Is It Safe to Use Essential Oils Around My Baby?

Woman using essential oil

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Parenting a baby can be stressful and overwhelming. As such, it’s crucial that parents have strategies that help them keep their heads on straight. One popular relaxation strategy is diffusing or inhaling essential oils as a form of aromatherapy, which had been shown to reduce the perception of stress as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. These same benefits can be achieved by applying essential oils to the skin after combining them with a carrier oil.

If essential oils were your go-to source of stress reduction before bringing your little one home, you may need to find a different method—at least for a while. “I would advise against the use of essential oils around babies,” says Diane Hindman, MD, PharmD, a board-certified pediatrician, medical toxicologist, and registered pharmacist.

What Are Essential Oils Used For?

In addition to stress relief, there are many reasons people choose to use essential oils. “Some of the most common reasons to use essential oils include boosting mood and energy, easing anxiety, relieving pain, boosting immunity and fighting infections, disinfecting a space, supporting digestion, promoting better sleep, and improving brain function,” explains Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com and author of "The Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine."

There are a few different ways to get these benefits, says Dr. Axe. “Essential oils can be applied topically to the skin, diffused or inhaled from the bottle, and ingested. Using a diffuser in your home or office is the most popular method.”

Is It Safe to Use Essential Oils Around My Baby?

It is generally not safe to use essential oils around babies, especially newborns. For starters, like supplements, essential oils are relatively unregulated.

“Essential oils and other substances deemed 'natural health products' are not subject to the same rigorous clinical research and safety legislation, regulations, testing, and standards as prescription or even over-the-counter (OTC) medications,” explains Dr. Hindman.

That means that it’s difficult to know the actual concentrations of active ingredients present in different oils, so you may be unknowingly exposing your baby to high concentrations of harmful ingredients.

The undeveloped nature of many of babies’ systems, including their skin and respiratory systems, also poses an increased risk of adverse effects from essential oils. The one workaround, says Dr. Axe, is if you typically apply essential oils topically to your own skin.

“Make sure that the oil is absorbed into the skin before touching the baby, which will take about 10 to 15 minutes,” Dr. Axe says, adding that even if you’re using this method, you should avoid using essential oils during the first three months of your baby’s life.

Every baby is different. Be sure to consult with a pediatrician if you have any questions about using essential oils around your baby.

Risks of Using Essential Oils Around Babies

Using essential oils around babies (newborns in particular) can expose them to potential risks for adverse health effects. Here are some of the possibilities you should be aware of.

Wheezing and Sinus Issues

It’s not uncommon for newborns to have a stuffy nose or to sneeze frequently, but diffusing essential oils near them won’t help.

“If inhaled, fragrances and oils can cause wheezing in some people, including babies,” notes Christina Johns, MD, pediatric emergency care physician and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatric Care. “Since babies’ sinuses are in the development phase, it’s not a good idea to diffuse oils around them at all.”

Because babies exclusively breathe out of their noses for the first six months or so of life, you don’t want to introduce anything into their environment that may make this more difficult.

Skin Irritation and Inflammation

If essential oils come into contact with your baby’s skin, it can lead to irritation. “Infants have more sensitive and thin skin than older individuals,” explains Dr. Hindman. This can cause inflammation
like rashes, even from baby-specific products that contain essential oils. “I would caution that if formal OTC or health and beauty products, such as baby lotion with lavender, are utilized, the directions for use should be carefully followed.”

The essential oils that are most likely to cause adverse skin reactions include oregano oil, cinnamon bark oil, jasmine oil, lemongrass oil, ylang-ylang oil, chamomile oil, and bergamot oil.

Oil-Specific Risks

Essential oils that make contact with a baby’s skin can not only lead to skin issues but may also cause other problems. “Their thin skin makes absorption through the skin much more likely,” says Dr. Hindman. “Once absorbed, the active substance can cause systemic and local toxicities.” Some of the potentially harmful effects of certain essential oils include:

Wintergreen Oil The active ingredient in this oil, methyl salicylate, is a chemical that acts the same way as aspirin in the body when applied topically. It is poisonous in large amounts.
Lavender Oil  While lavender oil can be calming and is even included in small amounts in some baby products, repeated topical use has been found to disrupt sex hormones in prepubescent boys.
Tea Tree Oil  Tea tree oil was also included in the aforementioned study and found to have the same effects as lavender.
Nutmeg Oil The active ingredient in nutmeg, myristica oil, is poisonous in large amounts and can cause chest pain, double vision, rapid heartbeat, and hallucinations, among other symptoms.
Wormwood Oil  Wormwood oil. also known as artemisia absinthium or absinthe, contains a chemical called thujone. This chemical is what creates the side effects of drinking absinthe like hallucinations and psychosis. Even tiny amounts are toxic.

When Can I Use Essential Oils Around My Baby?

To stay on the safe side, wait until your baby is at least 2 years old to use essential oils around them, says Dr. Axe. “Generally, children 2 years old and older can use most essential oils safely,” he adds. But if you do choose to use any, whether by diffusing them or applying topically, do so with caution and care.

“Some essential oils can be more irritating than others even among adults,” Dr. Axe says. “Any time you are using a new essential oil, whether on yourself or a child, you should read up on its best uses, safety, and potential risks.”

A Word From Verywell

While essential oils may be a go-to part of your wellness routine, experts recommend you avoid diffusing them or applying them to your skin around your baby until they reach the age of 2 or older. If essential oils come into contact with their young, thin skin, they risk absorbing it into their systems, which can be harmful.

If you must apply essential oils topically, wait until your baby is at least three months old and wait at least 15 minutes before touching them to give the oils enough time to fully absorb into your skin. For any further questions regarding essential oils and your baby, consult with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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