I’ve seen some nasty burns from people who have used a citrus essential oil on their skin then gone out for a day in the sun. One lady mixed up her personal perfume oil of bergamot, ylang ylang and lemon essential oils and applied several, undiluted drops to her neck, wrists and behind her ears then went to the beach. It was a warm day and she lay in the sun for a couple of hours. She noticed a tingling on her neck but didn’t think much about it …until she got home and looked in the mirror. Her neck was bright red and starting to blister in the area where she had applied her essential oil blend. Thankfully her wrists were only mildly pink and the area behind her ears was spared as it had not been exposed to the sun.
It took several days and some intensive skin care for the burns on her neck to heal. Unfortunately she still has some mild scarring on her neck from the burns.
What is a photosenstising oil?
Essential oils are considered photosenstising when they contain either bergaptene or 5 methoxypsolaren at concentrations in excess of 0.000075%. Sound small doesn’t it?
If the concentration of either of these two components in a cream, oil or product is below 0.000075% then the substance is considered to be safe for use prior to sun exposure. If it is over this level then photosensitisation can occur.
Oils that cause photosensitivity:
The table below lists the main essential oils that cause photosensitivity along with the safe rate of dilution if you wish to use these oils prior to sun exposure.
Remember that if you use more than one phototoxic oil in your formula then you will need to reduce the number of drops proportionally.
For example in 30 ml of base cream you could use 12 drops of grapefruit and 2 drops of lime oil and still remain within the safe dilution guidelines.
|Essential Oil||Latin Name||Safe Dilution in 30 ml Base|
|Bergamot||Citrus bergamia||1 drop|
|Grapefruit – Distilled or Cold Pressed (low risk)||Citrus paradisi||24 drops|
|Lemon – Cold Pressed||Citrus limon||12 drops|
|Lime – Cold Pressed||Citrus medica||4 drops|
|Bitter Orange – Cold Pressed||Citrus aurantium||8 drops|
Begaptene Free Bergamot Oil
As you can see from the above table Bergamot essential oil is considered to be phototoxic even at low dilutions. For this reason we use a bergaptene-free bergamot oil in our skin care products where the concentration is likely to exceed the limits for safe use due to phototoxicity.
Essential oils that are NOT considered photosensitising
As you can see many citrus oils are considered phototoxic yet surprisingly Sweet Orange essential oil is considered safe. This is because it contains very little bergaptene (under 0.00005%).
Citrus essential oils that are considered safe to apply before sun exposure are listed below.
|Essential Oil||Latin Name|
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
|Lemon – Distilled||Citrus limon|
|Lime – Distilled||Citrus medica|
|Sweet Orange||Citrus sinensis|
You will see that the method of extraction plays a part in whether an oil is considered phototoxic. For example steam distilled Lemon oil contains very little begaptene while cold pressed lemon oil does and is classified as a photosensitiser.
Essential Oil Safety: Rule 3- Never Apply Photosensitising Oils Before Sun Exposure
So the third rule of essential safety is to never apply a undiluted photosensitising essential oil to your skin immediately before going out into the sun or being exposed to ultra violet radiation (sun beds etc).
The phototoxic oils will not help you tan faster or better, but can cause pain, swelling, blistering and irreparable damage to your skin .
If you use these oils on your skin you should wait at least 12 hours after application before venturing into the sun. Alternatively you can dilute the essential oil so that it is safe to apply to your skin.
Use these beautiful oils safely and effectively
So don’t be afraid to use these oils…they are some of the most beautiful and useful essential oils available. Just follow the guidelines and you will be able to use then safely and effectively.
This article was written by Moon Haven’s aromatherapist and founder Leonie Gully.
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While any advice provided is general in nature, it is not intended to replace medical diagnosis or treatment. If you are at all concerned about your condition it is important that you do consult your medical practitioner of choice for an individual treatment plan.