Sun-kissed skin and summer days are calling, but hold on before indulging in citrusy oils. While their refreshing scents may be tempting, some essential oils can cause unpleasant reactions when exposed to sunlight, resulting in painful burns and irritation.

But don't worry! This blog is here to guide you through the world of "photosensitive" essential oils. We'll delve into the science, dispel myths, and offer safe ways to enjoy these delightful fragrances without compromising your skin's health.


What makes an essential oil become photosensitive?

Photosensitivity in essential oils is attributed to the presence of specific compounds known as furanocoumarins. These compounds have the ability to increase the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light, particularly when the essential oils containing them are applied topically.

Furanocoumarins, such as oxypeucedanin and bergapten, are natural organic chemical compounds found in certain plants. When these compounds come into contact with the skin and are then exposed to UV light, they can cause chemically induced skin irritation, leading to reactions such as redness, burning, itching, blistering, and skin discoloration.

It's important to note that not all essential oils have this photosensitive effect, and the risk of photosensitivity varies depending on the specific composition of the essential oil.


Common Photosensitive Essential Oils

The majority of citrus essential oils are photosensitive. These oils, when applied to the skin and exposed to sunlight, can trigger adverse reactions like redness, blistering, and hyperpigmentation. Here are 6 common photosensitive essential oils and how to use them safely:


1. Lemon

The vibrant scent of lemon oil is loved for its uplifting properties, but it contains furanocoumarins, compounds that can make skin more susceptible to sun damage. Avoid applying lemon oil directly to skin before sun exposure and wait at least 12 hours after use before heading outdoors.


2. Grapefruit

Similar to lemon, grapefruit oil also contains furanocoumarins and requires sun-protective measures. Enjoy its energizing aroma in a diffuser, but avoid direct skin application before spending time in the sun.


3. Orange

Although orange oil brings to mind sunny vibes, it's important to be cautious due to its phototoxic effects. Similar to other citrus oils, orange oil contains furanocoumarins. Diffuse it or wait at least 12 hours after applying it to your skin before heading outdoors.


4. Bergamot

This oil, known for its calming and grounding aroma, also contains phototoxic compounds. Bergamot oil can significantly increase skin sensitivity to sunlight, so avoid topical use before sun exposure and consider diluting it heavily if necessary.


5. Lime

Lime oil has a refreshing aroma but be cautious as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. To avoid any problems, don't put it directly on your skin before heading outside, and wait for at least 12 hours after using it before relying on sun protection.


6. Angelica Root

This oil, used for its warming and grounding properties, deserves special mention. While not a citrus oil, angelica root oil can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight because of compounds similar to furanocoumarin. Be careful and skip applying it to your skin before going out in the sun.


What’s the best way to reduce the risks of a negative reaction?

It's important to take precautions when using photosensitive essential oils, as they can increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight and lead to adverse reactions. Here are some ways to reduce the risks:


Before Using:

  • Always read the label carefully for any warnings about photosensitivity. Many manufacturers will clearly state if an oil is photosensitive.
  • Dilute the oil properly (usually 1 drop in a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil) and apply a small amount to a non-sensitive area like your inner forearm. Wait 24 hours to see if there's any adverse reaction.
  • If you have sensitive skin or are concerned about photosensitivity, choose non-photosensitive oils like lavender, chamomile, or sandalwood.

When using:

  • Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before applying them topically. This helps to reduce the risk of irritation and photosensitivity.
  • After using a photosensitive oil, avoid direct sunlight for at least 12 hours. This applies even on cloudy days, as UV rays can still penetrate clouds. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen if you must go outside.
  • After handling essential oils, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to avoid transferring any oil to your eyes or other sensitive areas.

Additional tips:

  • Keep essential oils in dark, cool containers to prevent them from degrading.
  • If you have any concerns about using essential oils, talk to your doctor or a qualified aromatherapist. They can advise you on safe and effective ways to use these oils.


What should I do if I have a reaction?

If you experience a reaction from photosensitive oils, it's important to take the following steps:


1. Avoid Sun Exposure ​

If you have applied a photosensitive oil and experience a reaction, it's crucial to limit your exposure to sunlight. Photosensitive oils can cause a phototoxic reaction when exposed to UV light, leading to skin irritation, redness, or even blisters. Hence, seek shade or stay indoors to prevent further exposure.

2. Wash the Area

It's recommended to wash the affected area with mild soap and water to remove any residue of the photosensitive oil. This may help to reduce the reaction and prevent it from worsening.

3. Seek Medical Advice

If you develop severe symptoms such as blistering, intense redness, pain, or swelling, it's advisable to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can provide appropriate treatment and guidance based on the severity of the reaction.

4. Hydrate and Soothe the Skin

Using a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer or aloe vera gel may help to soothe the irritated skin and keep it hydrated as it heals.





Q: What are some common symptoms of a reaction to photosensitive oils?

A: When skin exposed to photosensitive oils meets sunlight, common reactions include redness, burning, itching, blistering, and discoloration. In rare cases, severe allergic reactions like swelling and trouble breathing can occur. If you experience any of these symptoms, wash the area, avoid sun, and seek medical attention immediately.

Q: Are floral oils photosensitive?

A: While some floral oils like citrus oils are photosensitive due to furocoumarins, not all are. Always check the label or consult a professional before using any floral oil topically, especially if sun exposure is possible, as reactions can be severe. Opt for non-photosensitive options like lavender or sandalwood if unsure.

Q: Can I put 100% essential oil on my skin?

A: Absolutely not! Applying 100% essential oil directly to your skin is dangerous. They are highly concentrated and can cause irritation, burns, and allergic reactions. Always dilute them with a carrier oil before applying, following proper guidelines and patch testing first./

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