Citrus Essential Oils: Avoiding Phototoxicity

by Maria on March 22, 2010

Avoiding phototoxicity with citrus essential oilsDid you know that some citrus essential oils are not phototoxic?

If you’ve been avoiding all citrus oils out of concerns over phototoxicity, you can still use a few citrus oils without worrying about potential phototoxic skin reactions.

Citrus oils can generally be used without phototoxic concern if you stay within the proper safety guidelines. But for many aromatherapists, client compliance can be an issue–and even with compliance, there may be exceptions (someone might have a phototoxic reaction to a citrus oil even when used in the safe dilutions offered below). Likewise, if you’re a beginner, you may be uncomfortable keeping track of the dilution guidelines needed to ensure that phototoxic oils aren’t posing an issue.

These citrus essential oils do not cause phototoxic reactions and can be used safely in products for the skin:

  • Mandarin (Green) Essential Oil Citrus reticulata
  • Steam-distilled Lime Essential Oil Citrus aurantifolia
  • Orange (Sweet) Essential Oil Citrus sinensis

Robert Tisserand’s book Essential Oil Safety has very useful guidelines for using citrus oils and avoiding phototoxicity. The information below is directly from Robert’s book:

Safe Use of Citrus Essential Oils Per Ounce of Carrier Oil:
Cold Pressed/Expressed Bergamot — 2.4 drops (I just consider this 2 drops per oz)
Cold Pressed/Expressed Lemon — 12 drops per oz
Cold Pressed/Expressed Lime — 4.2 drops (I just consider this 4 drops per oz)
Cold Pressed/Expressed Grapefruit — 24 drops per oz

If you love bright citrus aromas and the wonderful therapeutic properties of citrus essential oils, stock up on sun-safe citrus oils.  Remember, all phototoxic oils can be used, as long as they’re applied to areas of the skin that will not be exposed to the sun!

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Maria Mora has worked on and off with Andrea Butje and Cindy Black since the inception of Aromatics International in 2006. With a background in writing and marketing, she enjoys assisting the talented Aromahead team with spreading their amazing wealth of knowledge. She looks forward to attending the Aromahead Institute's Aromatherapy Certification Program in the fall of 2008, and hopes that her next son waits to arrive until she's done with the last segment of the class.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda March 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Thanks so much for this!

Reply

The Fragrant Muse March 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Gosh this is good news and I can’t wait to share it with my students!

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Gretchen November 7, 2010 at 9:49 am

This is great info! What about the other steam distilled EO’s – are they non phototoxic as well?

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Admin November 7, 2010 at 10:10 am

Hi Gretchen, Some other oils as phototoxic, most are not. There is a list in Robert Tisserand’s book. It all depends on their chemistry, the furocoumarins in citrus are the components that sensitize the skin to the effects of the sun.

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Jocuri Barbie April 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work! Thumbs up

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susan October 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

What is the time “rule of thumb” guideline — how much time should you wait before you go out in the sun if you’ve applied the phototoxic oils to areas that will be exposed? Thanks!

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Andrea Butje October 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Hi Susan,
Most people seem to think about 12 hours after use is safe, I have read up to 24 hours. I have always gone with 12 hours myself, an so far that has worked well. I try to avoid bergamot completely on areas of my skin that will have skin exposure. I do love bergamot and use it on my belly and low back, but never on my face or arms, since I live in Florida and am out in the sun a lot. Hope this helps.

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julie September 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Hi,
what if you use sun block on the area that you apply the citrus oil?

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Andrea Butje September 11, 2012 at 2:16 am

Good question. I think you lessen the risk but still there is photo toxic concern and since the effects of photo toxicity are so serious I would still avoid the sun within 12 hours of applying the photo toxic citrus’s.

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Lea Harris May 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

What exactly makes them phototoxic?

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Andrea Butje May 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Lea- a family of components called the furanocoumarins.

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Fun Chiat June 16, 2013 at 3:49 am

I personally experience phototoxic before. I spread Bergamot oil on top of my hand for smell. Later I forgot about it and went out for a walk around town under 33 Celcius of sun (I don’t have a car). My epidermis started to spread a red ‘tide’, cherry red. Then within the spread turned brown. The area affected is exactly how I rubbed the bergamot on my skin. I am like bleeding a spreaded layer of blood under my epidermis but is not painful at all. My skin can feel and touch normally. It took 1 month for that brown patch to clear up completely.

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Nicole October 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm

This is a GREAT article… Thanks so much! Do these dilution recommendations apply to wash-off products as well? For instance, if I want to use lime or grapefruit in a melt & pour or hot processed soap, how concerned should I be about phototoxicity?

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Andrea Butje October 10, 2014 at 10:51 am

According to Robert Tisserand (Essential oil Safety) using phototoxic essential oils in wash off products is not concerning. :)

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Nicole October 10, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you Andrea!

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valerie May 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Hi! I just LOVE citrus everything! I am making a hand salve and I really want to use citrus EOs, since I am going to be adding them to my salve, do I need to be as worried about sun sensitivity? I have a citrus EO blend I got and would like to use that but I don’t know the ratios of oils. Could I use it anyway? I am adding it to 8oz of salve. Thank you!

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Andrea Butje May 15, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Hi Valerie – If you stay within the recommended amount as shown in the article, you can avoid the phototoxic reactions:
Safe Use of Citrus Essential Oils Per Ounce of Carrier Oil:
Cold Pressed/Expressed Bergamot — 2.4 drops (I just consider this 2 drops per oz)
Cold Pressed/Expressed Lemon — 12 drops per oz
Cold Pressed/Expressed Lime — 4.2 drops (I just consider this 4 drops per oz)
Cold Pressed/Expressed Grapefruit — 24 drops per oz

Also, Orange (Citrus sinensis) is not phototoxic, so that would be a great choice to use for any body parts that would be exposed to the sun – such as facial products or lip balms. :-)

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