When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids)

When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids)


1/3/2015. Update from Dr. Erika: DON’T THROW OUT YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS!  I’ve been getting a lot of comments from folks who read this article and are terrified to use essential oils now.  Please, read the article carefully – topical or diffused essential oils can be very safe and effective in kids when used correctly!  Remember to adjust dose to your child’s weight – if 1-2 drops is effective for an adult, then 1/2, 1/5, or 1/10 of a drop may be effective (and safe) for your child.  

When to NOT use essential oils

Are you an essential oil user?  Chances are the answer is yes!

Recently there has been a huge rise in the use of essential oils from some popular MLM companies like Young Living and Doterra. BUT – with every new craze comes some good news and bad news…

The good news:

love the fact that so many families have thrown out their Glade Plug-in air fresheners, or other synthetic spray air fresheners.  Synthetic air fresheners are notoriously horrible products, in my opinion.  The Environmental Working Group ( rated 150 products with a grade D for safety, and 78 products with a grade F.  (Only 11 got a grade A, and one of those was baking soda!) They even have a warning on their website saying “Avoid air fresheners: they can cause allergies and only cover up bad odors.”  I really, really, really, really, really don’t like synthetic air fresheners.  They are known to have phthalates and other substances which interfere with our hormones and are known to cause cancer.  Using a vaporizer for essential oils is a much better way to diffuse fragrance and naturally reduce odor-causing bacteria.

The second piece of good news: I love it when patients have essential oils on hand.  I do actually use essential oils a lot in my practice, usually topically or in steam inhalations.  Lavender, tea tree, and thyme are my favorite three to have on hand.  These are what I usually recommend families to keep in their herbal first aid kit. (Frankincense would be next.)

Okay, on to the bad news.

As a physician, I am very concerned about the rise in inappropriate use of essential oils.

Did you know that essential oils can cause seizures in children?

Essential oils are the distilled volatile aromatic constituents of the plant that are highly concentrated. Remember that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea, or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture. Would you ever give a child 40 cups of tea, or 10 teaspoons of tincture? My goodness, I hope not.

There have been several documented cases of seizures in children (and a few in adults) who have taken essential oils inappropriately.  (You can check out case reports herehere, here, and here).

The bottom line is: essential oils can be neurotoxic to children.  I never recommend internal use of essential oils in kids.  Even in adults I save internal use of essential oils for serious infections or other conditions that are unresponsive to normal doses of herbs (in tincture or tea form).  Topical or vaporized essential oils can be safe and very effective in children when used correctly!

So here are some guidelines for using essential oils in kids:

1) Always use a carrier oil when applying essential oils to the skin.  A “carrier oil” is a type of base oil, to slightly dilute the essential oil and protect the skin against direct contact with the essential oil.  Essential oils should never be applied “neat” (undiluted) to the skin. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen allergic contact dermatitis (big ugly skin rash) with undiluted oils! Mix 1-2 drops of essential oil in 1-3 teaspoons of a carrier oil like olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, or other mild, gentle, skin-friendly oil.  Mix essential oils with carrier oils immediately before applying them.  This prevents rancidity.

2) Keep oils away from airways (nose and mouth).  One thing I really like about DoTerra’s recommendations is that they usually tell parents to apply essential oils to the feet of children and babies.  This is a great idea, because it provides space between the airways and the source of the essential oil.  Just make sure your baby doesn’t then put his feet in his mouth! Also make sure the essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil first.

3) Do not use vaporizers in a house where a child or adult lives with a respiratory disease.  I have seen a number of asthma patients who were constantly having their airways aggravated from aerosolized essential oils.  Use extreme caution when using essential oils in kids with asthma.  Most essential oils will inflame a sensitive respiratory tract. I have heard from some of my naturopathic colleagues who have seen frightening cases of children completely unable to breathe because of essential oil-induced asthma attacks.

4) Do not use essential oils in teething recipes. No, no no.  This is not safe!  Stick with chamomile or lemon-balm tea popsicles. (Super yummy and babies love them!)  Clove oil can be used topically (cloves infused in olive oil, not clove essential oil), but use with caution, because if a baby swallows clove oil or any numbing agent it has the potential to numb the gag reflex, and babies can end up aspirating their own saliva.

5) Do not give children essential oils internally.  I highly recommend limiting internal use of essential oils to use under physician supervision only, for kids OR for adults.  Once again, I have heard from colleagues who have seen everything from ulcers, to chronic gastroenteritis, to asthma, flaring of skin lesions (eczema, acne, psoriasis, you name it), migraines, chronic heartburn, and many more, from taking internal essential oils.  Again – remember that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea, or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture.  Products that have mixtures of essential oils and herbs tend to be safer. The exception to this rule: essential oils that are used for flavoring only tend to be safe (e.g., orange essential oil to flavor ice cream) – in this case the total amount of essential oil is very, very low.

6) Never ever take essential oils internally if you are pregnant.  I recommend using extreme caution with topical essential oils and vaporized essential oils.  Remember, essential oils very easily end up in the blood stream from topical or vaporized (and inhaled) use.  (Topical by fat absorption through the skin, vaporized by diffusion in the alveoli of the lung.)  Essential oils do cross the placenta and a fetus is extremely susceptible to the neurotoxic components.  Most of the time this ends up being a non-issue though – pregnancy makes women so sensitive to smells that I know very few women who would use too much essential oil – our bodies do a great job of telling us when to stop!

At this point I am sure I will get hundreds of hate e-mails from avid essential oil users telling me how great they are and how much they helped their own personal health.  I am in no way denying the fabulous benefits of essential oils!  And they can be used internally – with caution!! But for every great success story of how much essential oils have helped, I get to see the other story, of how essential oils have worsened.   So please, coming from Dr. Erika here, please use essential oils wisely, and save yourself a trip to my office – or worse, the Emergency Department.

Another note from Dr. Erika: Regarding the comments section – I’m trying, but I just can’t get to every comment anymore.  If you are asking a specific treatment question (like “What EO can I use for _______ symptom) – I cannot answer those, you will need to ask your physician for guidance. Remember that symptoms are just symptoms of a bigger problem!  If you need to find a naturopathic physician near you who has experience with essential oils, I recommend checking out the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Erika Krumbeck, ND, FABNP
Erika Krumbeck

Dr. Erika Krumbeck is the proud founder and editor of, the leading internet source for trustworthy natural health information for children and naturopathic pediatric providers. She is also the owner of Montana Whole Health, a primary care naturopathic practice in Missoula, MT. She is one of few doctors with the FABNP designation, meaning she is a board-certified pediatric naturopathic physician. Dr. Krumbeck has specialized training in treating chronic conditions in children using safe, gentle and effective natural remedies. She helps bridge the gap between conventional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine by using both new research and traditional naturopathic therapies to guide treatment.


  • Avatar
    October 22, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    Are the DT beadlets safe to ingest? One shouldn’t breath in the DT roll ons.. :/?

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    October 17, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Inhaling any essential oil can be highly toxic. I can’t believe you recommend using vaporizers.

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    September 15, 2017 at 5:09 am
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    September 15, 2017 at 5:01 am
  • Avatar
    August 9, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    Hello, I made a lotion for my 2 and 4 year old due to really bad ezcema that contained 1/3 cup of coconut oil and 6 teaspoons of other carrier oils and 10 drops of lavender oil. I used it twice on them and Im concerned now that I used too much lavender oil. Please help! Thank you

    • Avatar
      Sara Hill Loggins
      October 11, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      find a good dilution chart, has a good one that is easy for anyone to use.

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    July 27, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    I had a sore throat and diffused Thieves and eucalyptus and now I’m afraid it could have been bad for my baby because of the oils that they were. My diffuser didn’t run for the full cycle (I shut it off after 30 mins or so but had diffused Thieves earlier when no one was upstairs. Is my little one going to be potentially harmed by diffusing this once?

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    July 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Dear Dr. Krumbeck,

    My five-year-old daughter has asked for some ‘sleep oil’ (lavender oil) for her birthday, as this is something a friend has introduced to her. I have been researching safe roll-on oils, but I’m not seeing anything clearly indicating whether or not they’re okay to apply directly to the skin or these too should be diffused through a carrier oil. Or, perhaps I just explain to my daughter that she’s too young and I’m concerned about the health ramifications. Can you help advise?

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    Elizabeth Postlethwait
    July 9, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    I was planning on putting some essential oils (lavender, lemon, etc) on clothes pins to use as a car air frshener on a road trip we’re taking soon. My kids will be 4 and 3 months at the time, should I avoid this now? Not sure if it will have the same effect as diffusing?

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    June 28, 2017 at 9:17 am

    I can’t understand how people keep insisting that a drop of essential oil is equal to [insert huge number here] cups of tea or drops of tincture! This isn’t the case by ANY stretch of the imagination. Essential oils are made of the volatile compounds of the plants, which are, by the way, very small molecules, while teas and tinctures extract mainly heavier compounds, such as minerals and vitamins, for instance. There is NO way essential oils are concentrated teas!

    Also, it would be great if the author specified that SOME essential oils have convulsant compounds, such as thujone, cineole, etc, and that is why SOME essential oils (eucalyptus, rosemary, etc.) can cause seizures. Many are absolutely safe for children and some are safe even for infants. To everyone concerned out there, get yourselves good books and a good education! At the end of the day, it’s your decision and it’s yours only.

      • Avatar
        July 1, 2017 at 1:52 pm

        Dear Dr. Krumbeck,

        I’m sorry, but I must insist you make some sweeping generalisations in your post. I’m completely in favour of using caution when administering essential oils, but it would worry me (and you, I’m sure) that some one reading this would think “Wow!, no essential oils till Freddy hits 18. Let’s give him some Vicks VapoRub instead.”, therefore skipping essential oils in favour of more deleterious treatments.

        Therefore, allow me to insist that there is no valid equivalence between tea, tincture and essential oil, for the reasons I stated in my first comment. Also, the amount of plant material required for a bottle of oil is vastly different depending on the plant, which makes the equivalence even less appropriate (think rose vs lavender, for instance!). Furthermore, I do not understand why you say the water-based constituents of plants aren’t dangerous. They can be, and even deadly. And then some oils can be applied neat on the skin. (Most can’t.) That’s just to illustrate that everything depends on the herb and oil.

        The fact that oils can penetrate barriers and have immediate effect on the nervous system is not in itself a bad thing; as you know, it’s the base of great therapeutic action that is not possible for many other substances. That’s not to say care shouldn’t be taken, but it doesn’t mean they should be avoided, either. I appreciate that you advise people to be cautious, but as to the neurotoxicity of other dangers of oils, well, it would depend on the oil, on the person, on the dose, and on the condition.

  • Pingback: Children & Essential Oils… – Passiflora Aromatics
    June 26, 2017 at 4:38 am
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    June 16, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I had a scalp treatment with oils on Friday afternoon. The girl that applied it suggested that I leave it on my hair as long as I could stand, even through the night if possible. So I did. On Saturday I was busy cleaning house & running errands so I decided to wait until that evening to wash my hair. A little over 24 hours after the treatment I had a full blown seizure. I’m 40 years old with no prior history or family history of seizures. Do you think that the scalp treatment & oils that were used could have triggered a seizure?

  • Avatar
    June 15, 2017 at 1:51 am

    I live next to a rice field which means horrible mosquitos. Ive heard lavender essential oil is an effective mosquito repellent. How do i use this essential oil in an oil warmer for aroma therapy? Do i need to dilute or what?

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    June 2, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Is it safe to use tea tree oil in a water diffuser around a month old baby?

      • Avatar
        Christina Baker
        June 30, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        Thankyou for your expertise.. my son is actually 5 months old.. would orange or other mild oils be okay to use around him?

  • Avatar
    Kayli Sells
    May 25, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    My one year old just got ahold of my doterra peppermint. He must’ve swallowed some. I put coconut oil on his mouth and on hands and am nursing him now. Should I take him in or what shoul I do?!

    • Avatar
      August 5, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Is your bubba okay?

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    May 24, 2017 at 8:43 pm


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    May 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks for this information. What about using oils while breastfeeding? Thanks.

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    May 9, 2017 at 1:38 am

    I just read a book where a holistic dentist advised using essential oils to floss with… I assume this is a form of internallly? What is she referring to if that is unsafe??

  • Avatar
    May 8, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    What are the side effects for a 8 month old of used a tiny bit of rub for relaxation before bed???

  • Avatar
    Kayli Sells
    April 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    I use a drop of clove and a lot of coconut oil on my babies gums every night for teething. Now I’m worried!!

    • Avatar
      Heather slagle
      August 3, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      I would not recommend Clove for your baby you need to make sure you have the right ratio of carrier oil with the eo have you put this in your mouth?

  • Avatar
    Jamie Kolleth
    March 28, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Thank you for this article! My son has severe asthma. I threw away EVERYTHING scented and switched to essential oils. For the most part his asthma is A LOT better but Imagine my surprise when I put lemongrass scent in his clothing drawers and he’s having trouble breathing! I really miss scents around my house. Is there ANYTHING I can safely use?

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    March 15, 2017 at 6:17 pm
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    March 15, 2017 at 8:57 am

    I for that to be cautious during pregnancy (And for children), I recommend everything. But it depends on the method of using essential oil. Many people use heating and evaporation, and here it’s important to know what the capacity is made from. Some people are looking only for bpa free oil diffuser.
    For example, forbade the use of BPA in baby bottles:

    • Avatar
      January 4, 2018 at 1:23 am

      Meaningless. BPA-free plastics often have much worse EA chemicals in them to replace the BPA. All plastic leaches EA chemicals. There is no safe plastic.

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