What does phototoxic mean?
Phototoxic basically means certain oils become toxic in direct sunlight. When a phototoxic essential oil is left on the skin, and you are exposed to the sun, the harmful effects are increased. (severe sunburn, blisters, swelling & even skin colour change)
Phototoxicity, sometimes referred to as photo sensitivity, refers to constituents in the essential oil that absorb sunlight intensely…in effect, increasing or focusing the effect of the sun on your skin. It’s a constituent of the essential oil called a furanocoumarin that causes this. (Note: It’s also furanocoumarins that make drinking grapefruit juice problematic with some medicines.)
If these phototoxic essential oils, and/or products containing them, are left on the skin and then exposed to sunlight, they can cause the sun’s effect to be greatly magnified.
This mostly applies to products that are going to stay on the skin – “leave-on” products like lotions, lip balms, perfumes etc. In soaps, in which the product is rinsed off, so little of the essential oil remains behind on the skin that I’ve never heard of it being a problem.
Which Oils are phototoxic or cause sun sensitivity?
- Angelica root
- Bergamot (unless it’s specified as “bergaptene-free” or Bergamot FCF)
- Ginger (possibly)
- Lemon (unless steam distilled)
- Lime / Lime Peel (unless steam distilled)
- Orange (unless sweet orange)
- Tangerine (possibly)
(This is just a list of research I’ve been doing, if you have any to add, please let me know.)
How can I stay safe when using them in my skin care products?
It is suggested to avoid the sun for approximately 12 hours after applying a ‘leave on’ product containing phototoxic oils. I only apply any products containing phototoxic oils in the evening or at night before bed.
Here is another great article called Are Essential Oils Safe?
And another for Essential Oil Safety.