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..

be human | be kind | be you









I never knew what essential oils actually were. Thank you for educating me on this and taking the time to explain everything in such detail. Love your work!

Camela March 27, 2017

Kelly – thank you for your question, phytotoxicity can only occur on the skin when the skin is exposed to UV light, if your skin was covered then is is not IN the uv light. The compounds in the citrus essential oils are capable of absorbing energy from UV light only while IN the UV light. Hope that helps to clarify your understanding,

Human & Kind organics March 25, 2017

This is such an educational post! I was not aware of the impact of using essential oils on the skin and the risk of Photosensitisation. You undertake so much research and share it each week, thank you, it’s a privilege to read.

Glamor Hippie March 25, 2017

So do the essential oils absorb the sun/ uv if you are in it, or afterwards. I’m still a bit confused about this whole process but I want to grasp it because it sounds interesting :)

Kelly March 25, 2017

Needed this information as my skin is super pale and I’m living in the south of Spain! Will definitely try these remedies because I’m desperate!

Alexandra (The Globetrotter Cookbook) March 25, 2017

Thanks for such an interesting post. This is so good to know, especially living in sunny Australia!

Rachel xx

Rachel @inspirethewild March 24, 2017

Amazing article!! I’ve always wanted to delve into the world of essential oils more but there’s so much out there it’s hard to get the proper information on it all!

Thank you So much for sharing !!

Emily March 24, 2017

This is great to know! I’ve recently started my journey with essential oils and wasn’t aware of all of these. Thanks for a great article ?

Sarah March 24, 2017

This is pretty cool, my mom always told me to be careful when I drank citrus drinks or ate oranges and then went to the sun because it could burn my skin and make it darker. Now that I’m reading this totally remembered what she said.

Andrea Broom March 24, 2017

Great Article.
This is so easy to understand, this has been a cause of confusion for some time.

Nerida March 24, 2017

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