Is it Safe to Use Essential Oils in Babies?

Essential oils are gaining popularity as a more natural alternative to medications and supplements. They are generally safe for adults when used correctly but do pose dangers for infants. Here’s what you need to know.

Essential Oil for Babies

What are Essential Oils

There is a wide variety of essential oils available for purchase. They are typically oils extracted from plants and bottled in high concentrations without dilution. While all of the suggested medical benefits of essential oils have not been proven, studies show that many popular oils do have medical properties. People use various oils to help with things like:

When you purchase oils, make sure that the labels include the essential oil equivalent of nutrition facts:

  • Name of the plant from which it was extracted
  • Latin name of the plant 
  • The part of the plant used to extract the oil (leaf, flower, seed, bark, or root)
  • Country of origin
  • Method in which the oil was extracted (e.g. steam distilled or expressed)

Safety Concerns for Infants

In general, oils are shown to cause harm to a baby’s skin by degrading the lipid barrier in the skin, so they should be used sparingly.

Each essential oil has a different recommendation for use from newborns to adults. While some oils are safe for applying to skin with proper dilution, others are not. You should always err on the side of caution when it comes to your baby. Some oils that should never be used with infants include: 

  • Idaho tansy
  • Hyssop
  • Sage
  • Clary sage
  • Wintergreen
  • Eucalyptus 

Many times, oil is diffused in the air in place of being applied to the skin. Since a baby’s sinuses, lungs, and bodies are still developing, you should never use an essential oil diffuser when your baby is present.

Some companies create specific essential oil blends designed with baby’s safety in mind. When possible, look for these blends to dilute instead of using the full-strength versions. 

Other Considerations for Essential Oil

Don’t apply undiluted oils directly to your skin. Oils are so concentrated that they may be harmful instead of helpful without proper dilution in a carrier oil like coconut, almond, or olive oil. Dilutions considered safe for children generally range from 0.5-2.5%, depending on your child’s age and size. 

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Don’t add undiluted oils to the bath. Oil doesn’t mix into water, so the concentrated oils may irritate your skin.

Don’t swallow oils. Some oils are clearly marked for ingestion, so read labels properly. You should not take essential oils orally unless the bottles are marked as safe for consumption.

Don’t overuse oils. Track how often you apply oils. Even diluted, oils can build up in your system if used frequently throughout the day. 

Don’t use peppermint oil on children less than 30 months old. Peppermint oil may increase the risk of seizures in younger children.

Don’t use oils near a heat source. Essential oils are flammable and may catch fire if they are too close to heat.

Don’t apply essential oils near your eyes, ears, and nose. 

Do buy oils from a reliable source. Reputable essential oil companies will have transparent labeling and a customer service phone number for you to call with questions.

Do avoid sunlight for some essential oils.

Do store oils in a cool, dry place. Oils may change composition if they are consistently hot. Make sure they are away from direct sunlight and safely placed where your children cannot reach them.

Do apply a patch test first. Even with dilution, apply the oils to a small patch of skin before applying it all over your body.

Do consult an expert. If you have any questions about how to use an oil, or if an oil is safe for use on your family, call your doctor. If your doctor is unsure about the oil, they can help direct you to a reputable source with more information.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 04, 2021

Sources

Sources:

Dermatology Education Foundation: “WHAT WE KNOW TODAY ABOUT APPLYING OILS TO NEWBORN SKIN.” 

John Hopkins: “Are Essential Oils Safe for Children?”

National Library of Medicine: “Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases.”

Young Living: “Essential Oils in the Nursery.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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