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 some useful guidelines for using citrus oils and avoiding phototoxicity.

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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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda March 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Thanks so much for this!


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!


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?


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


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!


julie September 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

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


Lea Harris May 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

What exactly makes them phototoxic?
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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.


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?


Nicole October 10, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you Andrea!


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