Feeling poorly? Dab some essential oil

Some parents are turning to essential oils to boost their children's well-being

Restrict screen time: check. Feed organic food: check. Administer essential oils: check?

In their eagerness to give their children the good life, some parents here are turning to essential oils - volatile oils extracted from plants - to boost their children's well-being and relieve symptoms of some ailments.

Three-year-old Sujay Mishra used to wake up at least three to four times a night.

His mother, Mrs Ratna Mishra, 31, a housewife, says: "I was so tired. I tried many things, from rocking him and giving him some quiet time before sleep to putting a worn shirt of mine next to him to make him feel more secure. Nothing worked."

Two years ago, a friend gave her a bottle of essential oil blend with ingredients including tangerine, orange and ylang ylang and told her to dispense a few drops into a water-based diffuser and diffuse it 20 minutes before her son slept.

Mrs Mishra says: "The first night I did it, he woke up only once and went back to sleep quickly."

She spends about $200 every month on essential oils for Sujay and her two other children aged six and four. She has more than 100 different types of oils at home.

Administrative Manager Lim Pei Yeong (above) uses a roll-on applicator for applying essential oils on her 10-year-old daughter Du Huishi. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

To give their immunity a boost, she dabs a drop of an oil blend containing clove, cinnamon and lemon on their soles every day before school and before bed, and whenever they fall sick.

She also sprinkles lavender oil on their clothes to keep them calm on long flights and rubs a blend of cedarwood, sandalwood and frankincense at the hollow of the neck of her two older children to help them concentrate while studying.

There are at least six essential oil brands in Singapore that claim their products promote wellness. Two of the bigger ones, Young Living Singapore and Doterra, which rely on a network of distributors and are headquartered in the United States, say parents make up about 80 per cent of their members here.

Young Living, which set up its Singapore office in 2011, has more than 18,000 members here.

Doterra, which started operating here in July, has more than 1,000 "wellness advocates", a term to describe people who have bought their products in the last 12 months.

Doterra customer Chua Hong Leong, 43, says parents like him prefer "natural products" to promote their children's well-being.

Ms Faith Teo, 38, an independent distributor for Young Living Singapore and a mother of two, sees the trend as part of a bigger movement among parents towards feeding their children organic food and using chemical-free products at home.

She says the oils can be used on babies for conditions such as colic and gas. She adds that they also help them sleep better, regulate their bowel movements, relieve discomfort during teething and calm them.

For older children, the oils can reportedly be used to support their immune, respiratory, musculo- skeletal and other body functions and systems.

The oils can be applied on the skin or diffused into the air. For children under two, the oil is best diluted before use.

I am not too worried about the safety of these oils because they are from plant sources and not synthetic ones''

ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER LIM PEI YEONG uses a roll-on applicator for applying essential oils on her 10-year-old daughter Du Huishi

Some parents apparently use these oils to relieve symptoms of common ailments such as cough and cold and to bring down the temperature in a feverish child and for chronic conditions such as asthma and eczema.

Some pregnant women use them to relieve backache and nausea. But Ms Teo advises those who are pregnant or nursing, taking medication or have a medical condition, to consult a doctor before using the oils.

She adds: "The oils are meant to promote general wellness and to complement, but not replace conventional medicine."

Young Living Singapore has informed the Health Sciences Authority here that its oils are cosmetic products.

Dr Chan Poh Chong, head of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the National University Hospital, says there are no good scientific studies to support the use of essential oils in the treatment of symptoms in viral illnesses or inflammatory conditions such as eczema.

He says the oils should be used with extra caution in children as they can be absorbed more readily into young, developing brains.

He adds that there have been reports of allergic reaction and seizures in children when certain types of essential oils are used.

Dr Lynn Chiam, a dermatologist in private practice, says she has seen more parents using essential oils to help improve their children's sensitive skin as they deem these products to be more "natural" than moisturisers.

But while oils in general can smoothen the skin, she says that in the long run, cream moisturisers are more effective for conditions such as eczema.

"Most moisturisers that are recommended by doctors for skin conditions such as eczema contain ingredients that have been shown in clinical trials to be useful for the skin," Dr Chiam says. "In general, oils are absorbed more slowly than creams, and essential oils from the citrus family may cause a rash and irritation when the skin is exposed to sunlight."

The Consumers Association of Singapore says it has not received complaints about the adverse effects of essential oils.

Of the three complaints regarding essential oils it received in the last five years, two were about non-delivery of the product after payment, while another had to do with the sales tactics used in persuading the customer to buy the product.

Ms Teo says the oils are generally safe, provided that they are applied on the right part of the body and used in the right amount.

She says: "Some oils are hot and can cause an unpleasant sensation if applied to a more sensitive part of the body, for instance, the chest or throat. It's also better to apply a few drops more frequently than to apply more drops less frequently."

Young Living carries about 200 oils, both single oils and oil blends. Prices for members range from $17.50 for a 15ml bottle of orange to about $300 for a 5ml bottle of rose.

Doterra has 36 oil singles and blends, priced from $17 for a 15ml bottle of lemon to $118 for a similar-sized bottle of frankincense.

Parents whom Life spoke to say the oils are effective in relieving symptoms of certain conditions, but they will still take their children to the doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Mrs Mishra says she mulled over the issue for six months before she agreed to try the oil for her son's sleep problem.

"I've never been into alternative therapy. I turned to essential oils only as a last resort," she adds.

Mrs Winnie Fannon, 35, a part- time polytechnic lecturer in pharmaceutical sciences, believes that the oils have helped to strengthen her three-year-old daughter Lindsay's immunity.

At a friend's recommendation and after doing her own research, she administered an oil blend of eucalyptus, rosemary and lemon whenever her daughter had a runny and blocked nose when she was a baby.

"Lindsay was so young then. If I took her to the doctor, he would probably prescribe saline spray, which might not do much to clear her nose. So when my friend suggested that I apply an oil blend on her soles, I decided to try it."

She said the oil helped her daughter breathe and sleep better at night.

Since then, she has bought other oils to boost her daughter's immune system, as well as improve her sleep and respiratory and digestive systems. She spends about $250 a month on the oils and has about 30 different types of oils at home.

Administrative manager Lim Pei Yeong, 41, says these oils complement the traditional Chinese medicine she has been using on her daughters, aged 10 and six, for minor ailments. She takes them to the doctor for major ailments.

She started using essential oils two to three months ago to relieve her children of haze-related symptoms such as scratchy throat and stuffy nose.

"I am not too worried about the safety of these oils because they are from plant sources and not synthetic ones. I would either dilute them with water before using or use just one drop each time," she says.

She has spent about $400 so far and has 10 different types of oils to help her children deal with tummy and muscle ache, as well as to improve their sleep and relieve the stress of studying.

However, housewife Felicia Tan, 38, says she will not consider using essential oils on her eight-month- old son yet.

She adds that she prefers proven conventional medicine for infants under the age of one because "their immune systems may not be so well developed yet".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Feeling poorly? Dab some essential oil'. Print Edition | Subscribe