Essential oils are amazing! Their aromas are fresh and uplifting, and create a good mood and bright aroma.
However, some essential oils are also photosensitive. What does this mean?
Using photosensitive oils on your skin prior to sun exposure means you could be in danger of unwanted skin irritations. The skin could become red and itchy, experience a stinging or burning sensation, feel inflamed and irritated, or develop a permanent change in color or dark spots pigmentation over time.
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To avoid adverse effects, here is all the info you need to safely use essential oils during sunny summer months.
What is Phototoxicity?
Photosensitive essential oils can make a chemical reaction called phototoxicity, which is sometimes also known as a phototoxic response.
It occurs when exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light triggers the release of free radicals that can damage cell membranes.
Phototoxicity occurs most often when a photosensitive oil is mixed with benzyl alcohol, a preservative commonly used in sunscreens. It is commonly found in tanning beds as well, and in the creams and lotions that contain petrolatum, which from the cosmetics base for products such as tanning lotions.
Phototoxic reactions have a variety of causes, including exposure to UV light, exposure to ozone, overexposure to chemicals and vapors, and other sources of artificial light. It can also occur from contact with a sunless tanning product, from exposure to air pollution and from exposure to perfumed soaps and deodorants.
Which Citrus Essential Oils are Photosensitive?
To remain safe during times of high exposure to sunlight, avoid the following essential oils topically on your skin:
- Lemon (cold pressed)
- Lime (cold pressed)
- Bitter Orange
If you’ve been exposed to a phototoxic essential oil, or if a photosensitive oil has be utilized in aromatherapy massage, you should not sun tan for 12-24 hours after the massage. If you like to use these oils, you totally can, but you have to stay below safe limits. Use fewer drops, or choose to diffuse it rather than applying it topically.
Many problems associated with prototoxicity can be prevented by avoiding sun exposure, including tanning beds and tanning bed creams, and lotions, and other forms of sunscreens if you have been using photosensitive essential oils on your skin.
For more information about essential oil safety on your skin, contact a doctor or dermatologist. Most importantly, if you suspect you may be at risk of a phototoxic reaction, always consult a doctor.
Steam Distilled Citrus Oils Aren’t Phototoxic
Citrus essential oils are extracts from fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits. Their distinct fragrance are due to the aromatic compounds in the form of terpenes that are present in the leaves, flowers and fruit rinds of citrus trees.
Steam distillation and cold pressing are two of the known methods for extracting oils.
- In steam distillation, fruit peelings are heated. The steam arising from this process is collected, cooled off again, and condensed. The oil extract is then separated from the water. Essential oils have been extracted through steam or hydro-distillation even as early as the Middle Ages by the Arabs for beneficial purposes. Not much has changed since then, apart from the ever progressing technology and the growing pursuit of acquiring new knowledge through research.
- The much more common way to extract citrus oils is through cold pressing. This is a mechanical separation that involves pressing the essential oil out. The cold temperature pressing preserves the potency of the aroma.
If the citrus oil you’re looking to purchase doesn’t specify, it will very likely be cold pressed. Should a citrus oil be specifically steam distilled, the label will identify it as such. Have a look at this steam distilled lemon from Plant Therapy.
Steam distilled citrus essential oils are not photosensitive. If your summer DIY recipe includes Lemon essential oil, make sure to look for the steam distilled label.
Which Citrus Essential Oils are n0t Phototoxic?
Use these essential oils without worry about photosensitivity:
Essential oils have many advantages, please don’t shy away from using them on your skin during summer months.
Signs of a Toxic Reaction
Phototoxicity is when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight and shows signs of an allergic reaction, after having been in contact with essential oils.
Photosensitive skin reactions can be quite painful, and can include swelling, blistering and permanent skin damage.
The reactions are not immediate. They can occur up to 18 hours after using a photosensitive oil.
Safe Limits for Photosensitive Oils in DIY Recipes
If you like to make your own summer-themed skincare products, be aware of phototoxicity in your essential oils.
Recipes such as lip balms, body lotions, natural perfumes and body spritzers are especially noteworthy.
Either use an essential oil alternative that is not photosensitive, or use the oil in a very intentionally set dilution rate. Try to find the oil in a steam distilled variety, or substitute it with a non-phototoxic oil.
If you do wish to use a photosensitive essential oil for a topical summer recipe, safe dilution limits depend on the essential oil.
Here is a summary of how much is safe:
- Bergamot: 0.4%
- Grapefruit: 4%
- Lemon (cold pressed): 2%
- Lime (cold pressed): 0.7%
- Bitter Orange: 1.25%
You will have to calculate these numbers together with the other ingredients in your recipe. Usually, it helps to convert every ingredient into the same unit of measurement, and then do your math from there. Any lotion, spray or body mist you apply before heading out into the sun, should definitely contain no big amounts of phototoxic essential oils.
The Fruits Set
While the Lemon and Lime in the set are not cold pressed as recommended here, you can still make fabulous use of those oils in non-topical applications. Start with these 5 ways to use Lemon essential oil. Grapefruit is not even made in a steam distilled variety so just be sure to only use it up to 4% in your recipe.
The other three oils (Mandarin, Tangerine, and Sweet Orange ) are not photosensitive and can be used in any DIY summer recipe.
Even though this article focused on summertime aromatherapy, UV rays are present year-round. Photosensitive skin reactions can be painful, so please be careful and know your oils when venturing outdoors. Avoid direct sun exposure for at least 12+ hours after using a phototoxic essential oil, and consider essential oil safety before mixing up a DIY recipe.
Essential oils are popular for beauty and body treatments. They are very potent and must be diluted in a lotion or carrier oil before you can safely use them on the skin.
But please – don’t be afraid of these wonderful citrus oils during summer months. They can be uplifting, inspiring, and refreshing. Follow the guidelines outlined in this article for safe dilution rates to enjoy these specific oils combined with sunlight exposure.
Get Fruits Set Here