Aromatherapy: How Safe Is This Organic “Treatment?”

Posted on April 25th, 2022 by

written by Abegeya T., Allison D., CJ Herrick, and Jessa W. 


Living with young children can be hectic and trying to keep them calm while running to appointments can be challenging. Would you be interested in a simple solution to help your children’s stress, low moods, insomnia, muscle tension, and even common infections without leaving the comfort of your house? While this may seem too good to be true, the recent trends in essential oil usage have been largely driven by these appeals. However, are there risks to these popular remedies? And how safe are they, especially in some of the most vulnerable populations- children? 

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils typically extracted from roots, stems, plants, and leaves. These oils can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin to help people feel calmer, reduce pain, and even sleep better (Wei, 2016). It is important to note that these oils are extremely concentrated as it can take several pounds of a plant to produce a single bottle of essential oil (Aromatherapy, n.d.). Therefore, we should be cautious about the groups of people these oils are appropriate for usage. The National Poison Control Center has stated that since some essential oils may be poisonous, and children have smaller, more sensitive systems, we should be very careful about how and when we allow children to use these oils (Aromatherapy, n.d.). 

These essential oils are volatile, meaning they become like gasses and thus spread quickly and are inhaled. Once inhaled these oils dissolve up in the olfactory epithelium, the tissue lining the nasal cavities that contain olfactory receptor cells, on the roof of the nasal cavity 

(Wolfe et al., 2011). These molecules connect to the cilia, short hair-like filaments that play a role in locomotion, which then signal receptors of the olfactory bulb in our nose that trigger our olfactory system, the sensory system used for smelling, to send signals to our limbic system (Wolfe et al., 2011). Once in our limbic system–the part of our brain responsible for a behavioral and emotional response–these oils then help improve mood by altering our brain chemistry (Aromatherapy Associates, n.d.). After reaching our limbic system these oils pass toward our olfactory cortex in which the scent is better perceived and recognized (Deng, 2011). 

Based on information from Johns Hopkins Medicine, they advise to not use essential oils on children under the age of 30 months, because children could become “agitated” (Aromatherapy, n.d.). However, based on the information from the National Poison Control center and The New York Times, we would propose not using essential oils on children until the age of five because they could cause more harm than help. Johns Hopkins Medicine has also stated that the safest ways to use essential oils are through Aromatherapy accessories, body oil, and aroma sticks as these methods are less concentrated and people should avoid using them directly on their skin at full strength (Aromatherapy, n.d.). 

There are almost no studies about the effectiveness of aromatherapy and essential oils on children. Although there are many claims about the benefits of using these oils, there is little to no proof. Any studies into essential oils that have been done involve mostly animals, with some adult human tests mixed in. Any studies done with children are often rudimentary with small sample sizes and unqualified testing methods. As such, the results can not be trusted unless follow-up research and studies have been performed, which have not occurred with any of these tests (Smith, 2019).

Should we be worried about the possible risks these oils may have on children? Even though research has been lacking in this field, there are substantial reports that can inform us that using oils directly on the skin of young children (30 months or under) can cause irritation and agitation to the sensory systems. Overall, very young children should not be using these oils, and the best and safest way to introduce them is through more diluted methods. So before you try and calm your baby with Lavender or Chamomile, maybe think twice before you do. 



Aromatherapy Associates. (n.d.). How does aromatherapy work on the brain? Aromatherapy Associates. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from 

Aromatherapy: Do essential oils really work? Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2022, from 

Carr, T. (2021, October 22). Are Essential Oils Safe for kids? The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

Deng, C. (2011, November 16). Aromatherapy: Exploring olfaction. Yale Scientific. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

Gould Soloway, R. A. (n.d.). Essential oils: Poisonous when misused. Poison Control. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from

Lost Your Sense of Smell? Retrain your Senses with Essential Oils! (n.d.). Retrieved from

Martinelli, Giulia (2018). Poisonous Animals. TED Ed,

Smith, J. (2019). Essential Oils and Their Use on Children. Checkup Newsroom. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from 

Wei, M. (2016). Six aromatherapy essential oils for stress relief and sleep. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from 



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