Essential Oils Can Be Dangerous For Kids

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Shopify Partners/Burst

“My daughter’s allergies are awful right now,” I confessed to a friend. “Have you tried essential oils?” she replied before digging an MLM essential oil company business card out of her wallet to hand me.

This wasn’t the first time—or the last—that someone has sworn that essential oils can help or even miraculously heal every ailment. I’ve been promised that essential oils can help cure my type 1 diabetes, my girls’ seasonal allergies, and another child’s ADHD and sensory processing disorder.

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Anxiety or asthma? No problem. Just let the droplets from that teeny bottle of $24.99 EO land on your kid’s wrists or into the diffuser and voila! Some essential oils are apparently edible — though I’m never going to try it — and can magically kick influenza in its ass. Remember that for winter, parents. (Insert all the sarcasm.)

Those little vials of essential oils are everywhere. Not only does every other mom I know sell EOs, but I can pick up some eucalyptus or peppermint EO at the grocery store or even the gas station. I’ve spotted little brown bottles of vanilla essential oil among the candy bars and lip balms at the store checkout. You can spend $1 a vial at your local dollar store to upwards of $30 a vial on the purest-of-pure oils via your local health food shop.

But what about the facts? In 2018, there were 17,178 reported incidents of children under age 12 accidentally swallowing, spilling onto their skin, or splashing into their eyes highly concentrated essential oils. This is an 85% increase since the last reporting in 2014. There are no current studies or statistics on the long-term use of essential oils in children.

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I swear when essential oils came onto the market, so many parents lost their common sense. Why offer your child toxic acetaminophen for their headache when you could dot some peppermint EO on their temples? What’s next? Fairy dust for dinner and rainbows for dessert?

Does your teen have menstrual cramps? Apparently, cinnamon essential oil is the clapback to period probs. Yes, your house will smell like Christmas. Is your middle schooler struggling to sleep? Lavender is where it’s at, filling your house with the scent of a senior citizen center. Is your tween stressed over an upcoming math test? Ylang-ylang EO in bathwater should alleviate her worries over multiplying fractions.

Not only can essential oils be eaten, diffused, soaked in, spritzed, and dabbed on, but apparently, they can also be vaped. Given the 80% increase in vaping in teenagers, parents who believe in the power of EOs might give their teen the go-ahead to vape what they believe to be healthy. But are children vaping anything ever healthy and safe?

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And what about possibility that popular oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, and tea tree can cause hallucinations, agitation, seizures, chemical burns, brain swelling, liver failure, and breathing problems? Why aren’t parents warned of these dangers when they purchase a vial? Of course, there’s usually that teeny tiny print that says the product is unregulated, I guess ridding the company of liability when a curious kiddo tries to taste it?

It’s not that I’m anti-holistic care. Our family has a chiropractor. I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t buy her kids junk food. And if my kids come home from school with a cold, I bust out the apple cider vinegar, elderberry syrup, and vitamin C.

The issue isn’t essential oils in and of itself. The issue is that parents are taking medical advice from those without a medical degree who are spewing MLM fake science to support their paycheck. Would you go to a mechanic for legal advice or an accountant for a broken ankle? I didn’t think so.

Furthermore, we really don’t know what the hell is in those vials, do we? It’s not like essential oils are regulated. There’s no hard science on how much oil to use, what type is most effective, and the best way to apply it when it comes to our children.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’m going to anyway. Just because a stranger on the Internet or an MLM ambassador said something is true, doesn’t mean it is. Where is your science, Sally?

Justin Loden, a certified specialist at the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University shared some critical information regarding children and essential oils. “The rule of thumb in toxicology is ‘the dose makes the poison’ so all essential oils are potentially harmful.”

He added that children are often poisoned when they try to eat the oil and a bit of it goes into their lungs. This can cause pneumonia. “It only takes 2 milliliters (less than a teaspoonful) to do that. This hazard applies to every essential oil.”

Jaron Whelan/Unsplash

Children can also be poisoned by applying too much oil or inappropriately applying the oil to their skin. And kids aren’t alone. Even responsible adults can be harmed by essential oils, such as this young woman who was burned by her diffuser.

Now, I’m not anti-essential oils. In fact, I had a funky toenail issue for three years after slamming my bare foot into a step in my garage. I know—gross. Despite spending a few a ton of time and money at the podiatrist, multiple times, and applying the prescriptions he told me would work, nothing happened. Frustrated, I spent a good four hours doing online research. I came across an article about cancer patients losing their nails during chemotherapy treatments and using a particular essential oil blend to help restore their nail health. Desperate, I gave it a whirl.

Within two months, the blend of oregano and tea essential oil I bought off Amazon for a whopping $10 eradicated the issue. Yes, I walked around for weeks smelling like Italian soup, the oil sitting on top of and under my toenail. But it worked.

Am I a hypocrite? No. The difference between using essential oils to treat children and adults is just that. I’m an adult. And the scientific studies on the effectiveness and safety of essential oils has all been conducted on adults. Kids are a different story.

You might be wondering what the big diff is. After all, we’re all humans, but some of us are just smaller and less developed, right? Not exactly. There’s a reason that certain medications, substances, and actions are for adults only.

Essential oils are like car safety rules. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary age children are all advised—and sometimes required—to be seated in a vehicle and secured in a certain way to lower their risk of being hurt in an accident. The idea is to lower the risk of harm as much as possible by following the guidelines produced as a result of studies and statistics.

Not securing a child into the correctly positioned and adjusted car seat could be dangerous, if not deadly. The hoped-for benefits aren’t worth the risks. Likewise, if and until there is more science to back up the use of essential oils and kids, we need to think twice before following the advice of someone with no authority or expertise.

Just like laundry detergent pods, matches, and prescription medications, essential oils should be kept in a secure place, away from curious kids. And parents, we’re better off sticking to doctor’s orders when it comes to our kids and their health.

This article is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your physician.

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