By Jane Sheppard
In my quest to find viable ways to strengthen a child’s immune system, I have discovered essential oils. These oils are volatile substances extracted from plants. Pure essential oils have powerful therapeutic effects. Most of them are natural antiseptics, and certain oils have highly effective, immune-boosting, disease-fighting properties that can kill airborne viruses, bacteria and fungi. They can be used preventively and also to treat colds and infectious disease by reducing discomfort, helping to shorten the duration and preventing secondary infections.
Essential oils can be valuable in treating many other childhood ailments. Some are analgesic or anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce aches, pain and swelling. Others can alleviate insomnia or hyperactivity and calm anxious or troubled children. They can also be used to treat minor injuries. In addition to being very safe and effective, essential oils are fun and easy to use.
Choose High-Quality Oils
Not all essential oils are created equal. They must be chosen and used with great care. Many are highly adulterated and over-processed with chemicals. To obtain the beneficial therapeutic qualities, you must use pure essential oils. Many people have purchased inexpensive oils and have been very disappointed with the results, leading them to believe that “essential oils do not work”. Some pure essential oils can be expensive since they are hard to come by. It can take as many as 500 to 2,000 pounds of raw plant material to produce a single pound of pure essential oil. These plants should also be organically grown whenever possible. In addition, the harvesting procedures and extraction processes are critical to quality. It is important to have documentation of the purity and quality of an essential oil so you don’t get something that just smells nice, without the therapeutic qualities. Always buy oils in dark glass bottles. Never buy essential oils in plastic containers or put them into anything made of plastic. They not compatible with plastic. Store in a cool, dark place, away from heat and tightly capped.
How to Use Essential Oils
Inhaling the oils by diffusion produces immediate beneficial effects and is one of the easiest ways to use essential oils. Diffusion releases the highly aromatic molecules of the oils into the air so that we can breathe them in. Inhalation sends impulses directly to the brain and will trigger various healing responses, depending on which oil is being used. The physical body as well as the emotions can be therapeutically affected. Many oils have good germicidal properties and can be very effective in disinfecting a room without using harmful chemicals. When diffused, these oils can cleanse and purify the air by removing toxins and killing pathogenic bacteria, viruses, molds and fungi. They can also destroy odors. Regular diffusion can keep you and your kids healthy throughout the cold and flu season.
A spray bottle used to mist houseplants can also be used to diffuse the oils. Fill with water and add 15 or 20 drops. This will clear and clean the air, but does not have the long-lasting effects of a diffuser or nebulizer. A diffuser or nebulizer sprays an ultra-fine mist into the air.
Diluted oils can be applied directly to the body by massaging the affected area, the bottom of the feet or with a full body massage. The tiny molecular structure of an essential oil allows it to be filtered through the skin via the hair follicles and into the bloodstream or to other parts of the body. The oils can nourish and oxygenate every cell of the body. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 7 hours for essential oils to be completely absorbed through the skin, depending on how much body fat there is. In children, they are usually absorbed very quickly.
Essential oils can be very powerful. They should always be diluted before applying directly to the skin or to the bath of a child. They can be used in a carrier oil, mixed with water or added to creams or lotions. Patch testing can be done for children with sensitive skin or allergies. This is done by applying a little diluted oil to the inside of the elbow. Leave it unwashed for twenty-four hours and if any redness or itching occurs, that oil should not be used.
Caution: Essential oils should never be taken internally, without the advice of a professional. Keep all essential oils away from the eyes. Keep all essential oils out of the sight and reach of children. Never attempt to treat a serious illness yourself without first referring to a qualified practitioner.
Many books have been written on aromatherapy and the use of essential oils. Instructions in applying the oils vary widely with different aromatherapists and authors. Simplers Botanical Company has been making essential oils and extracts since 1981. Their oils are absolutely pure and guaranteed to be organic or ethically wildcrafted and properly distilled or extracted. They have written the Aromatherapy Guide to Essential Oils, which is a brief summary of the views of a wide variety of experts in the field of aromatherapy. In this booklet, they suggest the following guidelines for application of essential oils for use with adults. In parenthesis and italics, I’ve added general recommendations for use with children.
Add a total of 10 to 15 drops of essential oil to an already full bath. Agitate the water to thoroughly disperse the oils before getting in. (Always dilute essential oils before adding them to the bath of a baby or small child. They can be diluted in a little oil such as almond or in two or three tablespoons of full-fat milk. Essential oils in the bath are not recommended for babies under 3 months. A single drop is enough for an older baby or toddler’s bath and two or three drops can be added to the bath of a child 2 to 5 years in a full-size bathtub. No more than 4 drops for children 5-12 years.)
Foot and Hand baths
Put 5 to 7 drops of essential oil into a bowl of warm water. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes. (For children, use same age-appropriate amount of drops as for a bath. Do not use hand baths for children who will be putting their hands in their mouths.)
Add 5 to 8 drops of essential oil to 2 cups hot or cold water and agitate to disperse oils. Briefly soak cotton cloth, wring and place on skin. Repeat every 15 minutes for up to one hour. (For children, use same age-appropriate amount of drops as for a bath)
Diffuser or Nebulizer
The most effective tool for inhalations, aromatic diffusers create a continuous fine mist of essential oils. Turn on diffuser for 5 to 15 minute intervals. Excellent air disinfectant.
Place 1 to 3 drops of essential oil on a cloth to inhale. Or put 3 to 8 drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot water, cover head and bowl with a towel, and inhale deeply for 2 to 5 minutes. Do not use during asthma attacks. (When giving a child an inhalation, never leave them alone. Reduce the amount of drops. Have them inhale for only 30 seconds initially. Increase to 1 or 2 minutes if child can tolerate this. Do not give inhalations to very young children.)
Massage and Skin Care
For a 2% dilution, add a total of 10 to 20 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of vegetable oil (almond, sunflower, etc.) (Cold-pressed sweet almond oil is rich in vitamins, light and easy to absorb. It is the most suitable oil for baby massage. Babies and young children respond very well to massage. To make a baby massage oil: to 2 1/2 tablespoons of sweet almond oil, add 1 drop of essential oil. Or to 5 tablespoons of sweet almond oil, add 2 drops of essential oil.)
The Best Oils for Children
Essential oils that are the most appropriate for children are lavender, Roman chamomile, rose, tea tree, mandarin and peppermint. If you can buy only a few oils, lavender, Roman chamomile and tea tree are the perfect ones to have on hand.
With its sedative properties, Roman chamomile can calm and relax irritable, overtired children. It has anti-inflammatory action to help skin problems and allergies. It’s been used as a remedy for asthma that originates from nervousness. It is a pain-reliever for teething, headaches and muscle aches. Being an antispasmodic as well, it can alleviate colic and other digestive disturbances.
Lavender’s main properties are antiseptic, antibiotic, analgesic, antidepressant, diuretic, antiviral, antifungal, antispasmodic, sedative and toning. It is a strong, non-toxic antiseptic and works well on cuts, wounds, dermatitis, eczema, diaper rash, pimples and burns. Lavender repels mosquitoes and can give relief to bug bites.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil (melaleuca alternifolia) is a powerful immuno-stimulant by increasing the body’s ability to respond to bacteria, fungi and viruses. It is very valuable for colds and flu. It’s also effective for ring-worm and thrush, and acne. Tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and lemon are very effective oils for colds and infections.
Essential Oils for Common Ailments
The following are some ways that essential oils have been used for common ailments. This is not intended as medical advice. Consult a qualified practitioner for advice with specific treatments.
A warm bath with pre-diluted Roman chamomile or lavender oil can be very calming. Both of these oils have soothing, calming, sedative properties that promote gentle, natural sleep.
Chamomile oil added to a carrier oil can be gently rubbed on the tummy. For older children, peppermint oil may be used. Be cautious with peppermint oil since it can be over-stimulating.
Diaper rash can be prevented by regularly adding essential oils to a child’s bath. Almost all essential oils will prevent bacteria from developing on the skin. A diaper rash cream can be made by adding 2 drops of German chamomile oil and 2 drops of lavender oil to 2 ounces of an unscented cream. Use four drops of tea tree oil instead, if the rash is due to thrush. A few drops of lavender added to a prewash soak can help disinfect a bucket of diapers.
Apply lavender oil to a minor burn after plunging it into cold water. Chamomile can be added to a bath to soothe minor sunburn. For more severe sunburn, lavender can be used.
Teething pain can be alleviated by massage with Roman chamomile and lavender added to a carrier oil. Warm oil in hand first and gently massage into cheek, along jawline. Do not use directly on the gums or anywhere inside the mouth. Do not get near the eyes.
Chamomile can be massaged gently around the outside of the ear and down the neck. Hot compresses of chamomile and/or lavender oil help to reduce pain. Three drops of lavender oil in a teaspoon of warmed almond or olive oil can be put into the ear cavity using a dropper.
Steaming the skin with peppermint oil can cleanse and decongest the skin. German chamomile helps inflammation of acne. Tea tree oil can be added to a skin wash, alternating with lavender and bergamot. A single drop of tea tree oil can be dabbed on each large, inflamed pimple and may clear it up quickly. Tea tree oil can irritate the skin so use with caution.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Essential oils can be used during pregnancy and childbirth with good results. Consult an aromatherapist or a midwife before using. There are many oils that should be avoided during pregnancy.