Many citrus essential oils are inherently photosensitizing. That is, if you apply them to your skin at a high enough percentage, they greatly enhance the effect of the sun on your skin, meaning you are very likely to get a burn.
According to Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (2nd Edition) by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young, the following citrus essential oils are not phototoxic:
- Bergamot oil (FCF)
- Lemon oil (steam distilled)
- Lemon leaf oil
- Lime oil (steam distilled)
- Mandarin oil
- Orange oil (sweet)
- Orange leaf oil
- Satsuma oil (expressed)
- Tangelo oil
- Tangerine oil
- Yuzu oil (expressed or steam distilled)
In addition to oils that are not photosensitizing due to naturally low levels of photosensitizing compounds, this list also features essential oils have been treated to remove their photosensitizing compounds (FCF Bergamot), and steam distilled citrus essential oils, as the heat from steam distillation (as opposed to cold pressed or expressed) destroys the photosensitizing compounds.
Photosensitizing essential oils are safe to use if recommended maximum usage rates are observed:
“Skin should not be exposed to sunlight or UV lamp irradiation for 12–18 hours, if any of the following are used at levels higher than those indicated. However, there is no risk of phototoxicity if the maximum levels are observed: angelica root (0.8%), bergamot (0.4%), cumin (0.4%), grapefruit (expressed) (4.0%), laurel leaf absolute 2.0%, lemon (expressed) (2.0%), lime (expressed) (0.7%), mandarin leaf (0.17%), orange (bitter, expressed) (1.25%), rue (0.15%), taget oil or absolute (0.01%).” – Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (2nd Edition) by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young
It is very important that you are calculating these maximum usage rates by weight, using an accurate scale (I’d recommend accurate to at least 0.01g). If you prefer to go by drops, I would recommend shying away from photosensitizing essential oils as you cannot ensure you are using them safely. Charts that give usage percentages based on drops in teaspoons of oil are not accurate enough for this sort of thing.
Litsea cubeba, lemon myrtle, and lemongrass essential oils are also good alternatives.
Posted in: Ingredients