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"It takes a village to raise a child."
An African Proverb
There is a lot of contradictory advice with regard to using aromatherapy for babies and
children. Used safely and correctly, aromatherapy can be very useful for helping babies and children; however, you need to know what you are doing before using aromatherapy for your child or baby.  Always consult a qualified aromatherapist before using essential oils for babies and children.

On a personal note, I have successfully used aromatherapy for a number of health concerns my young nieces have had.

History of Aromatherapy for Children

Throughout history, childhood ailments have been treated with plant medicine (Vessey and Rechkemmer, 2001).

European children used to be lulled to sleep by the fragrant scent of lavender and dill, commonly known as "dilly pillows."

American Indians used a wide variety of plant medicine to heal both themselves and their young ones.  They use natural therapies for heat and diaper rashes, in addition to a cleansing wash for baby of strawberry and raspberry leaves.  Other herbs and plants that the American Indians used included sweet grass, sage and honey made from wild bees (even before the Europeans introduced the honey bee to the Americas).  A lot of these remedies are still used today, although the practice of aromatherapy doesnít use the actual plant itself (like in plant and herbal medicine); it is the essential oils that are used.
Research Studies on Using Aromatherapy for Children

One of my nieces suffers from a common childhood complaint called eczema and used aromatherapy for it.

In the UK, the National Eczema Society estimates that up to one fifth of school children age have eczema.  With this in mind, A London university (school of applied science, South Bank University) carried out a study using two groups of children.  One group received therapeutic massage with the use of essential oils and the other group received a therapeutic massage without the use of essential oils.  Both groups showed an improvement in their eczema conditions but it wasnít proven if essential oils worked in this situation.   So what does this actually "prove?" As with all research studies, there could be a number of factors affecting this outcome and only personal use/experience will show how effective it is for your child.

One thing is certain, aromatherapy, along with other complementary therapies, is becoming more popular for those with chronic skin conditions (Johnston et al., 2003).

An aromatherapist is not a qualified medical practitioner and can not claim to cure.  However, aromatherapistsí own case studies (myself included) have shown that aromatherapy may help with some conditions in some children.

Chicken pox is another example.  My youngest niece, then 3 years old, broke out with chicken pox, with lots of spots that could have become quite ugly and caused scarring if she had continued to scratch them.  The inflammation was not as bad as it might have been because I blended some essential oils in a white lotion for her.

In the UK, aromatherapy is now used by a number of open minded health practitioners, alongside conventional medicine.  It is said that almost 40% of general practitioner partnerships will refer their National Health Service patients to a complementary therapist where appropriate (Thomas et al 1995).  In the United States, healthcare practitioners have yet to catch up to the beliefs shared by their UK counterparts but as there is no National Healthcare Service in the United States, there is difficulty in providing the same services, due to insurance issues.  It is left to an individual to seek out a complementary approach to conventional medicine.

"Research" (both in the form of scientific studies and aromatherapy practitioner case studies) will continue for the foreseeable future on the effects aromatherapy has, and its potential benefits, and can only strengthen interest and validity in the cause for the use of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy for Babies

"Ten tiny little fingers that always want to play,
That never stop exploring the wonder of today.

Ten tiny little fingers that from the very start,
Will reach out for tomorrow yet always hold your heart."
Author unknown

Babies love smell.  It identifies the world around them.  One of the first "smells" that a baby recognizes is that of its mother.

The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy and the University of South Florida developed a research project (the Psychosensory Aromatherapy Research Project) to evaluate the reactions experienced by children when they were treated with essential oils for a number of disorders.  The results show, in a number of cases, a definite link between olfactory sensation and behavior modification.

If you introduce aromatherapy at a young age, it will make a lasting impression on a child; used correctly, the first few months of life can be greatly enhanced for both mother and child.  Studies have shown that smells "inhaled" by a baby by the amniotic fluid pre-natal are the smells preferred after birth too(Davis and Porter, 1991; Schall et al., 2000).

Things to Consider When Using Aromatherapy for Babies

- Never apply essential oils direct to a babyís skin.  Always use a carrier oil or lotion.

- A babyís skin (up to the age of two years old) is not structured enough to absorb oils.  Therefore, it is better to use a lotion as a carrier for essential oils at this age.

- Introduce "gentle" essential oils with babies.  Never use essential oils with babies that contain a high percentage of menthone; for example, peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and Cornmint (Mentha arvensis).  If you use these essential oils just in the vicinity (not even in application) of new born babies, it may cause serious adverse consequences, including respiratory collapse (Davis and Livingstone, 1986).

- Massage is one of the most common uses of aromatherapy with babies as it involves touch and communication between yourself and baby.

- Reduce the quantity of essential oils that you use for babies, in comparison to an adult; the smallest drop may be all that you need.  Seek advice from a qualified aromatherapist if you are not familiar with using essential oils.

- Always seek the experience of a qualified aromatherapist before trying any essential oils you are not familiar with them and the best way to use them.

Popular Essential Oils for Use With Babies

"Flowers are words which even a baby can understand."
  Arthur C. Coxe

The following essential oils are some of the more popular choices to use for babies:

Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon), mandarin (Citrus reticulate), rose otto (Rosa damascena), sweet orange (Citrus aurantium sinensis), lavender (Lavandula augustifolia), geranium, (Pelargonium graveolens).

Essential Oils to Avoid With Babies

It is also important to know which essential oils to avoid when using aromatherapy for babies.  The following essential oils are not recommended for safe use with babies:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum), juniper (Juniperus communis), hyssop (Hyssop officinalis), any essential oils that are high in menthone, e.g. peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and cornmint (Mentha arvensis).

Use of Aromatherapy for Children

"Child rearing myth #1: Labor ends when the baby is born."

If you started using aromatherapy when your child was a baby, using aromatherapy throughout childhood and into adulthood is a natural progression.  However, it is never too late to introduce children to aromatherapy.  Children have a natural curiosity and are often more open-minded and willing to try new things than adults.

Aromatherapy can be introduced to children through inhalation, in addition to applying lotions and oils.  Studies have shown that using essential oil aromas with children in the management of anxiety and hyperactivity may be of benefit (Mehta et al., 1998)

Things to Consider When Using Aromatherapy for Children

- Never apply essential oils directly onto a childís skin, unless you are directed to do so by a qualified aromatherapist, and then only with extreme care.

- Use reduced amounts of essential oils in aromatherapy use.  Use the same quantity amounts of essential oils for children up to 3 years old as you would for babies.

- Lotions are recommended for use with young children, as they are more readily absorbed by their skin.

- Donít use aromatherapy as an alternative to any prescribed medication your child may be using for any medical condition.  Always take professional advice from your doctor if you are in any doubt as to a medicationís effect if using aromatherapy alongside a prescribed treatment.

- Seek advice from a qualified aromatherapist to understand the best way to use aromatherapy for your child if you have never used aromatherapy with your child before.

Popular Essential Oils to Use With Children

The following essential oils are popular with children due to their gentle properties:

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon), mandarin (Citrus reticulata), rose otto (Rosa damascena), rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), sandalwood (Santalum austra caladonia), sweet orange (Citrus aurantium sinensis).

Essential Oils to Avoid With Children

The following essential oils are not recommended for use with children:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum), juniper (Juniperus communis), and Hyssop (Hyssop officinalis).

Copyright © Sharon Falsetto (BA Hons) 2007 All rights reserved


Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy: Psychosensory Aromatherapy Research Project (
Dale, A., Cornwell, S. (1994): Journal of Advanced Nursing, 19:89-96

Green, Mindy, Keville, Kathi, 1995 Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art: Crossing Press
International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy 2005 Paediatric Care Volume 2, Issue 2: Australia
Kavasch, E. Barrie, Baar, Karen, 1999 American Indian Healing Arts New York: Bantam
Phytother Res 2000 Sep;14(6):452-456 Evaluation of Aromatherapy to help treat childhood eczema (
Price, Penny, Price, Shirley, 1996 Aromatherapy for babies and children England : Riverhead
Price, Shirley, Price, Len, 2002 Aromatherapy for Health Professionals Scotland : Churchill Livingstone 
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By Sharon Falsetto
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Aromatherapy for Babies and Children