Plants have been used for their healing properties for centuries. There are many anecdotal uses for all the different components of plants that have been well researched. Lately, there seems to be a shift with parents looking for safe, evidence based natural remedies for their children. Natural remedies are endless and include though not limited to herbalism, homeopathy and essential oils. All very safe and effective, this post will focus on essential oil use in the pediatric age group.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly potent, natural chemical compounds extracted from different parts of the plant including the flowers, leaves, roots, fruit, seeds, bark, peel, grass and trees. The method of extraction from the plant is dependent on the part of the plant. The methods used are steam distillation, cold-pressed and solvent extraction. Quality does matter and it is important to make sure any essential oil you purchase is pure and safe. Essential oils differ from “fixed” or cooking oils because they do not have a fatty or oily component. Essential oils as named as such because they carry the distinctive fragrance or essence of the plant or plant part.
Benefits of Essential Oils
The benefits of essential oils are numerous. All essential oils are adaptogens; natural substances that promote balance in the body. Essential oils tend to be more cost effective in comparison to prescription or over the counter medications and remedies. They have antibacterial and antiseptic properties as well as anti-inflammatory and calming properties. They can be an alternative to medication in many cases or used as an adjunct. Essential oils can be helpful with a headache, ear infections and even relaxing and calming for sleep. Though generally no side effects, it is important to start slow.
Choosing Essential Oils
When choosing an essential oil, a reputable company will include on the label the name of the plant, the Latin name, the plant part where the oil was extracted from, how it was extracted and the country of origin. In addition, the essential oil should be the sole ingredient unless you are intentionally purchasing a blend that is in a carrier oil. Carrier oils are different from the essential oils. Common carrier oils to consider are avocado seed oil, grape seed oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil or olive oil. Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements and essential oils therefore there is no governing body that certifies essential oils. Furthermore, there is no grade for their quality. Be weary of terms like “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” or “Therapeutic Grade” as they are actually trademark marketing terms.
How To Use Essential Oils
Essential oils can be applied topically to the skin or inhaled through a diffuser or aroma stick. The oils should be diluted for topical use. Once diluted, test on a small surface area of the skin to check for any reactions.
Using essential oils for inhalation is known as aroma therapy. Make sure the diffuser is specific for essential oils. Essential oils can be used individually or as blends. Ingesting essential oils is not recommended and can be very harmful.
Safest Essential Oils for infants and Kids
I recommend that you consult with your child’s primary care provider or someone knowledgeable about the use of essential oils before diving in. Do not necessarily go by what is discussed on the internet. Some essential oils are not safe for kids below the age of 2. It is also important to use the appropriate dilution for specific age groups. Essential oils should not be used on infants under the age of 3 months. Chamomile (Roman/German), Lavender and sweet orange are some of the common essential oils that are safe to use starting at 3 months. For babies 6 months and older, you can also include bergamot, citronella, lemon, pine and tea tree oils. Capaiba Basalm, frankincense, ginger, oregano, spearmint and vetiver are other essential oils that can be added to the list for those 2 and above. And by 6 years of age eucalyptus and peppermint can be used as well. This list provides a good base to start with, though there are many more options.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Consider the use of essential oils for an antiseptic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and to promote relaxation and relieve stress plus so many other common childhood ailments
- Always dilute essential oils for topical use
- Conduct a patch test before applying
- Keep essential oils out of child’s reach
- Avoid exposing the essential oil to heat and sunlight
- Avoid use of a specific essential oil if there is a known allergy to the plant
- NEVER ingest an essential oil
- Avoid sun exposure with certain essential oils, especially citrus
- Avoid getting essential oils in the eyes, nose, mouth and private parts
The above information is meant to serve as a guide to the use of essential oils. Essential oils can be very healing though they can be irritating, toxic or cause allergy reactions too. Always start slow and connect with a practitioner who is well informed on the use of essential oils. Cindy Wechsler is an Integrative Pediatric Nurse Practitioner She received her Masters of Science in Nursing degree from Yale University and is certified through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board. Cindy has been treating children for over 30 years. She specializes in the natural treatment of common childhood conditions. Her compassion and understanding of the body’s innate ability to heal itself fuels her passion to bridge the gap between traditional and integrative medicine.