Essential Oil Safety

Peppermint for headaches and nausea, lavender and chamomile to help with sleep issues, eucalyptus for cough and cold symptoms—essential oils have become increasingly popular in recent years as many people look for more natural or holistic remedies to either complement traditional medicine or to use as an alternative. Essential oils are so popular that the industry earned just under $6 billion dollars in 2016.

Essential oils are plant-based concentrated liquids that contain the fragrance of the plant. Some are used topically, some ingested and others are added to a diffuser for aromatherapy. Frequently they are mixed with lotions or added to bathwater. But before you start to use essential oils for all the members of your family, know that they can be dangerous, especially for children.

As essential oils are derived from plants, many people are under the misconception that they are harmless. Not so. In 2016 the Maryland Poison Control managed over 300 cases involving an essential oil or a product containing an essential oil. Did you know that tea tree oil can cause vomiting and diarrhea? Or that oil of wintergreen can be deadly if it is swallowed directly from the bottle, the equivalent to swallowing a large number of adult aspirin? Even nutmeg, a commonplace spice in most kitchens, when concentrated in an oil and used improperly can cause hallucinations or result in a coma. However, if you have become attached to your essential oils, don’t fret. Angel Bivens, public education coordinator for the Maryland Poison Control says they can be used safely, “if you follow the label.”

One of the most common mistakes parents make is using too much. “A lot is not always better,” says Bivens. Other mistakes include using the oils orally instead of topically. MPC advises that oils should only be swallowed if you are directed to do so by a trained and qualified specialist.

Finally, most essential oils are sold in concentrated form. They should be diluted before use. Because children's skin is thinner, particularly in infants, excessive absorption of the oils can happen fast, causing babies and young children to receive dangerous amounts.

Bivens suggests parents always speak to their child’s pediatrician before using an essential oil on their child. In addition, to keep children and pets safe, store essential oils out of reach, ideally in a locked container. If someone swallows an essential oil, or a product containing essential oils, call the poison center immediately at 800-222-1222. Trained nurses and pharmacists will help you determine if the situation is dangerous and tell you exactly what to do.
For more information, visit mdpoison.com.

Use products containing essential oils ONLY for their intended purpose.
Do not swallow a product unless the label says to do so.
Do not use a product on the skin unless the label says to do so.
Do not use a product as a pesticide unless the label says to do so.
Use ONLY the amount stated on the label. Follow label directions exactly.
Use and store household products where children (and pets) cannot see or reach them.
Never use near an open flame because they are flammable.