Should we use sprays and essential oils in classrooms?
Every winter one of my colleagues goes on a bit of a fragrant frenzy in the classroom.
He gets paranoid about getting a cold and so sprays his classroom at regular intervals (when the children aren’t in the room by the way) with anti-bacterial air freshener. He’s read that it kills 99.9% of bacteria but forgets that this refers to 99.9% of bacteria on hard-surfaces. He does spray some surfaces but mostly the air.
He’s wasting his time. A single sneeze throws out more than 100,000 infected droplets which can live for up to two days and he’s in an out of the assembly hall, corridors, the staff room, touching infected door handles and other surfaces etc – it is inevitable that he’s going to come into contact with a virus and every year he does.
Someone suggested that he use a diffuser in the classroom and not just for fighting bacteria but also for changing the mood of the class. He heard that using lavender would help bring some calm to one or two individuals and so he’s going down the aromatherapy and essential oils route as a behavioural strategy.
Using essential oils in classrooms do have support and is used as a way to enhance student learning and improve the atmosphere of a school.
A German study found improvement in students’, “concentration, attention, motivation, and social behavior.”
But should teachers be spraying or diffusing anything in class other than inspiration and knowledge?
There is some evidence that using essential oil (EO) vapours can reduce surface and airborne levels of bacteria but that doesn’t mean that we should. You might think that essential oils are completely natural and safe for everyone, but this is not the case.
Using fresheners and diffusers may not be safe and there are some hidden side-effects associated with vapours and mists that can cause respiratory issues when inhaled. Eye and skin irritations are also common.
Products may be marketed as versatile solutions for a more natural freshness, ideal for keeping the germs at bay as well helping change moods and behaviour but there are potential health concerns using them especially when children are in the classroom.
A classroom has an average of 20 children. Some of which may be immune-compromised, taking numerous medications, have allergies, chemical sensitivities, respiratory issues such as asthma, and more. A teacher could not possibly know how one seemingly innocuous essential oil could react among those 20 children. The reactions for just one child could change from day to day as well.
She provides an interesting example in relation to ADHD and the use of the essential oil of lavender saying, “It is a known phenomenon by aromatherapists that many with ADHD have a manic type reaction to lavender rather than what should be a sedating one.”
Regarding essential oils, some children can have a negative reaction to a specific oil. They may have a particular “condition, disease, or be taking a medication that is contraindicated for certain oils.There is also a chance of developing a sensitization reaction.”
For example, the website DiffuserEssentials warns that we should think twice about using Peppermint because it “can be neurotoxic and a mucous membrane irritant. Use on or near face of infants and young children can cause respiratory difficulties. Do not diffuse around children under 6. Peppermint should not be used with cardiac fibrillation or G6PD defiency.”
This website is an interesting source of advice and includes many other safety examples relating to specific oils which it says it was largely sourced from Tisserand & Young’s Essential Oil Safety 2nd ed.
It also draws our attention to not only the health aspects involved but the legal issues too. Parental consent for every child is an absolute must. Parents need to know which oils you will be diffused, and what those risks are for certain children.
Unless your school has a specific fragrance policy or policy relating to the use of oils and sprays then don’t use them.
Using essential oils might sound like a nice idea but the implications can huge for children with asthma or if anyone has an allergic reaction. Essential oils really aren’t essential at all.
I say avoid using anything other than fresh air and adequate ventilation is all you need.
Apart from washing hands regularly, I’d say open a window and make sure there is good air-flow and freshen the air naturally.