Spring is finally here and the sun is shining bright as we wait for summer to approach with even warmer temperatures. Yard work is a must every weekend this month to prepare for flowering and gardening, and doing absolutely anything in the warm sun will make for the perfect day.
During the spring we find ourselves reaching for the citrus oils to uplift our mood for indoor spring cleaning. We open the windows to smell the fresh breeze and waft the energies of the lemon and lime essential oil drops diffusing in the air. Clarity, energy, and an uplifted mood are just a few of the amazing benefits of diffusing citrus oils. However, some of you may like to add citrus drops to your favorite lotions or carrier oils for dull or oily skin, slow digestion, or even just for the love of the smell or uplifted mood the citrus scent can bring. The topical application of certain citrus essential oils can actually turn into a painful skin reaction as in a sunburn with redness and blisters if the skin is exposed to UV light after application, leaving you indoors, uncomfortable, with hopes of healing skin to get back out doors. Although citrus oils can have wonderful benefits for our skin, they can also have a very damaging effect in the sunshine.
For example, Lemon (Citrus limon) is a very commonly used essential oil in the spring. Those opening up their cabins from winter may be reaching for lemon essential oil to really boost a better scent of fresher air, while also applying lemon essential oil to the the skin to uplift spirits, benefit skin ailments, spring colds… whatever the reason for topical application, one must know that cold pressed lemon (Citrus limon) essential oil is phototoxic.
Natural chemicals called furanocoumarins (FC’s), found in certain essential oils can react when exposed to ultraviolet light. This causes a delayed phototoxic skin reaction peaking around 36-72 hours after UVA exposure. Extensive sun burn-like redness and blistering of the exposed skin can occur. Not all FC’s are phototoxic and others that are phototoxic have different degrees of phototoxicity. For one who is extremely interested in the chemical make up of essential oils and the percentage one can safely topically apply without risking a damaging phototoxic effect, it is highly recommended to research the essential oils you are going to use prior in the Essential Oil Safety Book by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.
Another good bit of information to note is that citrus oils that are “cold pressed” are phototoxic while “steam distilled” citrus oils are not phototoxic. There are also essential oils besides citrus oils that are phototoxic. Photoxicity should also not be confused with sensitization, another reaction that can happen with overuse of the same essential oils and chemical constituents or with repeated undiluted use of essential oils.
Here is a list of a few common phototoxic essential oils: (Please note this is only a very small list of phototoxic essential oils, there are additional essential oils that cause phototoxicity as well as essential oils listed with a “potential” to be phototoxic)
* Lemon (Citrus limon)
* Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium)
* Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
* Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
* Bergamont (Citrus bergamia)
* Angelica root (Angelica archangelic L.)
If a phototoxic essential oil has been applied to the skin, it is best to keep that area of the skin out of the sun or covered to prevent a phototoxic reaction for 12-18 hours after application.
Be safe in the sun and enjoy the warm days ahead!
Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Second Edition; Copyright 2014 Pages 85 & 194
The Aromatherapy Beauty Guide by Danielle Sade; Copyright 2017 Pages 27 & 28