Phototoxicity and Essential Oils

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Ahhh... sweet citrus oils. The aromas always bring a smile. Citrus oils have such a zestful and vibrant energy. Pure sunshine in each bottle. Plus, they smell amazing! It’s no wonder that one would be drawn to their aroma especially now that the sun is shining more and the weather is getting warmer.

You can search the web and find many recipes to use your citrus oils in the diffuser or even topically, like in lotions, body oil and scrubs. BUT, I must warn you, some of those citrus oils are considered phototoxic.

Phototoxic?! What does that even mean?? Well to put it simply, phototoxic or photosensitive essential oils can cause a skin reaction when exposed to the sunlight and UV light (think tanning beds) This can cause blistering, burning and possibly discoloration of the skin. Now not all citrus oils are phototoxic. And you’re probably wondering if you can still use your favorite citrus essential oils topically while enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. In short, the answer is yes, you can and safely too!

According to research from Tisserand and Young’s book Essential Oil Safety the following essential oils are NOT considered photoxic:

  • Green Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)

  • Distilled Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)

  • Distilled Lemon (Citrus limon)

  • Sweet Orange / Wild Orange (Citrus sinensis)

  • Yuzu (Citrus junos)

  • Tangerine (Citrus x tangerina)

Did you notice the distilled above? Most of the time Lime and Lemon are cold pressed and because of that process are considered phototoxic. So it’s important to know how your citrus oil was processed. Ok on to those that are phototoxic and how you can still use them safely in 1 oz carrier / massage/body oil or lotion:

  • Bergamot ( Citrus bergamia) - 2 drops per oz

  • Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) - 24 drops per oz

  • Cold pressed Lime - 4 drops per oz

  • Cold pressed Lemon - 12 drops per oz

  • Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium) - 8 drops per oz

Staying within these guidelines, being mindful of the drops you use and of course sun smart, you can feel free to use these wonderful uplifting oils in your topical blends. So which will you use first? Safely of course

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