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Essential Oils and Phototoxic Reactions

Sun is out! It’s a happy day here in Northeast Ohio when the sun starts flexing it’s heat muscles a little more regularly. We enjoy longer days, sun-filled play time, mud and all the Great Outdoor pest protection we can get!


All this sun can present a very important aspect of essential oil safety that I wanted to remind you of, phototoxicity. Phototoxic reactions can come from fruits, pharmaceuticals (most commonly anti-biotics and anti-histamines), and essential oils among other sources. The reaction may look like a sunburn and quickly escalate to a very uncomfortable, even painful skin response that looks and acts like a chemical burn. While many phototoxic reactions slowly go away, acute cases can leave you scarred. No matter the source, phototoxic reactions begin with compounds that are irritated or activated by sun exposure.

So what does this have to do with essential oils and summertime fun? There are a few essential oils that have very strong responses to the sun. If used topically, you should avoid direct sun exposure for 12-24 hours after using these oils.

Phototoxic EO Dilutions

When scanning this chart, it is pretty self explanatory, but I want to draw your attention to something very specific, distillation. In the chart above next to lemon and lime it says “cold pressed”. This denotes the way the lemon or lime essential oil is extracted from the rind. I love this article from NAHA on different methods and history on extraction methods for essential oils. The extraction method used to produce an essential oil will determine which compounds get transferred to the essential oil. Steam-distilled lemon or steam-distilled lime ARE NOT PHOTOTOXIC. Some simple ways to tell the difference on these two oils extraction are:

NOT PHOTOTOXIC
Steam-distilled Lemon: very, very light yellow to clear in color, aroma is less bright and more mellow in intensity
Steam-distilled Lime: lighter aroma, less bright tones

PHOTOTOXIC:
Pressed Lemon: light to bright yellow in color, aroma is very crisp and pungent
Pressed Lime: bright aroma, tart aspect comes through

No matter what, the distiller, blender, aromatherapist, whoever is bottling the oils should have the distillation method of phototoxic oils on the bottle. No exceptions. If the company you are getting the oil from won’t or can’t tell you the extraction method, do not take the chance in purchasing oils or blends from them.

My two favorite sources for steam-distilled essential oils are Nature’s Gift Aromatherapy and StillPoint Aromatics. Nature’s Gift is the ONLY distiller I get Scentsable Health Lime from. No Scentsable Health products carry cold pressed lime. From StillPoint, I love their steam-distilled Grapefruit, Bergamot (FCF) and Lemon. The aromatics are amazing and product is quality.

I hope this helps you feel empowered to make the safest choices for your family’s fun-in-the-sun this year!

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