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Phototoxicity and Essential Oils

Phototoxicity

Photosensitization and phototoxicity can occur when certain essential oil constituents (natural chemicals found in particular essential oils), particularly furocoumarins (FCs), react when exposed to ultraviolet light. Inflammation, blistering and reddening/burning of the skin are common.

Phototoxicity and Essential Oils

Not all cold pressed citrus essential oils are phototoxic, and steam distilled citrus essential oils are apparently not phototoxic. "The FCs are relatively non-volatile molecules and are generally found in expressed (cold-pressed) citrus fruit oils, but not in distilled citrus fruit oils." [Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 85.]

The most detailed information that I have found regarding photosensitization and phototoxicity and essential oils can be found on pages 84-90 of edition two of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young. It is recommended reading for more thorough information on phototoxicity and photosensitivity.

List of Commonly Available Essential Oils That are Phototoxic

This is not necessarily a complete list.

  • Angelica Root Essential Oil
  • Bergamot Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Bitter Orange Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Cumin Essential Oil
  • Fig Leaf Absolute
  • Grapefruit Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Lemon Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Lime Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Mandarin Leaf Essential Oil
  • Opopanax Essential Oil
  • Rue Essential Oil
  • Tagetes Essential Oil

Essential Oils That Might Be Phototoxic

  • Clementine Essential Oil (Cold Pressed)
  • Combava Fruit Essential Oil
  • Skimmia Essential Oil
  • Angelica Root Absolute
  • Angelica Root CO2
  • Celery Leaf Essential Oil
  • Celery Seed Absolute
  • Cumin Seed Absolute
  • Cumin Seed CO2
  • Khella Essential Oil
  • Lovage Leaf Essential Oil
  • Parsnip Essential Oil

Citrus Oils That Are Not Considered Phototoxic

  • Bergamot FCF Essential Oil (FCF Has the Bergaptene/Furanocoumarins Removed)
  • Bergamot Essential Oil (Steam Distilled)
  • Blood Orange Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Lemon Essential Oil (Steam Distilled)
  • Lime Essential Oil (Steam Distilled)
  • Mandarin Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Sweet Orange Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Petitgrain Essential Oil
  • Satsuma Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Tangelo Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Tangerine Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)
  • Yuzu Essential Oil (Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled)

Source for the Above Bulleted Lists: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 85, 87, 370-371.

Usage Recommendations Per Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young

"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. However, essential oils can adhere to the skin if used in a sauna or steam inhalation. 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."

"We recommend that skin treated with phototoxic oils at levels higher than those maximum use levels, should not be exposed to UV light for 12-18 hours."

[Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 88.]

Recommended IFRA Maximum Usage Levels can be found on page 86 of Essential Oil Safety or can be found as a pdf file directly through IFRA: http://www.ifraorg.org/en-us/standards-library/s/phototoxicity.

For More In-Depth Information:

Cover

Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young
The second edition of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young contains several pages of in-depth information regarding photosensitization and phototoxicity and is recommended reading for greater in-depth information. Essential Oil Safety is a 784-page powerhouse of information that is invaluable to the serious aromatherapy student, aromatherapy practitioner, health care professional, and everyone seriously interested in understanding individual essential oils, their constituents, usage guidelines, safety precautions and contraindications. Read a review of this book.

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