Once you’re around essential oils for awhile, you’ll inevitably run into the phrase “photo-toxic”. Once you understand a bit more of what it means, you’ll realize it’s an easily avoidable issue within aromatherapy.
Certain essential oils – mostly, but not all, citrus oils – have natural chemicals called furocoumarins, which react when exposed to UV light. This can result in inflammation, blistering, reddening, and burning of the skin.
Photo-toxicity is only a concern when the oils are applied to the skin, so when diffusing or inhaling essential oils – the primary way aromatherapy is utilized – it’s not an issue. And since essential oils are always diluted in a rollerball or body oil, the percentage of any photo-toxic oil would be very low.
A partial list of photo-toxic essential oils
- Angelica root
- Bergamot (cold-Pressed)
- Bitter Orange (cold-Pressed)
- Grapefruit (cold-Pressed)
- Key Lime
- Lemon (cold-Pressed)
NON-Phototoxic Citrus Essential Oils
- Bergamot FCF
- Petitgrain (leaf of the bitter orange tree)
- Blood Orange
- Lime (steam distilled)
- Sweet Orange
How to avoid any issues
- Diffuse or inhale your essential oils.
- Before skin application, dilute your oils and use only on pulse points – not on skin that may be exposed to sun for a period of time.
- Buy steam distilled citrus oils.
- Buy FCF (“furocoumarin free”) essential oils, where that chemical has been removed.
- Don’t use photo-toxic oils in body oils.
When to be concerned
As with any oil, if you are pregnant, nursing, have allergies or a compromised immune system, consult with a professional aromatherapist before using any essential oil.
However, if you avoid putting undiluted cold-pressed citrus oils directly on the skin, there is very little concern with photo-toxicity. If you want to have an abundance of caution – or are making a single oil (eg, Bergamot) body oil, you can look for steam distilled or FCF versions of that oil.
Don’t let this caution dampen your enjoyment of citrus oils, which are some of the best gifts aromatherapy has to offer – they are refreshing, detoxifying, mood boosting, anti-bacterial and smell heavenly. Just exercise caution and use the alternatives when using them in body oils.