Some oils can react with the sun’s UV rays
Although it has been a little cloudy and rainy this week, August is a good time to discuss the phototoxic aspect of some essential oils.
When using skin products containing essential oils, you may not think that you have to worry about sun exposure, but you should use caution with certain oils. A reaction called phototoxicity is the skin’s response when certain essential oil elements react to ultraviolet light. It presents as an irritation similar to a bad sunburn and may include inflammation, blisters and darkening of the skin.
Citrus oils are generally deemed to be phototoxic. However, the variety of oil and method of extraction can be deciding factors. For example, sweet orange and blood orange essential oils are not phototoxic, but bitter orange essential oil is. With lime essential oil, cold-pressed is phototoxic, but steam distilled is not.
It can be confusing to decide which essential oils to use in a skin preparation, especially as some citrus oils cause phototoxicity and others do not. To add to the confusion, there are some phototoxic oils that aren’t in the citrus family, such as angelica root and tagetes. These last two oils are not commonly used, so they usually are not a consideration.
Phototoxicity from these essential oils can occur up to 24 hours after exposure to UV light. If the skin does react, the effects can last for many months.
Do you need to avoid all citrus oils just to be safe?
No. If a phototoxic oil is used for inhalation only, or if the skin will be covered, then there is no need to worry. Essential Oil Safety 2nd Ed states that “there is generally no phototoxic risk if the oils are used in a product that is either not applied to the body or is washed off the skin, such as shampoo, bath preparation or soap…There is no risk if the skin to which the oils are applied is covered in such a way as to prevent UV rays from reaching them.”
When in doubt, check a good source to see if an oil you are using on the skin is phototoxic. If it is, keep in mind that the skin should be protected from the sun or tanning beds for about one day, and use common sense.
Do not get a massage outside by the pool using a body oil containing bergamot essential oil (the most phototoxic). If you are looking for a citrusy aroma, choose sweet orange instead. You will keep your skin happy.