We are asked quite often what do we think about using essential oils for treatment on their children. Many are staunch advocates for the use of oils because they are “natural” or have tried and seen it work on someone they know. By no means do I plan on slamming the use of essential oils, but I do want you to be aware of the risks vs benefits.
We all love things that smell good. We know there is a psychological benefit to pleasant odors. “Such studies have consistently shown that odors can produce specific effects on human neuropsychological and autonomic function and that odors can influence mood, perceived health, and arousal. These studies suggest that odors may have therapeutic applications in the context of stressful and adverse psychological conditions.”
So what exactly are essential oils? They are liquid substances extracted from aromatic plants by steam distillation or mechanical expression for use in complementary therapies such as aromatherapy or massage. They are not regulated by FDA unless there is a claim for treatment then may be subject for approval. Toxicity risk low when used via inhalation or diluted topical. Essential oils should never be orally consumed unless directed by physician due to risk of toxicity.
Where are the scientific studies? Honestly, not many have been done. We do have some studies that show benefit of peppermint oil for IBS/dyspepsia, tea tree oil for acne/dandruff, and lavender for dementia/agitation, but in general, there is not enough info out there to prove it truly is helpful. Here are some of those studies.
What are the risks using these oils? Rashes can develop. Oils that are high in phenols, such as cinnamon, can irritate the skin .Those with asthma can induce an asthma attack with exposure. Some may develop headaches, liver and nerve damage. Should never be used with pregnancy as they can be harmful to fetus. Essential oils are highly volatile and flammable so they should never be used near an open flame.
Animal studies suggest that active ingredients in certain essential oils may interact with some medications. Researchers don’t know if they have the same effect in humans. Eucalyptus, for example, may cause certain medications, including pentobarbital (used for seizures) and amphetamine (used for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to be less effective. An accidental overdose can be fatal in children with a little as 1oz of ingestion of certain oils.
There are those that will swear it works just by what you have seen. True, there may be benefit to the oils, but they should never be used in place of medical treatment when necessary. Incidents have occurred where a child is not treated for a few days due to trialing different types of oils to see if child responds, but these have and can end up with detrimental consequences. Please, please, please always let your care provider know if you are using oils. I encourage you to read the links that have been provided as they contain great information related to the use of essential oils.