New study finds essential oils could be bad for kids

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ROCKFORD, Mich. -- Essential oils are gaining popularity across Michigan and the country, but not without controversy.

Families are often using essential oils as a natural remedy to cure the body in a holistic way.

Essential oils

But a recent study shows essential oils can potentially be toxic, especially for kids.

The Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center reports the number of essential oil exposures have doubled in just four years, and four out of five of those cases involved children.

Now, doctors are warning the products may be doing more harm than good. Despite concerns, a Rockford mother tells FOX 17 she isn't worried one bit.

Shelby Paulk is a busy mother of five who uses essential oils daily.

Shelby Paulk and child

Shelby Paulk and child

"We use essential oils for everything," Paulk said. "We use them for stress, sleep, to keep the kids healthy. We’ve really incorporated them in our everyday lives. Essential oils basically aid in helping your body naturally fight different things and can actually erase parts of DNA and correct it."

The plant-based oils can be applied to the skin, ingested, even diffused into the air.

Paulk says her love for essential oils began three years ago when her children were frequently sick, requiring more than 75 visits to the doctor's office in a single year.

"It’s hard to believe, but it’s true," she said. "Ever since we started using the oils, (the children) have been nothing but healthy." She says there have been only two trips to the doctor for the family of seven since using essential oils.

While Paulk says the plant-based products are keeping her kids out of the doctor's office, a toxicologist from Spectrum Health has a warning. "Essential oils can cause toxicity in a lot of different ways. Certainly the dose determines the poison or how poisonous it is," said Dr. Bryan Judge.

Dr. Bryan Judge

Dr. Bryan Judge

The oils can potentially poison children through ingestion or excessive application to the skin. "They can cause skin rashes if a child ingests them," said Dr. Judge. "Essential oil can get in their lungs and cause pneumonia." Asthma and bronchitis symptoms can be worsened with use of essential oils, according to Judge.

Essential oils can also potentially cause hallucinations and even seizures in rare cases, Judge said.

According to the TPC, most essential oils produce central nervous system stimulation which could result in agitation, hallucinations or CNS depression.

"Other toxic effects include painless chemical burns, hypo-tension, acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute liver failure, severe metabolic acidosis, and cerebral edema depending on which essential oil is in question," says the TPC.

Paulk admits application of essential oils requires care. "You have to be careful around kids make sure things are diluted properly and be educated about what you’re using," she said.

Paulk says she often reminds her kids that essential oils are not toys, nor are they something to mess with.

"Like anything in this world, even if it’s good, too much of a good thing can be bad," Paulk said.

Dr. Judge is certainly on board with that. "Keep out of reach. Keep these under lock and key, too," Judge said.

Several essential oils, such as camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils, are highly toxic, according to the TPC study.

Paulk says she's never had a problem, even after using essential oils on her kids for three years straight.

"Once you try them, you can’t help but believe in them, because they work," Paulk said.

If you are questioning your child's exposure to the products call the National Poison Center hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

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2 comments

  • Linda Bonnema

    Becoming a Young Living distributor (1944333) has been amazing for me and my family. They are to be used with discretion, to be sure – just like sunscreen or a medical prescription or a vitamin. I love having a natural and healthy choice as my first go-to for symptoms and proactive wellness. I wish the medical wold would marry the holistic world in a greater way.

  • Manifested Harmony (@ManifestHarmony)

    I’m an attorney who has studied essential oils for the past 3+ years and have learned that a lot of studies and people are putting all essential oils in the same category. There are widely different grades and categories of oils. There are some that are absolutely unsafe to ingest and have the proper labels on them for topical application (trust the labels). The oils featured in this story are the purest and safest I’ve ever used (and I use oils extensively with animals who are far more sensitive to oils than children). Oils are so potent that one drop (or less) is often all you need. Before using them (especially for therapeutic reasons and not just because they smell good), find an educational book specific to oil that you want to use. There is a book called Gentle Babies that contains great information on how to safely use oils with babies and children. As with anything, be educated on how to use the oils. I host a lot of in-person classes (primarily in Lansing) and webinars to help people learn how the oils work and to use them safely (even with pets). And I’m happy to schedule a class to explain how the oils can work. Just find my website Manifested Harmony and send me an email.