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
    Carolyn Reed
    February 8, 2017 at 5:38 am

    Do you think the use of use of essential oils (eucalyptus) in a diffuser could be linked with breath holding spells? My otherwise healthy, perfect 14month old started having these spells one month ago and has now had 20 of them. She has had a cold off and on during this time and have been using a diffuser in her room. I might be reaching, but do you think that could be the cause?

    • Avatar
      March 6, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      Eucalyptus is not to be used around children. Along with peppermint

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    February 7, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    This is why I love because all products are already pre-blended and safely diluted for kids.

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    stephanie szkopiec
    January 18, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Is it safe to use 2 drops of eucalyptus essential oil diluted with water in a diffuser in our house with my 3 year old?

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    January 17, 2017 at 6:06 am

    I have suffered from terrible sinus and asthma my entire life. I am trying to use essential oils over medication and I am wondering if diffusing the essential oils is safe for me or if it will be damaging or make my asthma worse? Thank you so much in advances.

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    January 4, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Great article and realize I made a few mistakes. Thank God nothing major.

    I was wondering if you might direct me to the recipes you mentioned for teething babies. I right now make breast milk pops which little one loves. But was interested in the chamomile and the lemon balm-also could j use lemon EO in Popsicles or stay clear??? Very interested. And should the tea be organic? Thanks so much.

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    December 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    at what age can we start using Vetever, Cedar, Frankincense and wild orange oils for children with ADHD

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    November 7, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Dr. Erika,

    Just read your article.. very helpful and i am scared now .My daughter (who is 23 months old) gets cold every month (She goes to daycare) along with cold she catches breathing difficulties and we give her puff (As per her doctor recommendation. After reading your article i am just realizing that i have been using eucalyptus oil when ever she gets cold (running nose). Perhaps she got the breathing issues from eucalyptus oil. SO scared now..going to throw that from my house.

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    November 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you for taking time to post and answer questions. Two questions: Have you ever heard of using frankincense to heal a cavity? I’ve read that it helps regenerate cells and have considered using a single, very diluted drop a few times a week on the tooth. Secondly, young living sells the thieves hand sanitizer but with the eucalyptus in is it ok for young kids?
    Thank you.

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    November 4, 2016 at 12:40 am

    I start diffusing 2-3 drops of lavender at night for my babies. Is that dangerous ? Is it ok to diffuse oils and are any of them that should be avoided ?Because I’m worried about the seizures you mention and I had no idea about it.

  • Avatar
    October 29, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I was wondering if maybe you could give me your opinion. I used 4 drops of lavender oil to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil with 1/4 cup of epsom salt in my daughters bath the night before last. The very next day she had a seizure and and no one can figure out why…..could this be coincidence? Or is it possible for the lavender oil to have triggered it??

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    October 29, 2016 at 2:41 am

    Hi Dr. Erika,

    I just signed up with Young Living and I probably have already made a few blunders with vaporizing (I did thieves and RC) but I did highly dilute the gentle baby oil I used on my 19 month old (on her feet) However, I feel like you are a very credible source and could give some guidance to anurse EO newbie about what oils to absolutely AVOID in children or nursing mothers or if it’s a shorter list- what is SAFE? I keep finding conflicting info and I just want what’s safe for my children! Thank you!

    • Avatar
      February 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      There is a really GOOD book called Gentle Babies by Debra Raybern. You can purchase on Amazon too!

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    October 21, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Is it OK to use peppermint oil in a diffuser for seasonal allergies? Children or 8 and 13.

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    October 21, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Hi! I was wondering if peppermint oil is safe to use in a diffuser for allergies? Children or 8 and 13

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    October 10, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve heard that lavender can be beneficial when diffused for asthma. What do you think about this? My son is 6 and has mild/seasonal asthma and I would like to try something as more preventive measures.

    • Avatar
      Jami Josephson Chace
      January 2, 2017 at 3:06 am

      Look into Shaklee’s Alfalfa for allergies! Helps my son a lot!

  • Avatar
    October 10, 2016 at 5:05 am

    I accidentally dropped 2 drops of undiluted Frankincense oil on the stomach of my 11 month old. Do I need to be concerned of adverse effects? And where do you get answers for questions like this, When oils are accidentally misused and knowing when it’s harmful or mostly harmless?

  • Avatar
    Jennafer Jones
    October 7, 2016 at 2:40 am

    I was told by my EO consultant to use eucalyptus oil in our diffuser for my 3mo old..we’ve been using for a week in his bedroom at night and then our living room during day. Now after looking up other oils to try for him I find this stuff about how unsafe the Eucalyptus oil freaking out…does he need to see a Dr or just stopping the eucalyptus ?

  • Avatar
    Cee Miller
    October 4, 2016 at 1:24 am

    Is it possible to use to much lavender on my baby that is 20 months? And if so, what would happen? I first mixed about a tablespoon of coconut oil and 4 drops of lavender oil and rubbed a small amount of my blend on her body. I wasn’t sure if i used to much coconut oil (since i used a tablespoon and probably only applied a half a teaspoon, if that) so i took some almond oil (maybe a half a teaspoon) and mixed 2 drops of lavender oil and rubbed her in that…now I am worried i applied too much lavender. The smell seemed pretty strong to me. We are trying to relax her so she can go to sleep better at night.

  • Avatar
    Charly rodriguez
    September 30, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Good day! I was wondering, what is a good alternative for breathe by doterra. I usually diffuse it at night (2drops) for my 3yr old who usually suffers from runny nose/allergies and a husband who snores! 😉 we all sleep in one room. Thanks 🙂

    • Avatar
      Juliana Saini
      February 18, 2017 at 2:06 am

      I diffuse peppermint, lavender, and lemon together and find it very effective ☺

  • Avatar
    September 30, 2016 at 7:15 am

    Hi Dr. Erika,

    I have hears amazing things about 4 thieves oil, and am wondering if it is safe to use on my children (2 and 5 years of age). I hear many stories about parents using it successfully on their children. Your thoughts?

  • Avatar
    Sarah Elizabeth Bernard
    September 27, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    Hi Doc. This blog post could not have come at a better time! My husband and I own a small natural skincare company, and I too see parents misuse essential oils more often than I wish! I became certified in aromatherapy simply because it was (in my opinion) the responsible thing to do. Recently, I was asked to to a child dilution safety demo. My question is, with regards to your dilution/application, how often should it be applied? Is there a limit? We are blending oils for calm and concentration specifically “homework time”

      • Avatar
        Sarah Elizabeth Bernard
        September 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm


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        Margarita Espina
        September 28, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Hello Dr. Krumbeck, I have been applying “Claritin” and “Brain Power” on my 12 year old son for about a year to help him focus in school. About 4 months ago, he started suffering with depression and massive anxiety. I didn’t think anything about the essential oils but it seems that I am seeing a pattern where he gets too much anxiety the days he goes to school, which are the days he gets his oils applied. This oils have helped a lot for his focus and school work but now I am wondering if anxiety can be a negative side effect. I also noticed that I have been very anxious lately, but don’t know if it’s because of what’s going on with my child or because of me using my thumbs to apply oil on my son. Let me know what are thoughts.

  • Avatar
    Erika Hunter
    September 26, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    I’m trying to see if I can use my diffuser. I can’t find anything on it. I dont’ put it on her or near her its across the (relativley tiny room) is it okay to use them? I want to make sure cause i have to puppies that go in and out and sometimes track mud and dirt in so it kinda stinks a little in here. and i dont know what i can use. >.< im so lost! btw shes 2 months old.

  • Avatar
    September 21, 2016 at 1:42 am

    Hi Dr. Erika,
    Thanks for your post. I’m havig a hard time with my research I was considering EOs as an alternative to harsh household chemical cleaners. I’m wondering if Thieves- which is a blend of clove, cinnamon bark, rosemary, lemon, eucalyptus (E. radiata) or orange is safe if diluted eith vinegar/water to clean surfaces or baby toys?

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