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How to Choose and Use Essential Oils

Essential oils may help your child feel better, reduce stress, and reduce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain, and sleep problems. There are several ways you can use these products to treat your child’s symptoms.

Choosing an essential oil product

It is important to find a high-quality essential oil. Essential oils are strong chemical mixtures even though they come from natural plant sources. The chemicals in the oil depend on:

  • The kind of plant
  • How the plant was grown
  • What part of the plant was used
  • How the oil was made

Look for these features when shopping for essential oil products:

  • Organic oils: Organic products do not have pesticides or chemicals that could be harmful.
  • Detailed label: Make sure the product label lists the plant’s name and ingredients, whether it is organic, where it was grown, and how it was made.
  • Made from fresh plant material: Look for products made from fresh, not dried, plants and with no extra ingredients.
  • Dark, amber glass vials: The dark glass protects oils from breaking down.
  • Quality production methods: Look for oils produced by distillation, mechanical cold pressing, or steam sterilization.
  • Commonly used oils: Good essential plant oils to begin with include lavender, ginger, lemon, sweet orange, spearmint, sweet marjoram, rose, frankincense, and peppermint.

Checking for safety

Avoid using oils that can be toxic. These include sage, wintergreen, camphor, and turmeric.

To ensure safety, the company should provide a safety data sheet on its website. Some companies also provide information about testing by third party labs.

Storing essential oils

Keep these tips in mind for storing essential oils:

  • Keep containers away from heat. You can store them in the refrigerator.
  • Throw oils away after the expiration date, if they look discolored, or smell bad.
  • Put the cap on the bottle right after use, so the oil does not evaporate.

How to use essential oils safely

Your child should not drink essential oils or diluted essential oils. Some oils contain substances that are harmful or interact with some medications.

Tell your health care team about essential oil products your child is using. They may interact with your child’s medications.

Read about the oil you will use and understand its risks and benefits.

If you notice any breathing problems, stop using the oil immediately.

When not to use essential oils

Do not use essential oils in children:

  • Under 2
  • With asthma, other breathing problems, or in people who take bronchodilators (medicines that relax airway muscles, such as albuterol)
  • Allergic to essential oils or other substances that may be in them
  • Sensitive to perfumes

Do not use oils near the eyes, nose, or ears.

Preparing essential oils for use

There are two different ways to use essential oils in aromatherapy: direct inhalation and indirect inhalation.

Direct inhalation (to breathe in the oil directly)

  • Add 1–2 drops of essential oil to a cotton ball.
  • Start by holding the cotton ball 6–8 inches away from your child’s nose.
  • Tell your child to take slow, deep breaths. If it does not cause irritation, you can wave the cotton ball slowly back and forth under your child’s nose and move it a little closer.

You can also purchase an aroma stick or essential oil inhalers. Do not share inhalers or let your child re-use an inhaler they used if they had a cold or respiratory infection.

Keep oils and the small parts of the inhaler out of reach for small children who could choke on the parts.

Indirect inhalation

To use as a room freshener, add 1–5 drops of essential oil to a bowl of very hot water. The bowl will release steam that your child can breathe in. Put the bowl where your child cannot reach it or where it could spill.

Keep in mind that steam with the scent can travel all over the room. It could cause allergic reactions in sensitive people, such as those who have asthma or breathing difficulties.

Do not use these methods in public settings such as hospital rooms. This may cause problems for those who have allergies or sensitivities.

Clean and dry to bowl in between uses. Mold and bacteria can grow in the water and cause infection. For this reason, diffusers are not recommended.

For more information

Key points about essential oils

  • Essential oils may help relieve anxiety, stress, nausea, vomiting, pain, and sleep problems.
  • Choose organic essential oils that are 100% pure, good quality, and stored in dark amber bottles.
  • Some essential oils interact with medications, so check with your health care provider or pharmacist before using them.
  • Your child should not swallow essential oils.
  • People with allergies, problems breathing, or who are pregnant should not use essential oils.

Reviewed: January 2024