When using essential oils with children, we look at several factors:
- Safe oils for babies and children
- Dilution and dosage
- Risk versus benefits
- Safe Oils for Babies and Children
Babies and young children have very sensitive skin, and essential oils can easily become overwhelming since essential oils are highly concentrated plant volatile organic compounds. Babies and young children also have livers and kidneys that are still maturing, and as these systems are responsible for processing essential oil constituents, certain essential oils may pose more risks than benefits. By adhering to recommended oils safe for babies and children, we reduce risks while enjoying the benefits of essential oils in supporting their health and wellbeing.
In general, age-appropriate essential oils are as follows:
|Age-Appropriate Essential Oils||Recommended Dilution for Massage|
|3 Days to 3 Months||Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
|0.1% – 0.2%|
|3 Months to 6 Years||The above, plus:
Bergamot FCF (Citrus bergamia)** ^
Cedarwood, Atlas (Cedrus atlantica)
Cedarwood, Virginia (Juniperus virginiana)
Frankincense (Boswellia spp.) ^
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)**
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Helichryseum (Helichryseum italicum)
Lemon (Citrus limon)** ^
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
Marjoram, Sweet (Origanum majorana)
Orange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis)^
Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini)**
Rosalina (Melaleuca ericafolia)
Rose (Rosa x centifolia)**
Sandalwood (Santalum album, S. spicatum)**
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)** ^
Thyme ct. linalool (Thymus vulgaris)
|0.25% – 0.5% (3-24 months)
1.0% – 2.0% (2-6 years)
|6 Years to Puberty||All oils considered safe for adults, in lower dilutions||1.5% – 3%|
Adapted from Purchon and Cantele (2014), Butje (2017), and Tisserand and Young (2014).
This list in not exhaustive. Note that fir and pine oils are generally safe for diffusion, however they can cause skin sensitivity if oxidised.
^ Indicates potential for skin sensitivity if oxidised
** indicates individual oil has a maximum dermal limit. Adhering to the recommended dilution should ameliorate risks for skin sensitivity
- Dilution and Dosage
The essential oils in the list above are safe to diffuse from 3 months upwards, in a well-ventilated room, for up to 30 minutes on, then 60 minutes off. Ensure open air-flow, and use up to 6 drops of essential oil for a water-type or ultrasonic diffuser. For nebulising diffusers that emit pure essential oil into the air, the recommended diffusion time is up to 10 minutes, 2-3 times a day, 1-2 drops of essential oil. For best practice, our recommendation is to diffuse without infant/child in the room, and turn off when child is in the room, and to use single oils rather than blends.
For topical use, 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. These cautions apply even more to premature babies, and here it would be prudent to avoid all use of essential oils.
For full-term infants and upwards, dilution rates depend on the total quantity of essential oil(s) applied, the total area of skin to which the oil is applied, the health and integrity of the skin, the age of the recipient, the temperature and moisture content of the skin, the extent to which the skin is covered after application, how soon the skin is washed following application, the frequency of application, and the essential oils used. The list above provides a guideline for minimum and maximum dilutions appropriate to age, when used for a full-body massage. For smaller areas, we can utilise the maximum dilutions, but in general, the recommended approach is “less is more”. It is essential to use carrier oils such as olive oil, wheatgerm oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, and so on, to dilute essential oils.
- Risk versus benefits
Essential oils are potent volatile chemical compounds that can both heal and harm. In general, by adhering to aromatic oils on the recommended safe list, and following guidelines for dilution rates, we can minimise risks and enjoy the benefits. Let us not forget that there are other options aside from essential oils, that are part of aromatherapy. Hydrosols or floral waters are co-distillates from essential oils, and are often a safer option than essential oils, especially for infants and young children, and those with sensitive skin and complex medical conditions. Carrier oils and butters generally healing and nourishing, especially for skin conditions. Both hydrosols and fatty lipids (carrier oils and butters) may be better options compared to aromatic essential oils for children who have scent sensitivity or sensory processing issues.
Another aspect we need to consider is the desire to use strong antimicrobials to prevent illness/sickness, such as oregano, cinnamon, clove, and eucalyptus essential oils. While it is tempting to use potent antimicrobials when faced with controlling the spread of infections, essential oils known as strong antimicrobials also tend to be most risky in terms of adverse skin reactions. Frequent use of strong antimicrobials as a preventative, may have the counter-productive effect of inhibiting normal immune system development. Furthermore, strong antimicrobials tend to be stimulating, whereas opting for gentler immune-supportive oils like bergamot, lavender, lemon, marjoram and tea tree oils can provide sedating and relaxing properties conducive for restful healing states (Bridges, 2017).
One way to benefit from strong antimicrobial oils while minimising risks, would be to use them as part of a home sanitisation routine after an illness has run its course. Use diluted in surface cleansing sprays or diffuse 30-60 minutes behind closed doors, away from family members, then air out. There is a time and place to use potent antimicrobial essential oils – if you are needing to frequently reach for potent essential oils, chances are the conditions would be more complex and require trained expertise and a holistic approach. For best practice, consult a qualified aromatherapist who can undertake a thorough health assessment.
- Essential oils should not be ingested or used internally unless under the care of a qualified aromatic medicine practitioner
- Essential oils need to be kept out of reach for children
- Essential oils are recommended to be stored with lids tightly sealed in cool, dark places, to minimise oxidisation
- Essential oils need to be diluted in a carrier oil. Water and oil do not mix, so is not an appropriate diluent.
- Always consult a qualified aromatherapist if your child has any medical conditions, as they can liaise with your medical professionals to provide holistic care.
- Whenever in doubt, consult a qualified aromatherapist
Bridges, L., 2017, “Risk vs. benefit: using potent antimicrobial essential oils with children”, Tisserand Institute, accessed 28/4/2018,
Butje, A., 2017, “The Heart of Aromatherapy”, Hay House Inc., California.
Purchon, N. & Cantele, L., 2014, “The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness”, Robert Rose Inc., Ontario.
Tisserand, R. & Young, R., 2014, “Essential Oil Safety”, 2nd edn., Churchill-Livingstone.