added can be added AFTER the bath is filled, per the age of the child: 3-5 years, 2 drops; 6-8 years, 3 drops; 8-11 years, 5 drops. Perhaps the easiest way to do this would be to make a full strength blend (without carrier oil) of your choice, then dilute as needed for the application.
Inhalation of Essential Oils
For inhalation, one can apply one or two drops to a handkerchief and inhale, or add oils to a water misting bottle or humidifier. Calming essential oils that may be used are Lavender (recommended for sleep - one to four drops can be placed under the pillow), Mandarin, Roman Chamomile, Ho Wood (an ecologically friendly replacement for Rosewood), Tangerine, Petitgrain, Vanilla, and Neroli. Use these oils singly, create your own blend, or use one of the body oil blends above without the carrier oil. A few drops per quart of water in a mister sprayed throughout a room or added humidifier reservoir will do.
For an anti-anxiety blend: Try 5 drops bergamot, 1 drop lavender and 3 drops geranium - dilute to 10 drops per Ω pint of water for a room spray or use in a humidifier, or dilute to the appropriate level for your child's age if using topically. For alertness, try lemon, bergamot, grapefruit or pine, either singly or in a blend that pleases your senses (usually the best way to blend is to trust your nose!)
Essential oils can also be used in a candle lamp or warmer - with the oil gently evaporated from the surface of a small bowl of water by the heat of a candle. An electric nebulizing diffuser is generally not recommended for use with children, as the concentration of oils in the air can be too high.
Last but not least, essential oils are wonderful antiseptics.
Cuts and scrapes are simply a way of life for the little ones! A great blend for minor wounds is a 1:1 mix of Lavender and Tea Tree oil. The lavender is soothing, anti-inflammatory, and has regenerative 'ketones', while the tea tree is a strong antiseptic used for many generations by native Australians. Use this blend in the water used for cleaning wounds, and apply a few drops to the gauze of a bandage - do not apply directly to the skin as it will be unnecessarily irritating. On the bandage, however, it will be soothing and accelerate the healing process.
So this is a very brief overview of using essential oils with children. There are many, many diverse applications for essential oils for almost every conceivable minor ailment seen in childhood. The key is knowledge - finding a good practitioner, or reputable resource for your needs. For further reading, books by Valerie Ann Woorwood are excellent: "Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child" and "The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy"; for safety data, see "Essential Oil Safety" by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs. The essential oils mentioned within this article are recognized as safe for most individuals - if you or your child are recognized as having a specific illness, and/or are under a doctor's regular care, please consult an appropriate practitioner before proceeding.
That said, aromatherapy can be a very fun and rewarding endeavour for both you and your child. Essential oils have benefited the lives of many the world over, and have a little bit of plant magic available to everyone.