Phototoxicity and the Summer Sun - Everyday Essentials

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Phototoxicity and the Summer Sun

It’s the summer and we love to soak up as much sun as we can (safely, of course). There’s nothing quite like relaxing on the beach, taking in a weekend at your favorite camping spot, or spending a day at the water park with the family. Unfortunately, some essential oils and the sun just don’t mix. We’re going to break down everything you need to know about phototoxicity and staying safe this summer.

What is Phototoxicity?

Phototoxicity and the Summer Sun

The term ‘phototoxicity’ means that there are specific essential oils that can cause damage when applied topically and exposed to the sun. Reactions can include severe burning, blistering, and discoloration. Ouch! Luckily, phototoxicity (also called photosensitization) is easy to avoid.

Some essential oils are labeled as phototoxic because they contain certain chemical constituents with a structure that gives them the ability to absorb UV light, store it, and release it in a burst into the skin. [1] It’s important to keep in mind that some reaction can occur up to 18 hours after the oil has been applied to the skin and then exposed to UV light.

Which Oils Are Phototoxic?

Citrus Fruit

Plant Therapy carries three oils that can cause a phototoxic reaction: Pink Grapefruit, Lime and Lemon. All three of these citrus oils are cold-pressed. However, you can avoid a phototoxic reaction by choosing our Lemon Steam Distilled or Lime Steam Distilled options!

To avoid phototoxic reactions, cover any area of the skin with a phototoxic oil on it, or just don’t use a phototoxic essential oil topically if you are concerned about sun exposure. It’s also important to follow all maximum dilutions rates for these oils.

A Quick Note About Bergamot

Bergamot essential oil has the potential to be phototoxic due to a certain chemical constituent. Luckily, Plant Therapy’s Bergamot is Bergapten free, which means it is safe for use in the sun and won’t cause a phototoxic reaction!

Oils That are Always Safe

Here’s the good news. There are many delicious, citrusy oils that are always safe to use in the sun.  So you can enjoy the fresh, summery aromas without any risk of damaging your skin.

[1] Phototoxicity. Retrieved from

Don’t forget to check out our Safe Essential Oil Recipes (SEOR) Facebook Group for safe ways to use your favorite essential oils.


16 thoughts on “Phototoxicity and the Summer Sun”

  • I LOVE Sweet Orange and always thought it was phototoxic so I avoided it in the summer time, which is when I wished to use it more as it’s so refreshing. Thank you for clarifying which citrus oils are phototoxic… I’m going to bookmark this post for sure.

  • What’s the duration of this? Like if you use any of the oils that can cause phototoxicity say.. 5 days ago or even a month ago, your skin is still susceptible to the sun? Forever? Or just for a period of time?

    1. If phototoxic oils are used on the skin, you’ll only need to avoid UV rays for about 12-18 hours.

  • Just wondering if I have to be concerned about phototoxicity if I am using pink grapefruit essential oils in a sugar scrub?

    1. Grapefruit can cause photosensitivity, but the risk is much less than with Lemon or Lime. We recommend using a dilution of 4% or less to avoid any reaction. So as long as you pay attention to your dilution rate, you can use it in a sugar scrub!

  • Wow I had no idea pink grapefruit was a phototoxic citrus too.
    So then why is only the steam distilled lime kidsafe not the cold pressed lime, but pink grapefruit is in the kidsafe range? I thought it was the phototoxicity that made lime not kidsafe?

    I tend to only diffuse citrus oils as I can never remember which ones are concerning or not so this is a great list.

    1. Hi Natalie. Even though Pink Grapefruit can cause photosensitivity, but the risk is less than with Lemon or Lime. With Pink Grapefruit, we recommend a dilution of 4% or less, whereas we recommend a 2% dilution for Lemon and a 0.7% dilution for Lime. Hope that clears things up!

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