The Truth About Essential Oils and Their Use With Kids and Pets

By Crystal Ladwig

Essential oils are everywhere. They can be found in Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Target, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond right here in Gainesville. They are also often front and center on our social media pages. Proponents argue their health benefits, while opponents assert that they are simply the latest fad. So, what is the truth?

Basically, essential oils are the extracts from specific plants. There are several methods of extracting the oils, which affect their overall quality. Generally speaking, higher quality (and slightly higher priced) oils are more concentrated with the actual plant oil. Highly concentrated essential oils can be about 50–70 times more powerful than the plant from which they came. This means that a little goes a long way.

Many traditional medicines come from plants, and it is no secret that plants have been a source of healing for millennia. Essential oils attempt to harness that. However, they are not FDA approved to treat any specific illness or malady, and they are not all held to a quality standard, so do your research when deciding what brand to use.

According to Teresa Bruney, DNP, ARNP, PNP-BC of Worthington Pediatrics, with proper care, essential oils are safe to use with children. Among the most commonly used with children are peppermint (promotes healthy respiratory functions, calms the stomach and head tension), frankincense (balances mood and beautifies skin), and melaleuca (nourishes and soothes skin). Although lavender has been recommended for soothing emotions and supporting restful sleep, “it is now known to be a hormone disruptor, especially for preteen boys, and its use is discouraged in children,” said Bruney.

Essential oils can be used with children in a variety of ways. Using them aromatically is the most common. Diffusers can be purchased at stores all over town and online for a relatively low cost. Essential oils can be used topically with children, but most should be diluted first. Fractionated coconut oil is the most common dilution agent. The fractionating process removes long-chain fatty acids to make the oil liquid at room temperature. Once diluted, many oils can be applied to feet, ears, chest, the back of the neck, head and other troubled areas. Before using any essential oil topically with your child, carefully read the label and follow all manufacturer instructions. It is best to avoid sensitive areas such as the eyes, broken skin, and the inner nose or ears. Finally, essential oils such as lemon can be used internally. Just put a few drops of lemon in water for a refreshing, low-sugar drink. Citrus oils can also be combined with water and used as an all-natural, chemical-free household cleaner. Since essential oils come from plants, any plant that is safe for you to consume may also be consumed via essential oils. However, you should always follow the directions on the packaging regarding the best and safest way to ingest oils (e.g., direct, diluted, quantity, etc.). If you have any reservations at all about using a particular essential oil with your child, consult your pediatrician first.

Essential oils are also safe to use with most pets including cats and dogs. The “essential oil vet,” Dr. Janet Roark, DVM said that essential oils can be safely used with pets as long as they are used carefully. Do not use oils near eyes, ears, nose, or genitals. Only use them topically or internally after consulting with a veterinarian who knows your pet’s medical history. Many veterinarians will recommend avoiding diffusing essential oils if you have a pet bird. If you choose to diffuse oils in your home, make sure that your cat or dog is not in an enclosed area so that they can leave if they do not like it.

Ultimately, each family must decide for themselves on the use of essential oils. If you do decide to try them, invest in purchasing high quality, pure oils rather than lower-intensity, pre-diluted oils. There will be greater health benefits for you and your children, and you will end up saving money in the long run.