I was recently asked by someone to explain to her why we don’t use Lemongrass on Children. Lemongrass is one of her favourite essential oil, and she really wanted to be able to use it on her 2-year-old. Before discussing Lemongrass specifically I shared with her some general information that pertains to all essential oil.

Points to keep in mind when using essential oils, particularly with children

  1. All essential oils are complex chemical compounds. Each with their own properties and their own potential safety concerns.
  2. Regardless of the method of application, once an essential oil has been absorbed into the body it changes.   It will not circulate through the body as a ‘whole essential oil’.  Instead, it will separate out into its different components. These different components can then be absorbed and metabolized at different rates.
  3. Everything that is absorbed into the body, will follow the body’s natural Pathway of Assimilation, Metabolism and Excretion. This will be no different for essential oils. 
  4. Essential oils can be applied via:
    Inhalation,  Topical application, Internal application (suppositories etc.),  Orally (Internal application and Oral use are not recommended without advanced training).
  5. Essential oil components can  be absorbed into the body through:
    The Nose, the Lungs, the Skin, the Mucous Membranes, the Stomach.
  6. Essential oil components will be excreted from the body via:
    The Lungs, the Skin and the Kidneys and Bladder.
  7. Once essential oils have made their way into the body, most of their components will have to be metabolized by the liver.  After which they will move on to be excreted through the kidneys and then the bladder.
  8. The liver is the largest internal organ of the body. It is responsible for many life-supporting functions.  One of which is that it metabolizes almost everything that is ingested.  It is also responsible for detoxifying drugs and other xenobiotics. It starts developing in a fetus during the third week of gestation, however, it does not achieve mature status until around the age of 15. By carefully monitoring, both the particular essential oils we choose to use on a child, as well as how much of the oil we use, we can avoid overtaxing the liver. (http://www.rnceus.com/ld/ldanat.html)
  9. According to the Children’s Environmental Project, “The skin of young children is thinner and less impervious to the passage of foreign substances. It is more susceptible to damage from environmental agents. Dermal absorption can be a significant exposure route for some toxicants, and given that children’s body systems are underdeveloped they may suffer greater adverse effects from such exposure. “Something else to keep in mind when we are deciding on which essential oils, and how much of them to use with a child. (https://www.cape.ca/children/derm1.html)

So keeping the above in mind, we then had a look at the chemical breakdown of Lemongrass.

Although there are some differences between the chemical composition of West Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and East Indian Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus),  the citral content of both these oils is around 80%. Citral is the collective name given to the two isomers of citral, Geranial (alpha-citral) and Neral (beta-citral). The effect of essential oil, or their components, is a topic that has been the focus of a great deal of research.  In this research, a large number of studies have shown citral to have skin irritating properties.  They have also shown citral to have the potential to elicit skin sensitization.   If this could be problematic for the skin of an adult, how much more problematic would it be for the skin of a young child?

Although we can know that an essential oil is of the highest quality, this does not always mean that it is safe to use.  Particularly when we start to take into consideration who we want to use the oil on and why.  When choosing the oils to put into a blend it is so important to keep a number of factors in mind.  Including any potential cautions or hazards, we should be aware of.  This becomes even more important when working with children and populations at risk.  We are so fortunate to have access to so many different essential oils, and among those, there are plenty of gentle, but effective essential oils to choose from.  Childhood is a short and precious time and it is worth following the motto ‘First do no harm!’

Other articles to read on safety around children in clude Using Lemongrass on Children and Clove for Teething Babies.  Aromatherapy and Babies and Childhood Dvelopment and Behavioral Problems may also be helpful.