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Using essential oils safely at home:

Top tips for home fragrance with pets and young children

The benefits of using essential oils for aromatherapy – enhancing mental and physical wellbeing through smell – are well-documented, from reduced stress and improved focus to improved circulation and digestion. It is believed that children and even some animals can also reap these benefits.

But not all oils are suitable for use around young children or for pets, given that their immune systems and respiratory systems are so different from those of adults. As such, it is important to choose the right blend to ensure the health and wellbeing of all members of your household.

As a general rule of thumb, one of the safest ways of using essential oils is by choosing home fragrance products containing them, such as candles, room mists and reed diffusers. Adding oils to potpourri or to a hot bath or shower is also widely regarded as safe. Applying essential oils topically (i.e. directly to the skin), however, produces higher rates of adverse reactions. Ingesting them is more likely still to result in negative effects.

Using essential oils for aromatherapy is safer solely in that your body is not exposed to large quantities of the oil at any one time, be that internally or externally. Nonetheless, some oils are not recommended for any use on or around children, animals or pregnant or breastfeeding women, home fragrance included.

If you have young children…

Be aware that they are more sensitive in general to aromas due to the fact that their respiratory systems and immune systems are not fully mature. As such, some essential oils deemed safe for most adults have been linked to slowed respiration or to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Young skin is also much thinner and more sensitive, so be sure to keep diffusers and pure oils out of reach of young children. This risk is particularly pronounced for those aged two and under, but much advice cautions against using essential oils topically adding drops to showers and baths for those until your child is 10.

Essential oils which should be kept away from children include:

  • Wintergreen

  • Peppermint

  • Eucalyptus

  • Rosemary

  • Sage

  • Thyme

  • Lemongrass

  • Basil

  • Tea tree

  • Cinnamon

  • Cardamom

  • Clove bud

Essential oils regarded as safe for children include:

  • Lavender

  • Chamomile

  • Cypress

  • Marjoram

  • Rose

  • Patchouli

  • Cedarwood

  • Sweet orange

  • Mandarin

  • Lemon

Note here that diffusing of any kind – whether using hot water or an electric diffuser – is not recommended around children aged six months and under. This is because their chemosensory system and central nervous systems will still be developing, as well as their immune and respiratory functions. When diffusing around older children, be sure they have access to fresh air by opening a door or window.

If you are pregnant…

While there is no evidence that using essential oils in home fragrance will cause any issues for yourself or your unborn child, you should always consult and check with your GP. Horror stories have been almost exclusively recorded when women ingest toxic essential oils by mouth.

Nonetheless, experts advise avoiding aniseed, basil, birch, cinnamon, camphor, hyssop, mugwort, parsley, sage, wintergreen, tonka and nutmeg throughout all trimesters and while breastfeeding.

Safe alternatives which may provide wellbeing benefits at this special time include bergamot, black pepper, chamomile, cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lavender, lemon, mandarin, marjoram, neroli, rose, sandalwood, orange, tea tree and ylang ylang.

If you have pets…

It is important to appreciate that their chemosensory, respiratory, digestive and immune systems are very different to those of a human and to choose home fragrance with care. What may cause a dry throat in humans may cause seizures, strokes and even death for some cats and dogs.

As well as choosing your oils wisely, you will also need to take caution when choosing product formats. Cats and dogs have been known to drink out of reed diffusers, and to lick pure oils off of themselves or of surfaces if they are spilled. As is the case with humans, topical application and ingestion bear much higher risks than inhalation.

It is worth noting that the use of any essential oils, even for home fragrance, is not recommended around pregnant cats or dogs. If your pet is expecting but you would still like to indulge in aromatherapy, you are safest to simply lock them out of the room or rooms where you use home fragrance.

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