Essential Oils in Sunshine

 
 
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The warm weather is here!  
It’s time to get outside and enjoy the bounty of Mother Earth as we transition into summer.

If essential oils are part of your warm weather plans, there are some important considerations when using our essential oils in combination with being outdoors in the sunshine.

While the best practices of essential oil safe usage (see them here) involving dilution and external use only are relevant year-round,  phototoxicity is an additional concern in the summer months. With easy-going summer vibes this may seem like the ideal time to enjoy the light refreshing scent of our Citrus essential oils, but these oils are particularly risky to use in the sunshine.  Most Citrus oils are phototoxic; meaning that applying them to the skin and then exposing the skin to sunlight (or UV lamps) can result in blistering burns which can lead to permanent skin damage.  The chemical constituents known as 'furanocoumarins' are responsible for this phototoxic reaction and these compounds occur in nearly all expressed Citrus oils.  The worst offender is Bergamot, and it is this oil that lead to studies beginning in the 1950's which determined the chemicals responsible for these painful reactions. Essential oils that have the potential of causing phototoxic reactions must be very carefully diluted in order to minimize this risk. It is also important to note that even with appropriate dilution, individual reactions are still possible.

Phototoxic Essential Oils 

Bergamot

Grapefruit

Lemon (Expressed)

Lime (Expressed)

Mandarin Leaf

Bitter Orange

Possible Phototoxic Oils

Clementine

Non-Phototoxic Oils

Bergamot FCF

Lemon (distilled)

Lime (distilled)

Mandarin

Sweet Orange

Satsuma

Tangelo

Tangerine

Source: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety, (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014),p.87 

 
 
St. John’s Wort  The carrier oil extracted from this plant is also know to cause phototoxic reaction, so we need to be aware of our carrier oils as well.

St. John’s Wort
The carrier oil extracted from this plant is also know to cause phototoxic reaction, so we need to be aware of our carrier oils as well.

 
 

Happily, we don't have to completely avoid using all Citrus oils on our skin in the summer! We do have some alternatives, the most common being steam distilled Lime and Lemon essential oils, and a fractionated grade of Bergamot know as "Bergamot FCF" (furanocoumarin-free); this is the only Bergamot that I use, and while I have been told that the scent is not as nice as the regular grade of Bergamot, the safety factor is more important to me.  As mentioned in the Safety Basics blog, remembering to properly dilute essential oils according to your health, as well as the purpose and application method of the essential oils is also key to having a safe experience. 

Another alternative way to enjoy these refreshing and uplifting Citrus essential oils that avoids the risk of phototoxicity, is by using these oils in a diffuser rather than on our skin.  

Remember that when working with essential oils, if you are in doubt it is best to avoid the essential oil. Consulting a qualified Professional Aromatherapist is also a good idea when considering important safety issues such as phototoxicity. 

Essential Oils are wonderful, and when we respect their power and use them with appropriate care, they can greatly enhance our lives.  

May you enjoy a relaxing, fun, and safe summer!

 
 
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