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
    Maya Bird
    July 19, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Hello Dr Krumbeck thanks for the informative article. Can you please advise if I can use Doterra’s Terrashield spray on my 14mo? We’re travelling in Asia and I’m worried about mosquito bites. Would it be safe to spray on him? Thank you

  • Avatar
    July 19, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Great article! Super good to know! I’m very new to essential oils and am wondering about DIY hygiene products (shampoo, condition, face wash, lip balm, lotion, etc.). Many recipes I see say to add essential oils into your mix, whether it’s with shea butter or coconut oil or beeswax. Are these safe since you’re mixing the essential oil with something else? And most of them call for 10 drops or so for whatever essential oil you choose. Too much? Thanks so much!

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Hi! I am nursing and I substitute wool dryer balls for dryer sheets. I usually put 5-6 drops of lavender EO on each ball every few loads of laundry to make my clothes smell nice… Should I worry about my nursing tops/bra transferring the EO to my breasts and subsequently my infants mouth? I’m so worried! Thank you!

  • Avatar
    June 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    My son is 10 months old. He is having seizure and his seizure not getting controlled even after giving him 3 strong epileptic medicine. He has also been diagnosed with TSC.
    While i was searching for remedy to control his seizure, I came to know about “frankincense oil”. And then read your article. I am not sure if I should try this essential oil in diluted form on my baby or not. Can you please help? If i can try “frankincense oil” then how should i apply this & how much to dilute ? We are in India (Kolkata) and didn’t found any really experienced specialist here for this. If you can guide me that will be very helpful.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Avatar
      June 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Out of curiosity is your son following the recommended vaccination schedule? Frank EO is a beautiful oil that supports proper cellular function sounds like it would be a great supportive oil!!!

  • Avatar
    June 7, 2016 at 10:38 am

    I really appreciate this information. I have read countless articles on use of essential oils – first to help one of my sons with his ADHD, and then for mine and my kids’ respiratory problems, and then for household cleaning. Most recently I have been diluting a few drops of tea tree oil in dishwater as a disinfectant, but now I am concerned about this because my kids help me wash the dishes, so they are in contact with it. I am also now very concerned because my youngest son has asthma and has been hospitalized for pneumonia following a non-controlled respiratory problem. Thank you again for this information!

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    June 6, 2016 at 11:49 pm
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    candice gerber
    June 6, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    What essential oils are safe to diffuse in your home with children who are 2-12 years old? Do you have to dilute the oils when using them in a humidifier diffuser?

  • Avatar
    May 20, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I would love a recommendation for a ND in the Portland Oregon area (Beaverton, Hillsboro)! I have a 7 year old grandson who is a shaken baby survivor. He suffers from many issues because of the brain damage he sustained – severe ADD, very low impulse control, pretty severe constipation because of diet (there are very limited things he will eat and he would starve before eating most foods), sensory issues (he constantly beats his hands against hard objects). I would love to see if there is something we can do to calm him down and maybe help him start talking. The information on essential oils is overwhelming. We did use patchouli on him once and he was zombie like, but now when we use it to calm him, it has little to no effect. We have also tried frankincense on the back of the neck and bottom of his feet (concentrated on the big toe), but admittedly have not been consistent. Thank you for your help!

      • Avatar
        May 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

        Oh my goodness, her Beaverton office is literally within walking distance of us! Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Erika Denr
    May 17, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Hi i thought the doterra breath could be used on my 12montb year old, i put a drop on some coconut oil and rubbed it on her foot. This was at 1 pm then for some reason like 30 minutes after i decided to Wash her feet cause i got scared. 14 hours have past, should i still worry???

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    May 13, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    I just stumbled across your website when I was researching essential oil safely for my toddler. What a great resource, I wish I lived in Montana and you could be our doctor! I just checked online and there are no ND pediatricians where we live (in Honolulu). What a bummer, wish there were!

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    May 13, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Hello! Thank you so much for this great information. I have a kiddo who has some sensory differences and using essentials oils such as lavender and vitiver have been recommended to help with self-regulation and calming. I have seen several ways to incorporate EOs into homemade playdough to help with calming while playing. My question is if I were to use EOs in playdough, would I still need to combine the EO with a carrier oil or can the EO be directly added into the playdough? Thank you!!

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    May 6, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    I had made a concentrated spider repellant to spray around my baseboards inside my home (uses 15-20 drops peppermint oil, 10 ounces water and dishwashing liquid). I didnt know peppermint oil was not to be used around kids. How long before I can take my little one Into that room? Just until the peppermint smell is gone?Thanks

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      May 10, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Hi. Thank you for your very helpful and informative article. A few weeks ago we had a very scary situation with our 15 month old daughter. I was in the kitchen and just started using a new natural kitchen spray (Mrs. Meyers lemon verbena) and my daughter was playing nearby. Right after I sprayed the product, which is highly highly scented, she exhibited seizure like behavior. I immediately suspected the spray and we brought her into fresh air and she was fine. Needless to say, I got rid of those products and will never use them again. We suspected an inhalation allergy to the corn derivatives in the product but her allergest says no. He thinks it sounds more like a seizure and I am now highly suspecting the essential oils in the product which from what I can tell include lemon, fir, lemongrass and birch and possibly others. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced something similar with their kids or if anyone knows specifics on those oils in particular. It’s very scary and those oils are definitely not to play around with!

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    April 4, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Which EO’s should be used following infant immunization for detoxification?

    • Avatar
      April 22, 2016 at 2:24 am

      Why would you get the child the vaccines in the first place if you don’t want them in their system? Makes no sense. I sure hope you aren’t taking your own initiative at detoxifying someone else’s child. I’m a completely natural person but this question is telling me somethings off and it isn’t your child.

      • Avatar
        Shauna B
        May 5, 2016 at 4:05 am

        I know some people in CA feeling forced to vaccinate due to current law to have a child fully immunized prior to starting school or not be able to attend.

      • Avatar
        May 9, 2016 at 1:54 am

        I don’t think your response is in anyway helpful. You don’t know what her reasoning is for wanting to detox her child after shots. Maybe she didn’t like the way her child was reacting to the shots. Whatever her reason, she’s just looking for some help and guidance in the right direction. So if you don’t want to help, why even bother responding.

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    March 25, 2016 at 3:49 am

    Hello. I have recently begun substituting homemade cleaners and air fresheners for the commercial products I’ve always used in an attempt to make my home a healthier and safer place for my family. Many of the recipes I’ve found and tried use peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils. In doing research about EOs, I came across this site and many other resources warning against using these oils for children. I have a 4 year old. Should I stop using these recipes? And what about peppermint scented Castile soap? Is it also unsafe to use a blend of peppermint and lavender on myself for my headaches? Even though it’s on my skin, I know he is still inhaling the aroma.

    I really hope you can answer these questions. It is so frustrating to think you’re making positive changes and then discover you may still be endangering your child. Thanks in advance for your time and help.

    • Avatar
      April 25, 2016 at 8:06 am

      Christy, May I recommend Shaklee cleaning products? They are always green, always safe! 4 drops of Basic H in a large spray bottle of water and it cleans my car, windows, floors, countertops, ceramic tile, even got double sided tape off of my hard wood floors! LOVE this company, they emit zero emissions into the planet while producing their products and promote good health, using double blind studies to test all their stuff as well. They have another product Basic G which I use to disinfect, again, 4 drops into my large bottle. Of course the concentrate isn’t safe and should be kept out of reach of children. But I have to say, 4 years after purchasing my bottles and I haven’t even used half of the bottle! I am saving thousands of dollars not buying harmful chemicals that usually don’t even work! Anyway, you can find them online.

  • Avatar
    Kimberly Welch
    March 23, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    My 7 week old grandson is now staying with me. I diffuse oils but have not done so much around him. He now has a cold that we have passed to him. Would it be safe to use an oil on his feet, that could help with the head congestion? Thanks

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    March 22, 2016 at 8:04 am
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    March 20, 2016 at 6:00 am

    I’m still new to essential oils and have many questions that I just can’t seem to find an answer for. Are there any negative effects/dangers of diffusing essential oils with children around that don’t have asthma? Also, if I purchase an oil kit that doesn’t pass the “white paper test” for oils, am I better off returning and not using these oils? I am very interested in their uses, but also afraid at the same time because I’m not sure if soley diffusing will have negative effects. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Aislin Hall
    March 20, 2016 at 5:30 am

    My daughter has had two seizures which I’m almost certain happened because of the use of lavender which is stated to be safe for children in many EO books. Yes, I had it diluted correctly! One drop lavender to 2tbsp fractionated coconut oil. I also only put it on her feet.. The first time she cried in pain while asleep and started to convulse after I changed her diaper and picked her up. She was unresponsive for a minute after that. The second time she cried in pain while asleep and I picked her up and she went limp and her eyes were aware but not responsive then following that started to shake. She’s 6 months old. I have used the same thing on her twin brother and he is fine. I will no longer use them on her or her brother. I wish there was some kind of warning in these books that tell you it’s safe!!

    • Avatar
      March 20, 2016 at 10:02 pm

      Just to be sure so you know to avoid lavender fields and other essential oils with the same constituents if you can have the EO tested… or you could maybe find someone like me who is allergic to pure lavender and many other scents and see if they react. It is possible it is adulterated as is 99 percent of lavender sold on the market today. I certify would look into the chemical composition of that oil and the brand should be able to tell you what the components are. If nor you might have your answer there. Knowing what makes up the oil will give you better knowledge on what ones to avoid in future and what would be something that could be used safely. I would start with any oil with scent and not topically. There is some really good advice here and check out Dr. Papas his independent testing results are something you might find invaluable in finding out what the trigger may have been. Seeing a loved one have a seizure is tramatizing know my dad has them. Knowledge is power and the more you know the better you will be able to help your little ones. Essential oils have been a miracle godsend for many people but like food alergies you are better for using them instead of alternatives and you just need to watch out for something. Do some digging and I am sure you will figure out what caused the problem and be better able to avoid it in the future. From what I have read so far on true lavender it doesn’t have any potentially or even suspected triggers for seizures. Lavendula a common cheap substitute on the other hand I think does but I am not sure about that. GOOD LUCK and good health to you and yours. Enjoy the learning and explore the possibilities and cautions life is all about calculated risk. As a parent we feel deviated when we make a mistake and our loved ones are hurt. The risk of using lavender instead of prescription drugs based on the overall track record for pharmaceutical drugs was a very smart move. The detrimental effects of poor sleep on young children is also something to consider. Remember you were doing what you thought and many many other think is the best for your kids… sometimes though rarely all the knowledge in the world tells you one thing but the effect is not what is expected. Its not your fault I commend you for trying what’s is well known as a safe option but there are a few rare people who react adversely. Research so you can be forewarned and confident in what it was that may have caused the issue. Good luck…

  • Avatar
    March 18, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Essential oils CAN cause seizures- this is not fear mongering. Both my daughters have had seizures following the use of less than 1 drop of thieves essential oil. Both on separate occasions 6 months apart- both on the first time using it for each child. I have been much more careful to research each oil before use just as I would any medication. I love essential oils and use them still for many, many things but one must use caution on such concentrated oils. You know what is scary? Watching your child have a seizure.

  • Avatar
    March 11, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    I have been cautious to try oils without knowing both sides of the argument. In some of my research, I have found that some oils should not be used with children under a certain age. Do you agree that some oils need to be avoided until a child reaches a certain age? Specifically, I have a 7 month old. If so, do I personally need to avoid using those oils topically on myself (I am still nursing). Thank you!!

  • Avatar
    March 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve used on guard and breathe on my kids many times over the last couple of years. I have a roller bottle I was using on their chests and feet last week to help with some nasty colds. This specific roller bottle with the diluted on guard and breathe has been used on my infant as well with no issues. But my older two been red on their chests for about a week (including a couple small blisters on the oldest) and the only thing I can think of would be the oils. I haven’t used those oils on them since the issues arose, just coconut oil and some lavender. I noticed my oldest smelling like on guard yesterday (without having had contact with any for days), and a friend at church mentioned she smelled it too after she asked about my daughter’s chest and I told her what happened.

    Any thoughts? Is it possible I really messed something up this time? Would rancidity maybe be an issue? Am I justified in feeling a bit “betrayed” by my oils? Could it be something else, though Ive been assuming it was the oils? Is there any other protocol you would recommend for helping them heal? Thanks so much for taking the time to respond.

    • Avatar
      April 6, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      OnGuard is a HOT oil, so proper dilution is part of it. Also, it is one that I don’t apply anywhere but the feet because of sensitivity of the skin. You may need to dilute further if you plan to continue using it.

    • Avatar
      May 10, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Read my post above…. but this being a Hot oil some oils after repeat use may cause increased sensitivity in some people over time this would have happened even if your kid was 33 years old not just a kid. FEET FIRST but diffusing is better. If it doesn’t work on the feet place it on a cotton t-shirt or on a second pillowcase covered by another to avoid direct contact with the skin. A jacket collar works wonders all day for some though. About the smell…. 2 thoughts 1… did they get ahold of some themselves or wear something that was worn when using the oils before like a jacket… or it could be the ouls due to the reaction werent absorbed completely and as new skin was exposed it released the oil? I treally am speculating on lots of maybies for that second one. Good luck and goid for you trying to do right by your children! Please read my previous post.

  • Avatar
    March 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    My daughter has asthma and I didn’t know that diffusing them was unsafe. Thanks for the info! Should we avoid all essential oil usage with an asthmatic child? For example, could some still applied to feet at bedtime? Or, can you use EO’s in a mix with water and spray around the house? Thanks for your time in answering these questions!

  • Avatar
    March 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Thank you! Covered all my questions. Knowledge is power…

  • Avatar
    Lori P
    March 5, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I am new to essential oils. I am just discovering all of the benefits of using these wonderful oils. I am so glad for your post, as I am a mother of 4! This was very informative and in no way scary as some “haters” have said. I thank you for putting this out there for everyone. I will still use the essential oils for my family but I will definitely be very cautious!! Thank you! Thank you!!

  • Avatar
    March 4, 2016 at 2:43 pm


    I appreciate your concern and think it is important that people educate themselves with usage of essential oils. I am wondering why you would have a title that imposes fear into the reader? I use oils and take research very seriously before I use the oils. I stumbled across your post and feel that it is misleading to gather readers rather than educate. Essential oils have been a huge part of my personal recovery and it saddens me that someone in your position would use fear to gather readers rather than the great info you provide. It could be just as effective without imposing fear into people. Our society has enough fear in the world and your in a position where you can impact lives. Good information, poor delivery.

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