Citrus Oils · Essential Oils · Oils Education · Tinc Botanica

(Safe) Fun in the Sun: Phototoxicity & Essential Oils

Yay! Summer is just around the corner (something we Minnesotans do NOT take for granted πŸ˜‰). This means we are headed straightaway for some pool, beach-side, and general outdoor fun.

And while we are beyond thrilled to bask in the sun (seriously!), it’s so important to be educated about essential oils and phototoxicity.

The word “phototoxic” might be new and daunting to some of us, but that’s okay. Armed with knowledge, we can demystify this scary-sounding word and make adjustments accordingly…knowledge is power, right?

Okay, so first thing’s first:

What is Phototoxicity?

According to The Herbal Academy,

“Phototoxicity happens when certain chemical constituents bind to DNA in the skin and then react with UV light, killing the cells and damaging tissues. Phototoxic burns can show up anywhere from 1-24 hours after sun or UV exposure, including tanning beds, cause anywhere from first to third-degree burns, and the resulting discoloration can last up to several months.”

A Note on Citrus Oils

While it’s true that many of the oils that are phototoxic are citrus, according to Essential Oil Safety, a well-researched and renowned book on the subject:

“Not all cold pressed citrus essential oils are phototoxic, and steam distilled citrus essential oils are apparently not phototoxic.”

With some oils, the key detail is in the process from which the oil is derived. And apparently, the steam distilled process is the safer one.

Check out this handy chart:

Non-Phototoxic Oils

According to the acclaimed Essential Oil Safety book, the following oils are considered non-phototoxic:

  • Mandarin essential oil
  • Wild orange/Sweet orange essential oil
  • Tangerine essential oil
  • Steam-distilled lemon essential oil
  • Steam-distilled lime essential oil
  • (Please note that lemongrass is also not phototoxic and is in fact, not even a citrus oil!)

Phototoxic Oils

That being said, these oils are considered phototoxic:

  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Grapefruit essential oil
  • Bitter orange essential oil
  • Cold-pressed lemon essential oil
  • Cold-pressed lime essential oil



Not all of the oils listed above are equally phototoxic. For example, one drop of bergamot is 24 times more phototoxic than grapefruit oil.

According to the information gathered from the knowledgeable and amazing One Essential Community, this list details the maximum number of drops per ounce of carrier oil it takes to create a phototoxic reaction:

  • bergamot 1 drop
  • cold-pressed lime 4 drops
  • bitter orange 8 drops
  • cold-pressed lemon 12 drops
  • grapefruit 24 drops



We have to be smart with these oils! They pack a powerful punch and it’s important we are informed and make good choices.

When it comes to phototoxic oils, One Essential Community recommends the following:

  1. Use less of the phototoxic essential oil than the recommended maximum listed above.  So, for example, the recommended phototoxic-safe maximum number of drops of cold-pressed lemon per ounce of carrier oil is 12.  A 10ml roller bottle is 1/3 of an ounce, so the recommended maximum for a 10ml roller bottle is 4 drops of cold-pressed lemon. Use fewer than 4 drops of grapefruit per 10ml of carrier oil and you can safely use that diluted cold-pressed lemon roller bottle even on skin that might be exposed to the sun.
  2. Wear clothing with SPF and/or long-sleeves over the phototoxic oil
  3. Diffuse your oils instead of applying topically
  4. Use phototoxic oils in a product that will be washed off (soaps and scrubs, etc)


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