Essential oils are a natural air freshener commonly diffused within the home. There are multiple diffusion methods that are less toxic than aerosol fresheners, leading many to believe that diffusing them around their young would be harmless. But is it safe to diffuse essential oils around babies and children?
Due diligence is critical when deciding whether or not to expose your baby or child to essential oils. Although essential oils are natural, exposure can cause severe side effects for some little ones.
Keep your family safe by understanding when and when not to diffuse essential oils around your babies or children.
Are Essential Oils Generally Safe?
Although they’ve been used for centuries, essential oils have become increasingly popular over the past decade. It’s been estimated that by 2025, annual sales will exceed $5 billion dollars. So many essential oil companies exist and highlight the myriad benefits that result from their use.
Some companies even promote their ingestion, which can lead to illness if not done under the supervision of a medical professional. Although there can be a lot of benefits to using essential oils for fragrance, cleaning, and topical treatments, you should be cautious as well.
Excessive positive promotion of these botanical oils can blind a person to their potential pitfalls.
In a story updated for the New York Times in 2021, doctors reported that of the few research studies that exist on the effects of essential oils on humans, children have rarely been tested.
Since essential oils aren’t regulated by any government agencies, these companies don’t have to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products.
This puts the ball in your court. It helps to be selective about what you introduce to the environments where your babies and children will be spending time.
Are Electric Diffusers Safe to Use Around Infants & Children?
There are multiple forms of electric diffusers. Ultrasonic ones are the most popular and accessible but heat diffusers, and nebulizing diffusers also exist.
Nebulizing diffusers release the most concentrated mist of essential oils because there’s no water involved. The oils aren’t diluted, as with ultrasonic diffusers, and the molecules are broken down as with heat diffusers.
Inhaling these oils in mist form makes it easy for them to travel through the respiratory system, to the brain, into the bloodstream, and even reaches into the cellular level of the body.
Babies are still developing after they emerge from the womb. Their bodily systems are more sensitive than children and adults even months after they’re born.
For this reason, it’s best not to expose infants to diffused oils until they’ve reached 6 months. Some sources suggest 3 months, but Dr. Anna Esparham, a board-certified pediatrician suggested the more conservative 6 month age limit.
With an even more conservative position, doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggest that only children over the age of three should be exposed to aromatherapy.
Once your baby is older than 6 months and grows to become a toddler, then it might be acceptable for them to be exposed to some essential oils for an hour or less per day. Some oils suggested by Dr. Esparham are cedarwood, sweet orange oil, or ginger.
Definitely refrain from diffusing any mint or camphorous oils as they’re known to cause seizures infants and children under 30 months.
Beyond age, pre-existing medical conditions and any prescription medications they might be on can impact which oils your little one can be exposed to and for what length of time. It’s best to discuss this matter with a pediatrician in order to meet the needs of your child within the home.
- Wait until age 3
- Consult with a physician
- Don’t overexpose your toddler to aromatherapy – 20 to 60 minutes per day is sufficient
Are Reed Diffusers Safe Around Babies?
Reed diffusers are an evaporative form of diffusion. Diluted oils are carried up through the small holes of thin bamboo reeds and then evaporated into the air.
This is still a form of aromatherapy and babies should not be exposed to fragrances in this way. They’re too vulnerable. Their bodily systems are too underdeveloped. And there’s insufficient research to support statements about the benefits of aromatherapy for babies.
Are Reed Diffusers Safe Around Children?
Not many toddlers or young children would have the self-control to avoid investigating reed diffusers. Attractive bottles, colorful liquids, and intriguing objects sticking out of the bottles are magnets to the hands of little children.
And since they don’t have the developmental capacity to understand the dangers of handling these sticks or the oil, it’s up to you to keep reed diffusers as far away from them as much as possible.
There have been a number of poison control incidents where children get the oil on their clothes and then end up with irritated nasal passages or lungs. If they accidentally tip the container over or purposely play with the oil, you don’t know what amount of oils is being absorbed into their skin.
“By far the greatest danger to children occurs when highly concentrated oils are accidentally swallowed, spilled onto the skin or splashed into the eyes.”(NYT article)
Even diluted oils can irritate a child’s skin, so it’s best to store reed diffusers in a place that’s out of your child’s reach.
To a child, these oils might look like a syrupy beverage, but essential oils are not recommended for internal use, in spite of what some companies promote.
Reed diffusers are too enticing to be placed within a child’s reach and should only be placed in their environment (out of their reach) after age 3.
Risks of Diffusing Essential Oils Around Babies & Children
Children are more sensitive to the adverse effects of essentials than adults are. Inhaling these oils can cause tremors, nausea, upset stomach, or a host of other symptoms. Skin contact could produce a rash, chemical burn, or irritation.
More specifically, camphor oil can cause seizures in children under five if swallowed. Wintergreen oil can cause labored breathing and high fever. Organ failure and death are worst case scenarios.
The Times article mentioned above further states that some children become sedated by oils like lavender, eucalyptus, or tea tree, and they might find it difficult to breathe post-exposure.
These are really common oils that can be found in most homes, but they can be dangerous for children.
This information is not intended to scare you, but instead, it’s shared to inform you so that you seek proper guidance from medical professionals, not from corporations or uninformed influencers.
Ways to Safely Use Essential Oils Around Your Little Ones
It’s safest to refrain from using essential oils around your babies or children altogether unless a medical professional suggests otherwise. But here are some parameters to consider when diffusing:
Under no circumstances should babies 6 months and under be exposed to diffused essential oils. Some physicians suggest waiting until your baby turns 3 years old.
Properly Store Them
Little ones are curious. They’re learning, and in order to do that, they must explore, touch, and taste. You have to make sure your children don’t have direct access to essential oils, even when diluted. Store them as if they’re prescription medications.
If you realize that your child has a persistent cough, has begun wheezing, developed a rash, or is experiencing any other side effect, then take action. Refrain from diffusing the oil and then contact your child’s pediatrician or the Poison Control center for direction on what to do next.
Seek Professional Guidance
Hinging on the last point, you may want to start by having a conversation with the pediatrician first. Before buying the diffuser or essential oils, ask your baby or child’s physician what’s best for your child specifically.
Reduce Diffusion Time
If you don’t want to refrain from diffusing, then limit their exposure to an hour or less per day.
Never Diffuse Synthetic Oils
The one thing that would be even worse than excessively diffusing essential oils around babies or children would be to diffuse synthetic oils.
Chemicals and compounds found in synthetic fragrance oils would more gravely impact your child or baby’s health.
Essential oils might help some adults cope with anxiety, depression, and other medical conditions, but there’s insufficient research to support the benefits of essential oils for children or infants. You don’t want to self-diagnose remedies for their ailments.
It might be nice to diffuse oils for relaxation, and you might have even been told that diffusing them for your baby or child is the healthy thing to do, but you have to take pause and contact a professional before diffusing essential oils around babies and/or children.
If your baby or child experiences side effects after being exposed to diffused essential oils, take immediate action. Turn off or remove the diffuser, and then contact PoisonControl / (1-800-222-1222) or a pediatrician. The longer it takes for your little one to get treatment, the more harm the oils can cause – internally or externally.