Citrus Essential Oils: Avoiding Phototoxicity

by Andrea on March 22, 2010

Did 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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Owner/Instructor at Aromahead Institute
Aromahead Institute, owned by Andrea Butje, is a premier resource for online aromatherapy classes. Andrea offers her inspired approach to online aromatherapy certification through essential oil videos and original education materials. Check out her book, Essential Living: Aromatherapy Recipes for Health and Home, on Amazon!

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Young July 4, 2017 at 4:21 am

Hi Andrea,
Just started my online course with you Introduction to Essential Oils, I do make my soaps and I do use a lot of EOs, Do you have any course or teachings on blending EOs not with carrier oil but with each other I mean, Or I can use these same recipes?


Andrea Butje July 4, 2017 at 11:03 am

Hi Mary!
There are many approaches to blending. As you learn essential oil chemistry and begin to understand all the properties, blending takes on a whole new meaning.

In Aromahead’s Natural Living class, I teach how to make blends—how to calculate the dilutions, what are the therapeutic properties of each oils, what oils to use, and how to combine the oils, how to formulate the blends. It’s a great class to begin examining the therapeutic properties – you will learn about 18 essential oils – and which oils to reach for and why. That’s a wonderful way to build your knowledge and confidence with blending. Here’s a link for more information:

Understanding essential oil chemistry chemical families, therapeutic properties, safety considerations, as well as anatomy and physiology, medicinal blending, the age of the person and the intention of the blend all play a role in blending from a chemistry perspective. As you learn essential oil chemistry and begin to understand all the properties, blending takes on a whole new meaning.

In our Aromatherapy Certification Program, you learn all these wonderful things about essential oil chemistry and as you understand all these properties, blending takes on a whole new meaning – you gain the knowledge to blend therapeutically with a full understanding of essential oil chemistry. Here’s more information about the program that includes a course overview and goals and objects :


Cinthia June 8, 2017 at 2:38 am

Hello, I am new to this page. I am making a sugar scrub with 7 ounces of sugar and 2 ounces of coconut oil. Do the same measurement rules apply or should I not be concerned since it will be rinsed off with water? Thanks!


Andrea Butje June 8, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Hi Cinthia!
Yep – the same measurement rules would apply for a body scrub.


Stella H December 8, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Hi Andrea,

Newbie here… I wonder if I want a mixture of the citrus oils, can I still mix (for eg.) :

2 drops of Bergamot & 12 drops of Lemon in 1 Oz of a carrier oil?

Or do I double the carrier oil to 2 Oz? (Or half the number of drops of the EOs in 1 Oz of CO?)


Andrea Butje December 14, 2016 at 7:57 pm

Hi Stella!
These guide lines are intended for when using 1 oil where there is a phototoxic concern. You have a great question and when using more than one essential oil in this case, the potential for photoxocity increases. So yes, you would need to use less of each oil. In your example if you are using Bergamot and Lemon, then you would want to divide the phototoxic safe amounts by 2. I would suggest 1 drop of Bergamot and 6 drops of Lemon in 1 oz of carrier.
Hope that helps!


Fiona November 23, 2016 at 2:07 am

Thanks for this article Andrea, always a pleasure to hear from you. I am studying Aromatherapy in Malta under Marika Fleri. I hope to meet up with you at Botanica 2018 in Birighton , where Marika will be a guest speaker and we shall be accompanying her.
Thanks again for your informative newsletters.
I have also ordered your book from Amazon UK and am really looking forward to receiving it next year.


Andrea Butje November 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Hi Fiona!
The Botanica conferences are always wonderful! I hope we have an opportunity to meet then too!


Jan Johnson November 22, 2016 at 9:47 am

I have done some research on Chamomile (Cape). It has an amazing aroma and purports to be an oil than will lessen or eliminate phototoxic effects . Is this true and are there other oils that can make that claim?


Andrea Butje November 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Hi Jan!
I love the aroma of Cape Chamomile too! I am not aware of any specific essential oil that could lessen or eliminate phototoxicity. That being said, there are phototoxic oils that can be used safely IF used in the proper amounts. For example, although Lemon is phototoxic, if used at less then 12 drops per oz of carrier oil (such as Argan oil) it is unlikely to have a phototoxic effect


david July 13, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I had a question about the recommended Safe Use Per Ounce of Carrier Oil. Probably overkill, but I want to make sure.
For pink grapefruit peel oil: I can use 24 drops in 1 oz of a carrier oil, and it will still be safe?

24 drops = 1.55 ml
1 oz = 29ml
So I can use 1.55 ml of pink grapefruit EO per 20ml of carrier?

Basically, the product would have to be 30% grapefruit oil for it to be phototoxic?

Thanks for your help!


Andrea Butje July 18, 2016 at 11:03 am

Hi David!
We follow the safety information from the book “Essential Oil Safety, second edition” by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, as they have complied solid research and most up to date resource on essential oil safety​​. In their book they state that you can use up to 4% of Grapefruit to be safe from phytotoxicity – that’s 24 drops of Grapefruit per ounce of carrier oil. Hope that helps!


Kate January 25, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Hi there, I’m currently in the Aromatherapy program (in Canada), and I have conflicting information about the photo toxicity of Citrus sinensis (sweet orange). I have a book called Modern Essentials, sixth edition, that states a safety precaution of Orange on the skin, and not to be exposed (skin) to the sun for 12 hours after topical use.
I just need clarification. Thanks so much.


Andrea Butje January 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

Hi Kate – it is a common mistake for people to think that all citrus oils are phototoxic but they are not – it is all based in the chemistry. We follow the safety information from “Essential Oil Safety” (second edition by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young) as they have compiled solid research, and it is the most up-to-date resource on essential oil safety. According to their findings, Citrus sinensis is not phototoxic. Hope this helps 🙂


Megirl September 27, 2015 at 9:47 am

I have vetiver and ylang ylang at home and i am trying to make a perfume. These two smell strong and i would like to change the Smell of the blend. Someone suggested that sweet orange is non phototoXic but edens garden website and representative said it is.What should i do? Please suggest.


Andrea Butje September 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm

We follow the safety information of Robert Tisserand, who is one of the world’s leading aromatherapists (you can read more about him and his accolades here: ). According to him, Orange (Citrus sinensis) is not phototoxic. You may want to check with the company you bought the oils from to be sure.


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!


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. 🙂


Nicole October 10, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you Andrea!


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?


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. 🙂


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.


Lea Harris May 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

What exactly makes them phototoxic?


Andrea Butje May 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Lea- a family of components called the furanocoumarins.


julie September 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm

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


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.


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!


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.


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


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?


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.


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!


Amanda March 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Thanks so much for this!


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