Skin Photo-toxicity & Citrus Oils

What is photo-toxicity?

Photo-toxicity also known as photosensitivity, is a skin reaction that occurs in the presence of Ultra Violet (UV) light. Certain compounds found in essential oils are capable of absorbing energy from UV light much more effectively than skin. The application of the Essential Oil itself will not cause PS unless the skin is exposed to the sun or another UV light source. PS agents are known as 'Bergapten' or 'furocoumarins' these are polycyclic molecules whose structure gives them the abiltity to absorb ultra violet photons, store them for a while and then realise them in a 'burst' onto the skin.

Essential Oils That cause Photosensitisation lemon peel oil


  • Angelica Root Essential Oil
  • Bergamot (Cold Pressed)
  • Bitter Orange (Cold Pressed)
  • Cumin
  • Fig Leaf Absolute
  • Grapefruit (Cold Pressed)
  • Lemon Oil Cold Pressed (Pictured right)
  • Lime Cold Pressed                  
  • Mandarin Leaf
  • Opopanax
  • Rue
  • Tagetes

Oils That Might Cause Photosensitisation 

  • Clementine Cold Pressed 
  • Combava Fruit
  • Corriander
  • Skimmia
  • Angelica Root Absolute   
  • Angelica Root CO2
  • Celery Leaf
  • Celery Seed Absolute
  • Cumin Seed Absolute
  • Cumin Seed CO2 (Pictured right)
  • Khella                                                                                   
  • Lovage Leaf
  • Parsnip

Citrus Oils That Are Not Considered to cause Photosensitisation 

  • Bergamot FCF Has the Bergaptene / Furanocoumarins Removed  
  • Bergamot Steam Distilled 
  • Blood Orange Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled
  • Lemon Steam Distilled
  • Lime Steam Distilled
  • Mandarin Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled
  • Sweet Orange Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled
  • Petitgrain
  • Satsuma Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled        
  • Tangelo Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled                         
  • Tangerine Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled
  • Yuzu Oil Cold Pressed or Steam Distilled

What are the safe levels to avoid Phototoxicity?

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has set safety limits on the amount of photo-toxic essential oils a cosmetic product should contain:

  • IFRA recommends that products applied to areas of skin exposed to sunlight, should contain levels of cold-pressed lemon oil not exceeding 2%. 
  • It is recommend that skin treated with photo-toxic oils at levels higher than those maximum use levels (2%) should not be exosed to UV light for 12-18 hours.

In Conclusion

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that offer rapid correction, regeneration and balance with little or no side effects. Sometimes one or two drops are all it takes to see the desired results. We choose NOT to use essential oils which contain Photo-toxic compounds. 

Until next time..

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