Photosensitizing Essential Oils – Protect Your Skin
By Lakita Dunkers
What are photosensitizing essential oils? These are essential oils that contain coumarins and furocoumarins, which are often photosensitizing or phototoxic. Unfortunately, some essential oil users have no idea of the danger and have suffered from serious skin damage when applying certain oils topically. These particular chemical components, found most often in expressed citrus oils, cause the skin to become more sensitive to ultraviolet light. When applied topically phototoxic or photosensitizing essential oils can cause skin irritation, uneven pigmentation, or in severe cases burns/blisters upon exposure to sunlight or sunlamps.
It’s important to be well-educated about any product you use. Our goal at e3 is to help you gain the benefits of essential oils while doing so safely! If you apply essential oils topically, perhaps blending them into a lotion or using a body spritzer please read on –
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR USING PHOTOSENSITIZING ESSENTIAL OILS
Topical application of the following photosensitizing essential oils should be avoided for 12-18 hours before exposure to sun or tanning lamps.
Also, as a general guideline, if using photosensitizing essential oils in leave-on-body products, use in a less than 1% dilution.
Here’s a list of common photosensitizing essential oils for easy reference:
Non-citrus essential oils: Angelica Angelica archangelica*, Cumin Cuminum cyminum*, Opopanax Commiphora erythraea*, Rue Ruta graveolens* and Verbena Aloysia triphylla*
For a safer alternative, you can choose from a list of distilled citrus essential oils, (the distillation process alters the chemical components) or expressed citrus essential oils that naturally contain a very small amount of the phototoxic and photosensitizing furocomarins, bergaptene or 5 methoxypsolaren (5 MOP).
Why are steam distilled essential oils not phototoxic? According to researchers, the compounds found in citrus oils are relatively large, involatile molecules, so they tend to be present in cold pressed, but not in distilled citrus oils.
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN USING ESSENTIAL OILS IN BODY PRODUCTS
According to Robert Tisserand, a leading expert in aromatherapy, here are a few essential oil choices to consider for use in the manufacturing of leave-on-body products:
- Bergamot (FCF) Citrus bergamia (Bergamot FCF has had the Bergaptene/Furanocoumarins removed)
- Blood Orange Citrus sinensis*
- Lemon Citrus limonum* Steam Distilled
- Lime Citrus aurantifolia* Steam Distilled
- Mandarin Green Citrus deliciosa
- Orange Sweet Citrus sinensis
- Mandarin Petitgrain (Orange Leaf) Citrus aurantium
*e3 carries a selection of essential oils we consider our non-standards. Please contact us for price and availability.
In their book, Essential Oil Safety, Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young make the following suggestions regarding photosensitizing essential oil usage, “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.”
Would you like to learn more about essential oils – like where they come from, how they’re made and how to make your own special blends? Simply download our free ebook, Listen to Your Nose – An Introduction to Aromatherapy.
1 Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 88.