Some essential oils are known for photosensitization or phototoxic properties. Okay, what the heck does that mean?
Photosensitizing, meaning that if applied to the skin at certain concentrations, burning can occur if the skin is also exposed to ultraviolet light. To avoid this the person should not go outside during daylight for 12-18 hours (after use). (Tisserand, R., Young, R., 2013. Essential Oil Safety, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, p. 211).
According to Wikipedia “Phototoxicity is a chemically induced skin irritation, requiring light, that does not involve the immune system. It is a type of photosensitivity. The skin response resembles an exaggerated sunburn. The involved chemical may enter into the skin by topical administration or it may reach the skin via systemic circulation following ingestion or parenteral administration. The chemical needs to be “photoactive”, which means that when it absorbs photons, the absorbed energy produces molecular changes that cause toxicity.”
What this means is that you can bleach, cause a rash/sunburn or other damage to your skin if you apply a phototoxic essential oil to a part of your body that is then going to be exposed directly to sunlight. I personally have a friend who has a large faded patch on her chest from using Lemon essential oil and then going out into the sun. Over time it is possible her patch might completely fade, but for some people the sun reaction can leave a permanent mark. Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young recommend that skin treated with a phototoxic oil should not be exposed to UV light for 12-18 hours.
Below is a list of Essential Oils known for their phototoxic properties
Angelic Root (Angelica archangelica)
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)*
Orange, Bitter (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
Lemon (Citrus limonum) (cold/expeller pressed)
Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) (cold/expeller pressed)
Mandarin Leaf (Citrus nobilis)
Orange Bergamot (Citrus bergamia, Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia)
Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Tagetes (Tagetes minuta)
Verbena, Lemon (Lippia citrodora, Aloysia triphylla, Verbena triphylla)
Sources used for Research:
Introduction to Essential Oil Safety From The Hippy Homemaker
Aromatherapy For Everyone by Robert Tisserand
Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2e
by Rodney Young and Robert Tisserand
FTC disclosure: I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement/recommendation/testimonial and or link to retail products in this article to support my blogging habit. I will never link to a retail provider I have not used. I will only link to providers I would personally recommend.