PHOTOTOXICITY AND SAFETY USING ESSENTIAL OILS
Summer has peaked, and what Essential Oils compliment the sunny and playful season better than brilliant Citrus Oils? Cold-Pressed Citrus Oils such as Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, and Grapefruit possess a juicy and energizing scent profile that perfectly encapsulates the cheerful spirit of the hottest season of the year. You may be tempted to slip one of these oils into your tote bag for a beach day or a stroll through the city. However, if you are applying Cold-Pressed Citrus Oils topically, the result may not be all sunshine and rainbows, especially if your skin is exposed to UV light. While all Essential Oils carry some risk of irritation when applied without a Carrier Oil, Cold-Pressed Citrus Oils possess constituents such as Furanocoumarins that can trigger a reaction in the skin when exposed to sunlight or UV rays after application. The reaction can result in photosensitivity and even phototoxicity. Side effects of phototoxicity include inflammation, blistering, reddening, and burning of the skin. Discoloration is also a potential risk and can last as long as a few months.
This is not to say that Phototoxicity or potentially Phototoxic Essential Oils have no place in a summertime personal care regimen. With safe dilutions, aromatherapy tools, adequate sun protection, and Furanocoumarin-free formulas, you can safely enjoy peppy and citrusy Essential Oils free of worry during your favorite summer activities!
WHAT IS PHOTOTOXICITY?
Phototoxicity can occur when the constituents of certain Essential oils, namely Furanocoumarins, react when exposed to UV light. This can result in inflammation, blistering, reddening, and burning of the skin. Furanocoumarins are natural chemicals found in certain Essential Oils, specifically Cold-Pressed Citrus Oils. Not all furanocoumarins that are present in Essential Oils are Phototoxic, however, the ones that can cause photosensitivity include Psoralene, methoxsalen, bergaptene, and oxypeucedanin.
When high amounts of these components are applied to the skin via topical Essential Oil use, inflammation that is reminiscent of a sunburn can appear on the skin, and in extreme cases, blistering can occur. The side effects of phototoxicity can show up within the first 24 hours after application and peak 36-72 hours after UV exposure, meanwhile any skin discoloration can last up to a few months.
IDENTIFYING PHOTOTOXIC ESSENTIAL OILS
Typically, Cold-Pressed Citrus Oils are the most common type of phototoxic oil. However, not all citrus oils are phototoxic. Citrus Oils that are steam distilled instead of cold-pressed do not possess furanocoumarins. Certain Citrus Oils, such as Bergamot, are also available in Bergaptene-Free Formulas, where the main furanocoumarins are significantly reduced by steam distillation.
The extraction method and the plant part can determine the potential phototoxicity level of an Essential Oil. While the chemical components can be found in the plant itself, they may not always appear in the final distilled/expressed Essential Oil. Typically, if a citrus oil is cold-pressed or expressed, the constituents that cause phototoxicity may be retained when the Essential Oil is extracted.
A LIST OF PHOTOTOXIC ESSENTIAL OIL
*This is not an exhaustive list.
- Bergamot Essential Oil (Cold-Pressed)
- Bitter Orange Essential Oil (Cold-Pressed)
- Grapefruit Essential Oil (Cold-Pressed)
- Key Lime Essential Oil
- Lemon Essential Oil (Cold-Pressed)
- Mandarin Essential Oil
- Tagetes Essential Oil (Egypt)
Potentially Phototoxic Essential Oils
- Mandarin Natural Blend Essential Oil
- Lemon 5-Fold Natural Blend Essential Oil
- Lime Natural Blend Essential Oil
- Orange Essential Oil (Sweet)
Non-Phototoxic Essential Oils
- Bergamot - Bergaptene Free (Calabrian) Essential Oil
- Bergamot – Bergaptene Free (Natural Blend) Essential Oil
- Petitgrain (Sicily) Essential Oil
- Blood Orange Essential Oil
- Lemon Essential Oil (Steam Distilled)
- Lime Essential Oil (Steam Distilled)
HOW TO TELL IF A PHOTOTOXIC REACTION HAS OCCURRED
Phototoxic reactions can occur between 24-72 hours after the essential oils are applied to the skin and exposed to UV rays. Strong sunburn and blistering are the most common reaction. If you suspect that you are experiencing a phototoxic reaction, consider the following factors:
Dilution - When added to a personal care formulation, the phototoxicity of the Essential Oils depend on the total percentage of those oils in the skin application. If a phototoxic Essential Oil assumes a large percentage of the total quantity, and if it is applied in a large amount, it can trigger a sever reaction when exposed to sunlight or UV rays.
Dose - This refers to the amount of oil or product that was applied to the skin prior to sun exposure. The reaction will be more severe if you applied a greater amount of phototoxic Essential Oils or products containing such oils.
Amount of Sun Exposure - The amount of time spent in direct sunlight determines whether a phototoxic reaction will take place. Hours spent walking, playing, or working outside is more likely to trigger a phototoxic reaction. Meanwhile, a brief walk from Point A to Point B is not sufficient time to have any sort of impact.
HOW TO USE PHOTOTOXIC ESSENTIAL OILS SAFELY
You do not have to sacrifice any of your favorite Essential Oils during the summertime! With knowledge and mindfulness, you can still get the most out of certain oils without causing any damage to your skin. Here are some ways that you can reap the benefits of Cold-Pressed Essential Oils at any time of the year:
- Consider inhaling Phototoxic Oils- Inhaling Essential Oils that possess phototoxic constituents does not pose any risk of triggering a reaction. So, if you decide to use these Essential Oils for aromatherapy, you will not experience any skin irritation or damage if you choose to go outside afterwards. Diffusers, aroma sticks, and aromatic jewelry are excellent options for unlocking the brilliant scents of citrus oils any time of the year.
- Reserve Phototoxic Essential Oils for Wash-Off Purposes- Phototoxic Essential Oils are safe to use on the skin, as long as they are in a formula that is washed off immediately after application. Formulations such as soaps, body washes, and shampoos provide the perfect foundations for citrusy Essential Oils that may not be safe for prolonged topical use. That way, you can experience a fresh, zesty scent without worry of irritation.
- Use non-Phototoxic alternatives to your favorite Essential Oils- Some Essential Oils, such as Bergamot, are available in a formula that is free of Bergaptene and other furanocoumarins, making them safe for outdoor purposes. Steam-distilled versions of Essential Oils such as Lemon and Lime may also be available as safer alternatives.
- Protect and cover the affected areas of the skin- For any areas of the skin that has been treated with phototoxic Essential Oils, be sure to provide coverage with hats, clothing, SPF, and shade. Also, protect yourself from sun exposure for up to 24 hours after application.
- Dilute Essential Oils to a safe level to reduce phototoxicity risk- When added to your favorite Carrier Oil, the phototoxicity in Essential Oils decreases. However, if you choose to blend more than one Essential Oil with phototoxic elements, the dilution safety level will diminish.
RECOMMENDED DILUTIONS FOR PHOTOTOXIC OILS
Bergamot Essential Oil- 2 drops per 1 ounce of Carrier Oil
Lemon Essential Oil- 12 drops per 1 ounce of Carrier Oil
Grapefruit Essential Oil- 24 drops per 1 ounce of Carrier Oil
Lime Essential Oil- 4 drops per 1 oz of Carrier Oil
Bitter Orange Essential Oil- 8 drops per 1 ounce of Carrier Oil
The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) establishes guidelines for safe use of phototoxic essential oils for the skin care applications. IFRA highlighted recommendations on restricted and or banned substances are based on an independent research institute evaluation called RIFM which stands for (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials). IFRA guidelines are the best assurance of dermal safety however it's not the only concern on compliance regulations or requirements when it comes to fragrances subjective. IFRA (International Fragrance Association) certificates provide fragrance safety information and the acceptable limits to be used based on different cosmetic products. It is highly recommended to understand the essential oil usage under IFRA guidelines for Cosmetic applications.
CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR PHOTOTOXIC ESSENTIAL OILS
As with all NDA products, the Phototoxic and potentially Phototoxic Essential Oils mentioned are for external use only. Although it is rare to experience adverse effects from using Essential Oils, possible symptoms of negative side effects include rashes and/or gastrointestinal distress (such as stomach pain, nausea, and hyperacidity).
Pregnant women are strongly advised against using certain Essential Oils due to their potential emmenagogue effects. If you are pregnant or nursing and insist on using these oils, it is recommended that you seek the medical guidance of a physician prior to use. The oil should always be kept out of reach of children.
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