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With more and more people using diffusers, I think it is important to address the issue of diffusing essential oils around children. Is it safe?
Safety is a confusing topic in aromatherapy. There is often conflicting information, especially when it comes to children. Safety information is often based on certain chemical components in an essential oil. If an oil contains something known to be toxic, or carcinogenic, the entire oil will carry a precaution. Sometimes the research on the toxicity or carcinogenicity of an oil is based on animal research, often with rodents. We can’t always assume that giving rats high doses of an oil can be extrapolated to humans.
In light of this, consider everything in this article, and any article, to be the best guess given what we know right now.
Is diffusing essential oils safe around kids?
Yes, if done sensibly. Generally speaking, diffusion is one of the safest ways to use essential oils. This is because small amounts of essential oils are diluted into the entire volume of air in the room. When diffusing around children, the factors to consider are:
Passive diffusers such as clay discs, fan diffusers, and oil lamps work by simple evaporation of the oils into the air. Dosage will be very low so we will not discuss them here. Instead, the focus will be on safely diffusing with ultrasonics and nebulizers.
Is it safe to diffuse essential oils around babies?
For babies, the most important factor is what type of oil are you diffusing? Lavender and Chamomile are generally considered safe for our youngest loved ones. If you are trying to soothe a baby who won’t sleep, it should be okay to diffuse these two oils occasionally. As a mom, I do caution about diffusing too often as babies sleep routines might become dependent on the scents.
I would also caution against making a habit of diffusing around babies. Essential oils can have powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. As moms we want to protect our kids from germs, but ultimately we are not doing our children any favors. Exposure to some germs, and getting sick occasionally are important for building a healthy and strong immune system.
The tricky thing about giving advice for diffusing around very young babies (0-6 months) is that the true answer is that we don’t know what is safe. No one is going to conduct research on babies to test whether it is safe. We can only speculate. I would personally recommend waiting to diffuse until a baby is 6-12 months old, and then only with baby safe oils like Lavender and Chamomile. From ages 2 on, the number of kid safe oils increases.
Oils that are safe around children
Note: This section was compiled by referring to Tisserand and Youngs’s Essential Oil Safety, 2nd ed., Shirley Price Aromatherapy for Babies and Children, and NAHA resources. Please know that I tend to err on the side of caution when writing for this site. There may be instances when an oil can be used on a younger child, however you should do so under the advice of a qualified aromatherapist who can provide an individualized recommendation.
Popular oils that are considered safe to diffuse for older children (ages 2+) include most citrus oils (mandarin, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot), frankincense, ginger, tea tree, and patchouli.
Can I diffuse Peppermint or Eucalyptus around babies and children?
Guidelines have relaxed in recent years for diffusion of these oils. According to Robert Tisserand, you should not diffuse Peppermint around any child under 3 years of age.
Eucalyptus globulus or Eucalyptus radiata can be diffused in small amounts around children under 3.
Any oil high in 1,8 cineole should be used with caution around young children. Aside from peppermint and eucalyptus, this component can be found in some rosemary chemotypes, niaouli, laurel leaf, and ravintsara. If in doubt, ask your supplier whether an oil is high in this component.
Oils high in 1,8 cineole should not be used around the noses and faces of young children as it may cause respiratory difficulties. This includes both topically applying it near the nose, and directly inhaling it. In light of this, if you are diffusing around children you should ensure they can’t directly inhale the mist, especially from a nebulizer.
Essential oils by age
Ages 2 and up:
Ages 3 and up:
Eucalyptus (see notes above)
Peppermint (see notes above)
Ages 6 years and up:
Ages 10 and up:
An easy answer
Some oils are available in different chemotypes, which may not all carry the same safety precautions. Basil, Rosemary, and Thyme are examples of oils that have different chemotypes. It can be prudent to check with your supplier to ensure the chemotype they carry is okay for children.
The easiest way to make decisions about essential oils for kids is to check out Plant Therapy’s Kidsafe line of essential oils and blends. This takes a lot of the uncertainty out of selecting oils. Oils that are KidSafe are suitable for kids over the age of 2.
When using blends, be sure to check the ingredients in the blend for any oils that might be unsafe for your child. Plant Therapy also makes it easy by offering a line of Kid Safe blends for a wide variety of uses.
Ultrasonics: Concentration and Time
Ultrasonic diffusers spray a mist of already diluted essential oils into the air. Most diffusers call for 5 drops of oil in about 4-6 oz. of water. The dilution here is already less than 1% and then this is being further diluted by the volume of air in the room. Obviously if you stand right next to the mist you will inhale more, but generally this is still pretty safe.
According to noted expert Robert Tisserand, ultrasonic diffusers should be run for 30-60 minutes at a time only when needed (in general). Rest periods between diffusion cycles should be at least 30-60 minutes. He does not recommend routine diffusion around children unless doses are extremely low (a few drops per day or less).
Diffusion around children should be on an as needed basis. You can control the dosage by adding fewer drops to your water, or by reducing the time you run your diffuser around kids.
Nebulizers: Concentration and Time
Nebulizing diffusers spray undiluted essential oils into the air. Therefore the concentration is much higher. Nebulizing diffusers will emit a drop or two of oil into the air in a typical 10 minute cycle, depending on how high you set the output. These molecules are so fine they remain suspended in the air for a few hours.
Nebulizing diffusers should be run for 10 minutes, 2-3 times a day for adults. For children, reduce both the time and the frequency, and only use when needed. For children, ultrasonics are preferable.
- When diffusing essential oils around children, adjust the dosage by reducing diffusion time and frequency
- Ultrasonics spray a less concentrated mist into the air than nebulizers and are preferred for children
- Use diffusers around children when needed, not routinely
- Only diffuse essential oils and blends that are safe for your child’s age
Did this help? Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions.
If you know someone who could benefit from this information, your share would be greatly appreciated.
First published October 20, 2015. Updated May 3, 2018.