How to use essential oils on children: cautions and practical advice
When choosing essential oils for pediatric use, in addition to assessing their purity and quality, it is best to stay within a narrow range, excluding those with a significant percentage of potentially hazardous components such as ketones, phenols, phenolic ethers, aldehydes:
- ketones: many ketones are toxic if taken internally and some can be dangerous (pulegone in Mentha pulegium, tujone in Salvia officinalis, Artemisia vulgaris, Thuja spp.), but not all of them. Among the non-toxic ketones we find the jasmone (jasmine), the fenchone
(fennel) and acetophenone (cistus). Some essential oils with ketones: dill, caraway, hyssop, lavender spica, spearmint, peppermint, rosemary ct camphor and ct verbenone, sage;
- phenols and phenolic ethers: the most active compounds as antimicrobials, in particular antibacterials and antifungals; they are however irritating to the limit of dermocausticity; in massive ingestion they can be hepatotoxic. Some essential oils: tarragon, cinnamon leaf, fennel, star anise, bay leaf, basil, oregano, green anise, savory, clove;
- aldehydes: they have a slightly fruity smell when isolated. Some are toxic, but generally present little danger, although they can be irritating or sensitizing. Examples of essential oils: Cymbopogon spp.- Lemongrass, Citronella, Gingergrass, Palmarosa, Melissa officinale, Eucalyptus citriodora.
Essential oils are very active substances, and as such should be treated with respect and should be well known to be able to use them to the fullest. In the case of the application of essential oils on children these normal rules of caution are even more important, because children (such as the elderly, pregnant and lactating women, subjects with liver problems and other chronic conditions) are subjects who may not be able manage essential oils as a "classic" subject. Specifically, children may have skin that is too thin or not yet fully competent to deal with irritating molecules, their liver may not be able to metabolize some of the molecules of essential oils, their immune system may be at a stage where it could be dangerous to expose it to potentially ambiguous immune stimuli, etc.
Essential oils and children: some important rules
- In children under 2 years old, it is not safe to use essential oils by mouth, nor for topical use;
- in children under 5 years old do not use essential oils containing cineol (rosemary, eucalyptus globulus and smithii, common mirto, melaleuca cajeputi, etc.) or menthol (mind) near the face or in inhalation;
- never use essential oils on children:
a) toxic (essential oils toxic by mouth and on the skin: angelica, acorus calamus, mustard, chenopodium, horseradish, wormwood, wintergreen, tansy, sassafrasso, mint pulegium, juniperus sabina, rue, parsley, juniperus oxycedrus; oils of high percentage of menthol to avoid for children: mint x piperita and mint arvensis, oils of high percentage of camphor and / or thujone: cinnamomum camphora CT camphor / safrole, Hyssopus officinalis, salvia officinalis, Thuja occidentalis, Artemisia absinthium);
b) irritant / moderately irritating (sativo garlic, helichrysum, vulgar oregano and oregano marjoram var. carvacrol, savory, thyme chemotype phenols);
c) sensitizers (aromatic calamus, cassia corteccia, cinnamon, bark, enula, verbena odorosa, balsam from Peru and Tolù, moss, laurel, styrax, benzoin)
d) phototoxic (fig, enula, verbena odora, marigold, citrus reticulata fol. (mandarin petitgrain), bergamot epicarp squeezed, pomelo, cumin, lime, angelica, bitter orange epicarp squeezed, lemon epicarp cold pressed, calendula, grapefruit epicarp squeezed);
For any doubts, also consult the IFRA list.
- to remember for everyone, never use pure essential oils on the skin! The use of pure oils or unsuitable dilutions on the skin is one of the major causes of adverse reactions, and often without reason. The data show, in fact, that in general essential oils are effective at dilutions of less than 10%, and using them at higher percentages does not bring benefits, while increasing the risk.
To use essential oils safely in the water of the bath, or in the footbaths, it is necessary to dilute the essential oils in an appropriate carrier, which allows to solubilize or emulsify the essential oils and which can then in turn disperse in effective in water. There are many options, but the simplest and most direct is to mix the essential oils in a sufficient quantity of liquid detergent, which will then be dispersed in the water.
How to use essential oils on children: it depends on age
Aromatherapy for children is generally practiced in the following ways:
- inhalation (using vaporizers, or soaking handkerchiefs, cotton sticks with oil);
Children from 0 to 2 years old.
From 0 to 12 months (1 year): children like to be massaged and in various parts of the world massage is considered an essential practice for the good development of the child, something that has now been confirmed also at the level of scientific research. The use of essential oils for children's massage should be limited to the treatment of specific conditions, and this also applies to the use of essential oils in the bathroom. It is not a good idea to introduce such powerful substances constantly at the level of the skin of young children. Essential oils such as camphor, spica mint, peppermint, spearmint, eucalyptus, rosemary should never be placed near the nostrils of small children.
In particular, from 6 to 18 months the quantity of essential oils should not exceed 1-2 drops in 10 ml of massage vegetable oil, or 1 drop in 10 ml of milk to be added to the bath. Never, under any circumstances, adding pure essential oils directly into the bath, could cause severe eye and skin irritation. First dilute the essential oils in the milk, then pour the milk into the bath, mix everything well and then put the baby inside. Always make sure that your hands do not retain traces of pure essential oils before touching the baby or washing it. Always avoid the mind, eucalyptus and camphor on or near infants. It is safer to use essential oils like lavender, German and Roman chamomile, rose, geranium, neroli.
Usually, the base oils for the first two years are almond or hazelnut or olive oil, to which you can add jojoba oil to the extent of 10%, or you could also use an emollient oil for babies and, my advice, bio. The essential oils chosen for the massage are usually lavender and geranium or even Roman chamomile: for example in 30 ml of almond or hazelnut oil you can add 1 drop of geranium and 1 of lavender and, if you wish, even 1 drop of Roman chamomile.
Children from 2 to 5 years old: At this age it is possible to use essential oils in the bath or in the massage, using a maximum of 3-4 drops, completely avoiding irritating or insecure essential oils.
Children from 6 years old: At this age children can use more or less the same essential oils used by adults (except for example eucalyptus and mint, not recommended up to 10-12 years), but reducing the dosage to about half of that for adults. At 10 years old it is likely that they can be treated as adults even at the dosage level. For children around the age of 5, balsamic essential oils are already useful for treating conditions such as coughs and colds.
In our aromatherapy department you can find ready-made products for children such as the kids balsamic mix, prepared by prof. Marco Valussi, but we also have, in the phytocosmetics department, products based on ready-made essential oils that can be used effectively for children: fitoAerosol Junior for inhalations (already prepared in aerosol vials), or the Zanzero biogel and spray ZanZero junior to protect our children from annoying mosquitoes; also our products against lice, without insecticides, have been developed by exploiting the properties of essential oils and oils and are excellent for school-age children.
How to use essential oils for children: the quantities of essential oil to use
|Baby weight (Kg)|
Number of drops of OE Drops
of in 50 ml of oil,
cream or massage lotion
|OE per bathroom|
|> 50||until 8||8|
As already mentioned, for all children under the age of 2 it is not recommended to use essential oils. If necessary, do not use more than 5 drops per 50 ml of oil, regardless of weight. As a general rule, for children it is better not to exceed 3-6 drops of essential oils within 24 hours.
How to diluite essential oils on children:
From 0 to 2 years old: Up to 3 months: dilute essential oils to 0.1-0.2% (4% adult dose); from 3 months to 24 months dilute the essential oils at 0.25-0.5% (10% adult dose). For example, a 0.5% dilution means 1 drop in 10 ml of final solution, 5 drops in 50 ml of final solution;
From 2-5 years old: dilute essential oils at 1-2% (40% adult dose), that is 3-6 drops in a final solution of 10 ml, 15-30 in a 50 ml;
From 6 years old, children can use more or less the same essential oils that adults use (for example for peppermint, eucalyptus globulus, camphor, after the age of 12), but reducing the dosage to about half that for adults.
Over 15 years old, adult doses can be used:
Massage: in 25 ml of base oil: dilution 1% (light) use 5 drops, dilution 2% (medium) 10 drops, dilution 4% (strong) 20 drops; in 100 ml of base oil: 1% dilution (light) use 20 drops, 2% dilution (medium) 40 drops, 4% dilution (strong) 80 drops
Creams, ointments and gels: in a 30 ml Base: 0.5% dilution (light) use 3 drops, 2% dilution (medium) 12 drops, 6% dilution (strong) 36 drops; in 60 ml of base oil: dilution 0.5% (light) use 6 drops, dilution 2% (medium) 24 drops, dilution 6% (strong) 72 drops;
In the bathtub: in a little neutral foam bath before entering the tub and stir vigorously immediately: light dose 3 drops, medium dose 8 drops. We recommend not more than 8 drops of essential oils and only 1-2 drops of irritating essential oils (cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, oregano, savory ..).
A curiosity: what smell do children prefer?
In commenting on the literature on olfaction, Engen (1991) writes: "the odor is a non-functional environmental stimulus, a secondary factor, which plays no role in bodily needs [...]" and also "pleasure, or displeasure , is not in the odorous stimulus for itself, but is part of an ecological situation that involves the interaction of the individual and the smell “.
Engen brings his experimental studies on the "formation" of smell to support this position. In fact, he has studied in depth the perception and the olfactory learning in children. His studies show that newborns respond in the same way if faced with familiar odors or unknown smells, with "pleasant" or "unpleasant" smells; they distinguish the intensity of the stimulus, but have not yet structured a hedonic distinction (Engen, 1991). The smaller they are, the more difficult it is to distinguish hedonic discrimination in their responses, while their response on an intensity scale is predictable.
In other words, children learn the hedonic scale typical of the society in which they live, and with age they learn to discriminate and differentiate between pleasant and unpleasant smells, to the point of showing a tendency that goes from fruity to floral fragrances and, later, towards more complex and subtle fragrances (Engen, 1991).
Even the surprising ability of infants to recognize the mother's body odor among many would not respond to an innate recognition mechanism, but to a positive reinforcement in the association between a smell and the presence of the mother.
Visit our aromatherapy and phytocosmetics department or contact us for clarifications or more information.
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If you want more informations:
BoDD – www.botanical-dermatology-database.info/ - Database di reazioni cutanee a
piante e derivati
IFRA – www.ifraorg.org/ - Sito della International Fragrance Association, con informazioni
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