A guide to treating common children’s ailments with aromatherapy

As expat mums we all know the struggle to find a good family doctor, how difficult it can be to find treatment for minor ailments when we’re on the go, or our reluctance to trust strong medication alone for our kids, especially when we barely understand the language that the prescription is written in.

The more I’ve travelled, the more I’ve become reliant on alternative remedies for my children. I’m a firm believer that modern medicine is the best route to saving lives, but I’m also a convert to the healing power of many natural remedies. When used as a complementary therapy alongside classical medicine, aromatherapy is one of my favourites.

aromatherapy for children

Recently my Expater friend Maryam explained how aromatherapy had transformed her child’s life, and also her own.

I’ve been following up with her for tips on how to use aromatherapy for a range of children’s issues and I thought I’d share her guide to treating the most common ailments here.

Keep it personal

The first thing she is keen to stress is the importance of seeking out qualified medical assistance if necessary, especially in the case of an emergency or chronic diseases. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medication, speak to your doctor first. Maryam is a skilled aromatherapy and wellness practitioner, not a doctor and while essential oils have revolutionised her lifestyle, she clearly states that you should seek professional advice for diseases such as cancer, MS, Fibromyalgia etc.

Secondly, she emphasises how potent the oils are and how differently they work with each individual. Anyone starting out should proceed slowly and carefully. Apparently one drop of peppermint essential oil equates to 28 cups of peppermint tea in terms of strength. So in short, go easy.

Finally she underlines that while aromatherapy is her family’s primary healthcare route, she understands that this path is not for everyone. That’s not to say there is a choice to be made between alternative remedies and modern medicine however, and each family should be free to choose the balance which works best for them.

aromatherapy for children

How to use

In terms of application Maryam recommends administering the oils through a diffuser in the room, or diluted on the chest, back or the soles of the feet. I learn that feet have larger pores than other parts of the body so applying the oils here allows them to be more rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream for an all over effect. Meanwhile, applying a blend to the chest offers a more targeted approach – useful when dealing with coughs or colds, for example.

I’d understood that when applying an oil topically, concentrated drops of the oil would give the best results, but I’m wrong. Not only can the sensation be too strong for children, but it’s also not as effective generally. Apparently oils diluted with a carrier such as coconut, almond or jojoba pass through the skin more efficiently than when applied neat. Unless stated otherwise, Maryam recommends one part essential oil to at least five parts of fractionated (liquid) coconut oil. After mixing up a blend, any residue oil on your hand can be rubbed onto your children’s hair for additional benefit.

One word about citrus oils: these contain photosensitive compounds which can react with sunlight to create a phototoxic effect, resulting in anything from a mild colour change to a deep burn. With this in mind it’s important to avoid sun exposure, or other sources of ultraviolet light for up to 24 hours afterwards. In other words, stick these oils where the sun don’t shine.

Finally, it’s important to store oils away from sunlight and at cool temperatures (keeping them in the fridge is fine and does not affect their efficacy). If you’re making a blend for on the go or regular usage, use glass or stainless steel containers with a good seal (oils can degrade most types of plastic). While shampoo and cleaning product bottles generally use a more heavy duty plastic which is not broken down by essential oils, to be on the safe side Maryam always opts for glass containers.

aromatherapy and peppermint for children's ailments

So with all the ‘how tos’ out of the way, here’s her guide on how she personally treats the most common children’s ailments with essential oils:

Back to school, moving countries or other feelings of anxiety – Oils derived from trees and roots give a sense of grounding and help ease anxiety. I use a combination of spruce, ho wood, frankincense, blue tansy, and blue chamomile, adding two or three drops to my diffuser throughout the day. Otherwise I’ll mix one drop of each oil to one teaspoon of fractionated coconut oil and massage gently on the bottom of my children’s feet and on their backs before bedtime.

Sleep issues – Firstly, good sleep hygiene is paramount. By this I mean no electronic screens (laptops, televisions, phones, gadgets etc.) at least one hour before bedtime, a comfortable room temperature (18-20 degrees Celsius) and black out curtains if there is too much light. I then diffuse a combination of frankincense, cedarwood and bergamot in my children’s rooms, allowing the diffuser to switch off after its four hour setting. While fancy gadgets are not necessary in my view, it’s worth checking if your diffuser has an automatic switch off. Always place the diffuser well out of children’s reach and I’d strongly advise against burners or anything which could be a fire hazard.

I also like to use a roller, mixing two drops of each of the aforementioned oils and filling the rest with a carrier. I’ll roll this blend onto the soles of their feet and along their spine before bedtime. It’s a lovely night time ritual and really helps to calm.

Travel sickness – I always keep a blend of ginger or peppermint with me for long journeys. Ginger is a hot oil and peppermint can be quite astringent so it’s especially important to dilute them before applying topically. I’ll use one drop of ginger oil to one tablespoon of fractionated coconut oil in a roller and apply this to the abdomen or the soles of their feet. Otherwise I’ll use a drop of either of the pure oils on a cotton bud and place it over the car air conditioning vents. There are lots of great car diffusers on the market but I like to keep it simple and this method works best for me. If my children are feeling nauseous I’ll let them breathe in the scent directly from my bottle.

Cuts and grazes, bee stings and insect bites – lavender, melaleuca (also known as tea tree oil), frankincense, geranium all work well. I’ll dilute a blend of these oils and apply where needed. I know that my children can tolerate non diluted lavender oil when applied topically but not all children are the same, so I’d recommend sticking to a diluted form to begin with. Mini glass jam jars (the type served at hotel breakfasts) are great receptacles for these blends when on the go or for first aid kits. I always have a pot of lavender blend in my handbag.

Ear  discomfort – while you may need to consult your doctor to check if the ear is infected, it’s worth noting that melaleuca has great antibacterial properties. I apply a single drop of melaleuca to a cotton ball and swipe gently around the outside of the affected ear, along the neck line and upper shoulders. I’ll also rest the bud on the outside of the ear for a while to allow the scent to penetrate, but I never put anything inside the ear canal as this could make things worse. I tend to do this before bed time or a nap when my kids are more relaxed – trying this on excitable children is not a good idea!

Skin complaints such as eczema or psoriasis – While psoriasis is a genetic condition and there is no known cure, the following oils blended with a carrier oil help to soothe and assist in the fight against fungal infection: lavender, melaleuca, geranium, cypress, roman chamomile and frankincense. The most important thing is to keep the skin hydrated. When my eldest child’s skin was at its worst I applied the blend every three hours, but now I only need to apply it in the morning and evening. Every child is different, but if in doubt it’s best to apply less of the blend, more frequently.

Teething – Clove and white fir work well for my kids. Clove is a hot oil so it’s really important to use this more heavily diluted – I’d recommend a maximum of one part clove oil to at least ten parts of good quality fractionated coconut oil. I’ll then test this blend on my own gums first, then apply to a (clean) finger and rub on my children’s gums. White fir meanwhile should only be used externally on the skin. I use a cotton bud to swipe the diluted blend over the jawline and along the smile lines.

Seasonal threats, including hayfever, coughs and colds – I’ve found lemon, lavender and peppermint all great in alleviating general discomfort, while eucalyptus and ravintsara work well to support nasal congestion. In autumn and winter I’ll go for warming blends including wild orange peel, clove, rosemary and cinnamon. I’ll generally use these blends in a diffuser, but for nasal congestion or respiratory issues I’ll massage them gently on the back and chest.

Nappy or heat rash – lavender, melaleuca and frankincense all work well in my view. For general care I use lavender alone mixed with standard coconut oil (i.e. the solid type used for cooking), while for actual nappy rash I’ll use a mix of all three oils. In terms of ratio, I recommend one to two drops of essential oil to one tablespoon of coconut oil.

Head lice – rosemary, melaleuca and lavender are all great. For prevention, I’ll blend five to ten drops with about 200ml of filtered water in a glass spray bottle. I’ll apply this to the roots, behind the ears, along the forehead and always avoiding the eye area. If kept cool this spray will last about a month.

For treatment, I’ll use ten drops of oil mixed with approximately 200ml of coconut oil in a spray. I’ll apply and massage gently into the roots, before combing through to the ends. I’ll leave the oils to rest as long as possible (I’ll get my kids to wear a plastic shower cap) and then wash with a shampoo blend. For this blend I’ll add 10-15 drops of melaleuca to their regular shampoo and leave the foam to work in for as long as possible before rinsing.

For repelling mosquitoes – lemongrass and peppermint are my go to for keeping insects at bay. I’ll mix a blend for use in a spray and apply to the ankles, feet, wrists and the back of the neck. I’ll spray this blend every few hours or as needed.

For growing pains, muscle aches and joint support – Personally we use a ready made cooling blend of wintergreen, camphor, helichrysum, peppermint, ylang ylang, blue chamomile, blue tansy and osmanthus. Some of these oils can be difficult to come by, but a simpler blend of cypress (to boost circulation), frankincense (to help ease inflammation) and wintergreen (to help ease general aches) is also fine. Dilute with a carrier oil, apply to the area with a roller and massage gently as often as required.

Maryam is a wellness advocate for dōTERRA offering free 30 minute consultations either in person in Belgium or remotely for those based in other countries to discuss a client’s needs. For more details contact her by email or through her webpage.

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