Aromatherapy for children has been used historically to heal, soothe and lighten mood. Imagine having the ability to help reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, calm a fretful, teething child or soothe cuts by simply using a few of nature’s essential oils correctly. Aromatherapy provides a highly effective and pleasurable way of treating a range of conditions, both physical and emotional.
“Those herbs which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but, being
trodden upon and crushed, are three; that is, burnet, wild thyme and watermints. Therefore,
you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.”
Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)
“Aromatherapy conveys the concept of healing with aromatic substances.
Just as essential oil constituents perform multiple functions in plants and insects,
so they also do in mammals. Our bodies are biologically programmed to react to essential
oil constituents, which interact with a variety of receptor sites, neurochemicals and
enzymes, giving them a potential for therapeutic activity.”
Robert Tisserand, Essential Oil Safety
“Aromatherapy is more thoroughly defined as the skilled and controlled use of essential oils
for physical and emotional health and well-being. Science is now confirming what has been
known for centuries: essential oils have healing properties on both physical and emotional
levels. Absorbed through the skin and via the olfactory-brain connection through inhalation,
they have been considered among the most therapeutic and rejuvenating of all
botanical extracts throughout the ages.”
Valerie Gennari Cooksley, Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate and Heal
Below are just a few examples of how essential oils and aromatherapy are used with children, both historically and presently:
- Chamomile, melissa and fennel used as massage oil, or taken as herb tea, soothe a variety of tummy-aches and the concerns that can lead to stomachaches, such as frayed nerves, anxiety and over excitability.
- Colic, gas pains, nausea and food allergies are also good candidates for these remedies. Research from Israel found that a chamomile, fennel and melissa herb tea with licorice helps stop crying and fussing in infants with colic.
- Researchers think that essential oils relieve muscle spasms caused when babies swallow air as they eat. Nineteenth-century parents gave colicky babies a “gripe water” of dill, fennel or anise, and East Indian and Lebanese mothers still use dill to ease colic.
- A European carminative water contains fennel, chamomile, caraway, coriander and bitter orange peel, all known to kill bacteria and relieve flatulence.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy may be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to help balance, harmonize and promote the health and wellness of body, mind and spirit. As a holistic practice, Aromatherapy can be both a preventative approach as well as an active method to employ during acute and chronic stages of illness or disease.
The term “aromatherapie” was first coined by Rene Maurice Gattefosse in 1928. He utilized the word to describe the therapeutic use of aromatic substances (essential oils). A French surgeon, Jean Valnet, pioneered the medicinal uses of essential oils, which he used as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II. Since the beginning of Aromatherapy, the practice has encompassed human pathology and the treatment of different conditions (emotional and physical) with therapeutic amounts of essential oils from plants. As Aromatherapy developed into a practice it adopted more of a holistic approach which encompasses the health and wellness of the body, the mind and the spirit.
NOTE: Fragrance oils are mostly synthetic. They do not have the same properties or effects as essential oils. However, there are some companies that have developed plant-based fragrance oils.
Aromatherapy For Children: Dilution Importance
Have you ever notice how most children welcome the opportunity to “smell”? All you have to say is “Come smell this” and they are by your side in an instant. However, care must be taken in using essential oils with children. Aromatherapy for children is safe but one should be knowledgeable not only in which essential oil(s) to use, but also in safe dosage amounts. Because essential oils are highly concentrated they can irritate the skin when used in undiluted form. Therefore, they are normally diluted with a carrier oil for topical application, such as cold-pressed jojoba oil, cold-pressed olive oil, or unrefined coconut oil. Generally, it is suggested to use one-third to one-half the adult dose, or a 1-percent dilution (five or six drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil). Application on a small area of skin is always a good idea when introducing a new oil.
Aromatherapy for children can be used in the following ways:
- Dilute the essential oil(s) in organic carrier oil and rub on the skin (a warm rice pack – heat can help the oil soak in).
- Dilute the essential oil(s) in hot water and allow the child to inhale the scent. Always research whether a particular essential oil is safe to be used with children (see below).
- Use in a high-quality room diffuser.
*NOTE – Always seek advice from a knowledgeable and certified aromatherapist before using any type of essential oil internally with children. It is highly important to keep essential oils out of the reach of children. Close each bottle tightly after each use. Double check the bottles before putting away. The bottom of the feet is the safest and most effective place to test and use essential oils on infants and children.
Aromatherapy for Children – Safe Essential Oils
Below are some of the essential oils that are considered safe to use around children 2 years or older. For younger children, hydrosols and/or herbs are suggested. Always check with your healthcare provider or a certified and trained aromatherapist.
- Black Pepper
- Blue Tansy
- Clary Sage
- German Chamomile
- Juniper Berry
- Pines -except Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), or Huon Pine (Dacrydium franklinii)
- Roman Chamomile
- Siberian Fir Needle
- Sweet Marjoram
- Sweet Orange
- Tea Tree
List of essential oils with warnings against using on or around children according to Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand.
- Anise/Aniseed Pimpinella anisum – avoid using (all routes) on children under 5
- Anise (Star) Illicium verum – avoid using (all routes) on children under 5
- Basil (lemon) Ocimum x citriodorum – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Benzoin Styrax benzoin, Styrax paralleloneurus and Styrax tonkinensis – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Birch (sweet) Betula lenta – avoid using (all routes) on children
- Black Seed Nigella sativa – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Cajuput Melaleuca cajuputi, Melaleuca leucadendron – avoid using on children under 6
- *Cardamon Elettaria cardamomum – avoid using on children under 6
- Cassia Cinnamomum cassia, Cinnamomum aromaticum – avoid using on children under 2
- Chaste Tree Vitex agnus castus – avoid using (all routes) on prepubertal children
- Clove Bud, Clove Leaf, Clove Stem Syzygium aromaticum, Eugenia caryophyllata, Eugenia aromatica – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Cornmint Mentha arvensis, Mentha canadensis – avoid using (all routes) on children under 6
- *Eucalyptus Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus maidenii, Eucalyptus plenissima, Eucalyptus kochii, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus Autraliana, Eucalyptus phellandra, Eucalyptus smithii – avoid using on children under 10
- Fennel (bitter), Fennel (sweet) Foeniculum vulgare – avoid using (all routes) on children under 5
- *Galangal (lesser) Alpinia officinarum, Languas officinarum – avoid using on children under 6
- Garlic Allium sativum – avoid using on children under 2
- Ginger Lily Hedychium coronarium – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Ho Leaf/Ravintsara Cinnamomum camphora (cineole chemotype) – avoid using on children under 6
- Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis (pinocamphone chemptype)- avoid using (all routes) on children under 2
- *Laurel Leaf/Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis– avoid topical use on children under 6
- Lemon Leaf/Lemon Petitgrain Citrus x limon, Citrus limonum – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Lemongrass Cymbopogon flexuosus, Andropogon flexuosus, Cymbopogon citratus, Andropogon citratus – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Marjoram (Spanish) Thymus mastichina – avoid using on children under 6
- Massoia Cryptocarya massoy, Cryptocaria massoia, Massoia aromatica – avoid using on children under 2
- May Chang Litsea cubeba, Litsea citrata, Laura cubeba – avoid using on children under 2
- Melissa/Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Myrtle (red) Myrtus communis – avoid using on children under 6
- Myrtle (aniseed) Backhousia anisata – avoid using (all routes) on children under 5
- Myrtle (honey) Melaleuca teretifolia – avoid using on children under 2
- Myrtle (lemon)/Sweet Verbena Backhousia citriodora – avoid dermal use on children under 2
- *Niaouli (cineole chemotype) Melaleuca quinquinervia – avoid using on children under 6
- Oakmoss Evernia prunastri – avoid dermal use on children under 2
- Opopanax Commiphora guidottii – avoid dermal use on children under 2
- Oregano Origanum onites, Origanum smyrnaeum, Origanum vulgare, Origanum compactum, Origanum hirtum, Thymbra capitata, Thymus capitatus, Coridothymus capitatus, Satureeja capitata – avoid dermal use on children under 2
- Peppermint Mentha x Piperita – avoid using (all routes) on children under 6
- Peru Balsam Myroxylon balsamum, Myroxylon pereiraw, Myroxylon peruiferum, Myrospermum pereirae, Toluifera pereirae – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Rambiazana Helichrysum gymnocephalum – avoid using on children under 6
- *Rosemary (1,8-cineole chemotype) Rosmarinus officinalis – avoid using on children under 6
- Saffron Crocus sativus – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Sage (Greek), Salvia fruiticosa, Salvia triloba Sage (White) – avoid using on children under 6
- Sage (White) Salvia apiana – avoid using on children under 6
- Sage (Wild Mountain) Hemizygia petiolata – avoid topical use on children under 2
- *Sanna Hedychium spicatum – avoid using on children under 6
- *Saro Cinnamosma fragrans – avoid using on children under 6
- Savory Satureia hortensis, Satureia montana – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Styrax Liquidambar orientalis, Liquidambar styraciflua – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Tea Leaf/Black Tea Camellia sinensis, Thea sinensis – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Tea Tree (lemon-scented) Leptospermum petersonii, Leptospermum citratum, Leptospermum liversidgei,– avoid topical use on children under 2
- Treemoss Pseudevernia furfuracea – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Tuberose Polianthes tuberosa – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Turpentine Pinus ayacahuite, Pinus caribaea, Pinus contorta, Pinus elliottii, Pinus halepensis, Pinus insularis, Pinus kesiya, Pinus merkusii, Pinus palustris, Pinus pinaster, Pinus radiata, Pinus roxburghii, Pinus tabulaeformis, Pinus teocote, Pinus yunnanensis– avoid topical use on children under 2
- Verbena (Lemon) Aloysia triphylla, Aloysia citriodora, Lippa citriodora, Lippa triphylla – avoid topical use on children under 2
- Wintergreen Gaultheria fragrantissima, Gaultheria procumbens – avoid due to methyl salicylate content
- Ylang-Ylang Cananga odorata – avoid topical use on children under 2
* indicates essential oils that are high in 1,8-cineole and can potentially cause respiration to slow in children.
General dilution rate guidelines of essential oils in one ounce of carrier oil (recommend organic Jojoba Oil). According to Robert Tisserand: Essential oil dilution is important for two safety reasons. One, to avoid skin reactions: irritation, sensitization and phototoxicity. Two, to avoid systemic toxicity, such as fetotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, carcinogenicity and neurotoxicity. Adverse skin reactions are obvious when they happen, but systemic toxicities may not be. Skin reactions are totally dilution-dependent, and safety guidelines exist to minimize risk. This does not mean of course that every time a person uses an undiluted oil there will be an adverse reaction. Many times there won’t. But more is not always better, and minimizing risk is generally a good idea. A phototoxic reaction for example, can be very, very nasty.
Age of Child Dilution Rate of Essential Oil to One Ounce Carrier Oil
Newborn (Consult primary 1-3 drops essential oil / ounce
physician before use)
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 form the eyes. 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.
Focus. Vetiver Oil or Frankincense Oil. Children can take this to school in a roll-on bottle. If they find themselves losing focus or needing to calm down they can apply some oil to the area of the hand between the thumb and first finger which makes it easy to inhale during the school day.
Vetiver. Vetiver’s strong scent has grounding, stress-relieving and nervous tension-alleviating properties. Vetiver helps balance mood and also promotes sleep if sleep difficulty is included in one’s ADHD symptoms. For improved concentration, apply Vetiver to the feet, focusing on the big toe. One can also use a necklace with a pendant that will absorb the oil that can be smelled all day.
Roman chamomile and Lavender can be used for hyperactivity. Diffuse the oil or apply it on the insides of the wrists or behind the ears.
Frankincense, Lavender and Ylang Ylang. Each can be used for frustration, impatience and anger. Apply to feet, back of the neck, behind the knees and diffuse into the air.
Lavender, Cedarwood, Vetiver – Case Study. In a two year case study (1999-2001) Dr. Terry Friedmann M. D., Cofounder of American Holistic Medical Association, found significant results when children that had previously been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were administered therapeutic essential oils by inhalation. Inhaling the oils proved to settle the children’s brain waves back into normal patterns and improved their scholastic performance and behavioral patterns. The results were:
Lavender – increased performance by 53%
Cedarwood – increased performance by 83%
Vetiver – increased performance by 100%
Memory/Concentration. The part of the brain responsible for interpreting aromas is closely tied to the part of the brain responsible for long term memory and emotions. Studies have demonstrated the ability of essential oil aromas such as Rosemary and Peppermint to help enhance memory and alertness in human trials. Rosemary, Peppermint, Frankincense can also be inhaled when studying or learning. Inhale the same aroma for recall.
Lavender, Lemon, Cypress or Rosemary. Diffuse oils to help aid concentration.
Rosemary. Within aromatherapy, Rosemary Essential Oil is generally regarded as the oil to use for memory and concentration. Do not use in children under the age of 6.
Restful Sleep. 4 drops lavender, 2 drops Roman Chamomile in organic Jojoba oil.
Happy Child – 3 drops Rose, 1 drop Neroli in organic Jojoba oil.
Aromatherapy For Children Recipes
Most digestive woes are helped by a simple tummy massage.
2 drops Roman chamomile
1 drop fennel
2 drops dill
1 drop melissa
1 ounce carrier oil
Mix together and massage the tummy gently.
A relaxing treatment for children before bedtime is a warm lavender and chamomile essential-oil bath. Most children love taking aromatherapy baths, particularly if they have their own personal blends, and may want to get involved in choosing and blending scents. Popular fragrances include orange, grapefruit and tangerine-all antidepressants and relaxants. (See the Baths section of the “Aromatherapy Body Care” chapter for proper dilution guidelines for kids.) Nature’s gentle relaxant teas such as melissa, lavender and chamomile can calm a nervous, over stimulated, cranky child, make headaches go away, or gently induce sleep-as well as help soothe a worn-out parent!
A child suffering from a headache, sleeplessness or overexertion will find relief in a cool compress of lavender placed on the forehead. Frankincense used in a vaporizer or as a massage oil is safe and effective for respiratory congestion or infection, even for infants. Other safe essential oils for children include mandarine, marjoram, neroli, jasmine and petitgrain. Treat a fever, measles, chicken pox or mumps with a tea of yarrow, catnip, peppermint and elder flower; ginger with a touch of lemon juice is also effective. The soreness of mumps is relieved by syrups and gargles made from teas of thyme, rosemary or sage. Antiviral oils of melissa and bergamot have proven effective against the mumps and chicken-pox viruses. (If you use melissa, be sure it is the real thing and not citronella or lemongrass; these don’t have the same healing properties.) Use these essential oils in a steam or make a tea from the herbs. For teething pain, give chamomile tea and rub the gums with a little diluted clove oil on your finger.
The following formula may be used for swollen tonsils, mumps and other lymphatic swelling in the neck area:
2 cups warm purified water
8 drops lavender essential oil
Mix the water with the essential oil. While the water is still warm, soak a soft cloth, preferably flannel, in the water and wring it out. Wrap the cloth around the neck. Cover with a towel to hold in the heat. Remove before it gets cold. Repeat as many times as you wish.
European children were once given “dilly pillows” filled with aromatic herbs such as lavender and dill to send them off to dreamland. The scent was also considered a digestive aid. Add chamomile and thyme to prevent nightmares.
1 cup total:
Fold a 5″ x10″ piece of cloth in half and sew up the edges, leaving just enough room to stuff the herbs inside. Combine the herbs in equal parts to make 1 cup. Stuff the herbs into the material, then finish sewing it up. Place beside or under the child’s regular pillow.
Because this natural recipe has not been tested in a lab, it may not be as effective as chemically-based over-the-counter hand sanitizers. An advantage to using a natural recipe is that it shouldn’t gradually weaken your resistance like anti-bacterial hand sanitizers can do. NOTE: For children reduce the ratio of essential oils by at least half.
- 2/3 oz. Organic Jojoba (carrier oil)
- 20 drops Ravensara
- 20 drops Lavender
- Several Drops of natural Vitamin E Oil
Place all ingredients in 1 oz dark glass bottle with treatment pump. Vitamin E will help to prolong shelf life.
Aromatherapy For Children: Final Thoughts
Our sense of smell is very special because it is closely linked with memory as well as the emotional center in our brain. The sense of smell (the olfactory bulb) sends signals to all areas of the brain – those that control behavior and mood, motivation, emotions, and memory. This is very important for children because they can try to connect a certain smell to something they learn. Also, it can relax a child’s body in order to allow the ability to focus and to retain information learned in school. If you’ve never tried aromatherapy with your child, I highly suggest doing some personal research to see if aromatherapy might help with issues your child may be experiencing.
Kathi Keville, Mindy Green (Excerpted from Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, Crossing Press, 1995)
These are open access articles that provide evidence of therapeutic effects for essential oils. Most journal articles are not open access, although this is a growing trend. I have captioned each article with a brief description – these are not the actual titles.
Immunological Benefits of Massage with Essential Oils – Kuriyama et al 2005
Anxiety Reduction & Immune Enhancement – Imanishi et al 2007
Essential Oil Massage Helps Menopausal Symptoms – Hur et al 2007
Abies Koreana Enhances Memory – Kim et al 2006
Frankincense Targets Bladder Cancer Cells – Frank et al 2009
Eucalyptus Stimulates Immune System – Serafino et al 2008
Peppermint – a review – Gardiner 2000
Tea Tree: Antimicrobial Mode Of Action – Cox et al 2001
Tea Tree Kills Hair Follicle Mites – Gao et al 2005
Tea Tree: Review Of Medicinal Properties – Carson et al 2006
How Tea Tree Kills Staphylococcus Aureus – Carson et al 2002