Phototoxic Essential Oils – Aromatherapy and Sun-Safety

Aromatherapy oils have been used for thousands of years to treat a whole range of different ailments and health conditions. However, safety precautions must be followed, particularly at this time of year where some essential oils should be avoided, as they are phototoxic.

Phototoxic Essential Oils

For those who love being out in the sunshine, relaxing on the beach or getting involved in water sports, it is important to be aware that certain aromatherapy oils are phototoxic, which mean they may cause a skin reaction when exposed to UVA rays. Sunbed users are especially at risk, not just from irregular tanning patches, but also skin burns.

In The Essential Oils Handbook, Harding highlights phototoxic essential oils which should be avoided or at least used with caution by sun-lovers and those who visit tanning salons, to include the following:

  • bergamot
  • lemon
  • angelica root
  • grapefruit
  • lovage root
  • lime

All of these essential oils must be used no less than 12 hours before skin is exposed to sunlight rays or tanning booths. For those who live in warm climates where exposure to sunlight is difficult to avoid, as a rule of thumb it is probably best to avoid using citrus fruit-based essential oils.

Sun-Safe Citrus Aromatherapy Oils

Although most citrus aromatherapy oils are identified as being phototoxic and thus potentially damaging when used on skin regularly exposed to either natural sunlight or tanning booths, there are a few which are safe to use. According to Harding, three citrus-based essential oils used in aromatherapy and perfectly safe to sun-exposed skin, include as follows:

  • sweet orange: sun-safe, non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing, safe for all skin types
  • tangerine: sun-safe, non-toxic, safe for all skin types
  • mandarin: sun-safe, non-sensitizing, relieves stress

Before purchasing essential oils, particularly for those who are new to aromatherapy, it is well worth getting hold of a handbook or guide to essential oils or speaking with a qualified aromatherapist. This will make it easier to understand which products are safe during pregnancy, for children and essential oils to avoid when frequently exposed to UV rays.As highlighted above, aromatherapy oils must be used with caution, especially during summer and when using tanning booths. Essential oils which are most likely to be unsafe when exposed to UV rays include citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, bergamot, lemon and lime, while mandarin, sweet orange and tangerine are the few identified as safe and non-phototoxic. Mandarin essential oil, in particular, is safe for all skin types and helps relieve symptoms relating to stress and depression.

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