When we think of natural skin care products, essential oils often come to mind. After all, these are plant-based oils in nearly their natural state, right? Well, yes, but there are some considerations to keep in mind when asking yourself are essential oils safe and are they safe for my baby?
What exactly is an essential oil?
Essential oils are simply the oils from the plants they are extracted from. They are called essential not because they are essential for health, but because they are the essence of a plant’s signature scent. The oils can be extracted from plants by different methods including distillation, direct expression, and solvent extraction (using chemicals to extract the desired oil).
The most common essential oils on the market include Roman chamomile, Clary sage, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus radiata, Lavender, Lemongrass, Mandarin, Neroli, Peppermint, Rosemary, Tea tree, Thyme, and Ylang ylang.
What are the benefits of essential oils?
When people think about essential oils they often think of soothing, calming, revitalizing and nurturing. This is because essential oils have been used for massage and relaxation throughout history. Essential oils are also used in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for their healing properties. Through aromatherapy, essential oils are inhaled or applied to the skin by massage.
There are many benefits that are claimed to result from the use of essential oils including use as an anti-inflammatory agent, calming and soothing properties, and healing relief. Chamomile is thought to be anti-inflammatory, calming and soothing for children. Several others oils are also thought to be anti-inflammatory including lemongrass, thyme, and tea tree oils. Calming and soothing essential oils include chamomile, lavender, and sage. And eucalyptus and rosemary are used to help with respiratory decongestion.
But are they safe?
So we know essential oils have beneficial properties, but are they safe, especially for a baby? There are a couple of things you should consider when deciding whether to use essential oils.
- Quality. When choosing an essential oil, it is important to choose an oil of high quality. There are many things to consider when looking for a high quality essential oil, but for starters, check the label. The label should include the botanical name of the oil, the country of origin, the distillation date and/or expiration date and potentially the chemo type. Other considerations might include cost, testing, and affiliations with associations such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.
- Irritancy. Very strong, undiluted oils can cause the skin to become irritated. For this reason, most essential oils are significantly diluted – often to a 0.5% – 2.0% range. Also, some oils tend to cause more irritancy than others. Essential oils commonly known to cause the skin to become irritated at higher percentages are oils from bay leaf, cinnamon leaf or bark, clove bud, citronella, lemongrass, oregano, and thyme.
- Allergic sensitization. This means that repeated use of anything on the skin over and over could cause a rash. Specifically since these oils come from plants, repeated use can cause a rash that behaves like poison ivy. The more exposure to the plant (or oil) the higher the risk for an allergic reaction. This happens when the body’s immune system decides to target a specific protein in that substance and become allergic to it, and this can happen randomly. Essential oils with higher allergic potential include cinnamon leaf or bark, Ylang ylang, Jasminum grandiflorum, and Balsam of Peru. Essential oils with a lower allergenic potential are oils from lavender, rosemary, and thyme.
- Photosensitization. Photosensitization occurs when a substance has a reaction with the ultraviolet rays of the sun and then produces a rash on the skin. Essential oils that have a higher risk of photosensitization include Bergamot, Citrus limonum, Citrus senensis, and Cumin.
There are many arguments on which essential oils offer the most benefit and the least amount of risk. Some of the essential oils that are considered most safe include lavender, rosemary and thyme. If you are looking for essential oils for babies, these are good ones to try.
While all Baby Pibu™ products are fragrance-free to reduce the risk of allergy and irritancy, several products use essential oils for a hint of scent. Our Baby Butter and Bathtime Wash have a little bit of lavender so your baby smells scrumptious when he is fresh from the bath.
When shopping for essential oils for your baby, look for those that have the lowest risk of causing allergic sensitization, photosensitization, and irritancy, like the ones listed above. And choose oil that you consider to be of high quality. If you use these considerations when making your choice, you can feel good that essential oils are safe for your baby.