Heather Dawn Godfrey explains how all the family can enjoy using essential oils, with some festive suggestions
Scents for winter and the festive season! Mmmmm… Immediately my ‘inner nose’ catches wisps of spicy mulled wine carried on a pine-infused breeze, oranges spiked with cloves, the sweet warm smell of nutmeg and cinnamon rising from freshly baked fruit cake. I experience the potent connection between scent and memory, my imagination imbues my senses, and I feel a sense of earthy warmth and joy.
There are many ways essential oils can be used to create powerful poignant aesthetic scenes. But even more than this, essential oils possess potent therapeutic anti-microbial, skin healing and psycho-emotional properties.
However, I am compelled to pause here a moment to share a word of caution. Natural does not mean safe. As with all things in nature, we have learnt there are rules, and lovely as they are, essential oils are not exempt. Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile aromatic distillates isolated from various parts of certain plants and trees: heartwood, bark, roots, resin, leaves, twigs, stalks, flowers, fruits, seeds.
Did you know
• it takes 2lbs of lavender to produce 10ml of essential oil?
• 1 drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15–40 cups of medicinal tea or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture?
Essential oils are present in plants in very small amounts, alongside other phyto-chemicals that synergistically quell and counterbalance irritant or toxic components and potentiate others.
Children and Essential Oils
A baby’s skin is just one-fifth the thickness of adult skin and does not fully mature until a child is 6 years old. Thus the barrier function of infant skin is compromised and it is more susceptible than adult skin to chemical and microbial infiltration, especially during the first 3 months of life. Substances easily penetrate surface tissues and quickly pass to the lower layers of the dermis. While infant skin holds more water than adult skin, this quickly evaporates, so their skin is prone to dryness and is easily irritated. Essential oils exacerbate this process. Infants’ organs of elimination are less able to process essential oil molecules, increasing the risk of neurotoxicity. Pregnant women are susceptible too, not only because of increased sensitivity, but also because essential oil molecules cross the placenta and the blood–brain barrier.
My advice is not to apply essential oils, even in dilution, to children under 3 years old.For children between 3 and 6 years old, certain essential oils can be applied topically, but only in very high dilution (1 drop of essential oil in 20ml of carrier medium).
Essential oils to avoid for infants and young children include herbaceous oils and oils extracted from citrusy plants and fruit (with the exception of mandarin in high dilution), seeds, spices, sensitising florals such as ylang ylang, and oils that influence the hormonal system, such as rose. Oral ingestion of essential oils is out of the question.
Room diffusers are the safest way to use essential oils for children, but take care when vaporising essential oils around babies, children or anyone else who suffers from asthma or respiratory disease. Essential oils must be vaporised some distance from a child’s head.
Vegetable oils can be applied without essential oils. They protect and soothe skin and exhibit valuable healing qualities of their own. For example, sunflower oil, massaged into the skin of premature babies three times a day, has been found to enhance barrier function and thus to support immunity.
Organic vegetable oils suitable for infant massage and skin care are marigold-infused olive oil, evening primrose, jojoba, safflower and sunflower.
Organic essential oils suitable for young children aged 3 years and over include the following. For topical application, dilute in one of the above vegetable oils (carriers). Use either a single essential oil or a blend.
Chamomile Roman – for eczema, bruises, dry itchy skin. Aids skin healing. Eases agitation, anger, anxiety, excitability, hyperactivity, insomnia, restlessness, panic attacks. Calms and sedates. Use 1 drop in 20ml of carrier oil for massage, or 1–2 drops in a room diffuser.
Lavender – for bruises, chapped, cracked skin, eczema. Colds, bronchitis. Aids the immune system. Eases agitation, anger, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks. Balances mood. Calms and sedates. Use 1 drop in 20ml of carrier oil for massage, or 3–4 drops in a room diffuser.
Mandarin – for asthma, bronchitis, colds, coughs. Aids the immune system. Eases anxiety, hyperactivity, insomnia, panic attacks, restlessness. Uplifts mood and calms. Use 1 drop in 20ml of carrier oil for massage, or 3–4 drops in a room diffuser.
Other essential oils suitable for use in a diffuser include the following:
Lemon – aids concentration, clears thoughts, uplifts and eases feelings of anxiety. Use 3–4 drops.
Neroli – eases feelings of anxiety, depression, nervous tension. Encourages feelings of self-confidence. Anti-microbial. Tranquillising. Use 1–2 drops.
Spearmint – energising and uplifting. Use 3–4 drops.
Store essential oils in a cool dark place, with lids tightly secured, away from the reach of children.
The essential oils already mentioned are wonderful for adults too, and offer great remedies for tiredness, insomnia, low mood, brain fog, lethargy, and much more.
The following blends are examples of aesthetic scents that can be diffused to create a festive winter ambience. They include very potent anti-microbial oils, so they are also useful environmental sanitisers. However, strong anti-microbial essential oils are also very irritating to skin and mucous membrane, so they should not be applied topically to skin, and must be diffused away from an infant’s head (or, better still, in another room, or when children are in bed).
PLEASE NOTE: If you are pregnant, avoid contact with cinnamon leaf, cedarwood, cypress and myrrh.
You can adjust the ratio of drops of essential oil you add to your blend, but use no more than 6–8 drops in total. I find that one drop of each spice oil is sufficient; you can refresh when and if
necessary and have more control over scent intensity. Add the drops to a diffuser.
Festive Mull – uplifting and stimulating, easing mental and emotional fatigue.
1 drop clove bud
1 drop cinnamon leaf
1 drop bitter orange
Northern Forest – calming and sedative yet refreshing, instilling feelings of peace.
1 drop cedarwood atlas
1 drop pine
1 drop cypress
Three Kings – calming yet revitalising. Aids meditation and a sense of spiritual-self.
1 drop myrrh
1 drop frankincense
1 drop bitter orange – well, orange is nearly gold!
Essential oils are wonderful versatile wellness and wellbeing tools. Used appropriately, they offer a veritable natural pharmacopeia. They are both practical and sensually very pleasant; their scents ignite a spectrum of colourful nuances that whisper beautiful melodies to the heart and soul; they repair, restore, revitalise and replenish.
Heather Dawn Godfrey is an aromatherapist, fellow of the International Federation of Aromatherapists, and an aromatherapy teacher. She has published a number of articles and research papers exploring the benefits of essential oils, and is the author of Essential Oils for the Whole Body: The Dynamics of Topical Application and Absorption and Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditation. She lives in Dorset.