In recent years, essential oils (EOs) have become somewhat trendy in treating developmental disorders like autism. Proponents swear by them, insisting that their children’s behavior significantly improved after introducing the natural remedies. But do they really work? And what are their benefits and drawbacks? Here are some arguments for and against them to help you make an educated decision.
Warning: Always consult a licensed doctor before making any treatment decisions.
1. Some have evidence backing them, BUT more research is needed.
Some studies do agree that there are EOs that boast medicinal benefits. For example, lavender can be used as a sleep aid, rosemary may boost cognition and memory in healthy adults, peppermint might be effective in treating headaches, and tea tree oil may reduce acne.
However, solid, well-designed, peer-reviewed studies on EOs are very sparse. This is partially due to the difficult nature of studying aromatherapy. Smell is linked to memory, which can influence participant response and make controls tricky to pull off.
Nevertheless, the medical community is looking into the potential for EOs as an effective and safe way to calm children on the spectrum. Hopefully the clinical fog will clear and scientists will be able to give us a better answer. Until then, we must wait and see.
2. There is anecdotal evidence that they work, BUT that is not proof.
Stories are powerful, and you don’t have to look far to find personal blogs that gush about the miracle effects of EOs on children. Testimonials like this are a great way to learn about what worked for others, and they can give us insights into what could be effective for us, especially if contemporary medicine hasn’t done the trick. They are good starting points to further research and professional consultation, so we definitely shouldn’t ignore them. However, we shouldn’t put unwavering faith in them, either.
Because everyone is different, things that work for some people might not work for others. We should also keep in mind the “placebo effect.” This means that you might experience a positive change even when there isn’t a measurable change—all because you have a positive bias (isn’t the mind incredible?). But the placebo effect isn’t enough. Medicines need to work reliably and safely, which is why researchers perform double-blind studies in which neither the participants nor those evaluating responses know what’s actually being tested. Only the study’s authors know.
So if your friends swear by the healing effects of EOs, listen with an open mind. Then do your research and talk to your doctor. If your doctor approves, give it a shot if you’d like. Just be sure to retain a healthy degree of skepticism.
3. They are natural, BUT natural does not mean safe.
Proponents of EOs love the fact that they’re natural. And when used properly, they boast few side effects.
However—and this is very important—“natural” is not a synonym for “safe.” Poison ivy is natural, but it is not safe. The water from a river is natural, but bacteria makes it risky to drink. EOs are natural, but if misused, they could have some nasty consequences…especially for children. This includes seizures, allergic reactions, contact dermatitis, asthma attacks, and ulcers.
This should not be a problem if they’re used correctly, and if you use EOs that are safe for children, however.
4. They are most likely safe, BUT are not well-regulated to ensure this is the case.
Doctors and reputable, unbiased sources have declared that EOs are most likely safe if used correctly (e.g. diluted, not ingested, not overdosed, and not used on those who are asthmatic or pregnant). The same is true with contemporary medicine, too. It’s all about moderation and correct usage.
However, keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate EOs. That means anyone could concoct an EO and sell it to you, so long as it doesn’t present a serious danger or they don’t explicitly claim it’s meant for treatment or a cure (Young Living and doTERRA, both companies that sell EOs, have gotten in trouble for the latter). Contemporary medicine, on the other hand, is rigorously studied and regulated before going on the market.
This is why it’s important to do your homework. You can inspect an EO’s quality by determining its source, its purity, and its company’s reputation. Do these things and check in with your doctor, and you should be fine.
5. They smell nice, BUT are quite expensive.
Scent may seem trivial, but you can never underestimate the palliative, relaxing effect of a really nice smell. Case in point: ever smelled fresh bread in the oven and instantly felt warm, cozy, and peaceful?
The downside is it can be an expensive smell. You may have to dish out anywhere from $10-$100 for a tiny bottle. Even so, you don’t use much, so if it really works for you, it could easily be worth it.
So what should I do now?
Again, this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice from a skilled physician. That being said…
- Do more research…lots of it. Please don’t make this article your only source of information. Do your own investigations. Pay particular attention to peer-reviewed studies, as well as sites that end with .org, .gov, or .edu. Try to avoid resources that sell EOs, as well. They have a commercial motivation, so they can—and do—make false claims.
- Proceed with caution after getting the OK from a doctor. Pay a visit to your pediatrician or licensed aromatherapist before making any purchases. Write out a list of questions: “What EOs would be safe to use on my child?” “What would the correct dosage look like?” etc. Be sure to mention any medical concerns your child has, from asthma and diabetes to sensitive skin. If your child is on any medications, ask your doctor if EOs would be safe; they can interact with medications.
- Always follow dosage recommendations as prescribed by your doctor. Always follow the directions on labels, too, unless a doctor tells you otherwise.