Certain Essential Oils Make Skin Prone to UV Damage: Know Before You Go Out!

Caution in the Sun!  Do you know which of these essential oils is PHOTOTOXIC?

Summer is quickly drawing near. We’ve had a few hot, sunny days in the DC area already! If you love applying essential oils to your skin (most of us do!), but also love to spend time in the sun (which is important for Vitamin D acquisition), take note: certain essential oils are photosensitizers (phototoxic) when applied to this skin.  What in the world does that mean?!?

Put simply, they make your skin more prone to damage from the sun’s UV rays. This means that the parts of the skin to which the phototoxic oil was applied could experience burning, blistering, and discoloration when exposed to sunlight or tanning beds.

Which ones? This applies primarily to citrus oils, but there are a couple extra – such as Angelica Root and Cumin – to also be aware of.

Essential Oils that are Phototoxic -- Avoid Sun Exposure After Applying to Exposed Skin!

Please note that Distilled Lime and Sweet Orange are NOT phototoxic.

Why? [SCIENCE ALERT!] Most citrus oils are cold pressed.  The essential oil collected by the expression process contains a small amount of non-volatile components, such as waxes and furocoumarins. These substances provoke the photosensitization response in the presence of UV rays when in contact with the skin. If the citrus oil is obtained by other processes, such as distillation, these heavy components are not present. Notice that cold pressed Lime essential oil is on the list of phototoxic oils, while steam-distilled Lime is not. Now you know why!

What if I cover the area I applied the oil to with clothing or a hat?  If you apply the blend to an area covered by clothing and then go out in the sun, you have nothing to worry about. The phototoxic reaction only occurs if sunlight directly hits where the blend was. Please don’t hesitate to use these amazing, healing citrus oils. Just be aware of exposure of that part of your skin to the sun for the next 12 hours.

Are there safe dilutions for the oils if I’ll be going into the sun with exposed skin?  Yes, there are safe dilutions at which these oils are not phototoxic. See below for the maximum dermal safety levels that must be observed if the skin is to have prolonged exposure to sun light or tanning beds.

Safe Dilutions of Phototoxic Essential Oils

Avoid sunlight or UV rays (including tanning beds) on the site of application for at least 12 hours after using at higher levels than indicated.

If you are using a blend on your skin that contains one or more of these oils and you are not absolutely certain of the dilution, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid applying it to skin that will be exposed.  If doTERRA is your oil brand of choice, this would include the following blends:

doTERRA Blends to Avoid on Skin Exposed to the Sun

Note that Clary Calm and Hope blends are not included in this list.  The Bergamot they contain is “FCF Bergamot.” FCF stands for "furocoumarin free," which designates a rectified essential oil from which the furocoumarins – the element that results in the photosensitivity of Bergamot essential oil – have been removed. These blends are safe to apply to skin that is going to be exposed to UV rays.

Is it OK to use phototoxic essential oils in hand soaps? Yes, it is fine to use phototoxic oils in a wash-off product, such as soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, or body wash. These products are removed fairly quickly and are not still on your skin when heading outdoors. 

What about diffusing or otherwise inhaling phototoxic essential oils? This is never a problem. There is only a concern if these oils are applied in unsafe dilutions to skin that is exposed to the sun. 

Do you have additional questions about using phototoxic oils? Leave me a comment below and I'll be sure to answer it!

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