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Can Essential Oils Cause Sunburns?


YES!  This is referred to as phototoxicity.  Phototoxicity is a light-induced reaction to a "photoactive" substance in some essential oils.  It requires both contact with the essential oil and prolonged exposure to strong sunlight (UV rays) or artificial sunlight (tanning bed).  Essentially, phototoxicity is a reaction to sunlight, which can cause inflammation, severe burning, blistering, and discoloration (reddening or darkening) of the skin.


The most common phototoxic essential oil components are furanocoumarins.  Furanocoumarins, are naturally occurring chemicals in plants.  These molecules have the structure and ability to absorb UV light, store it, and release it into the skin.  If this substance is put on the skin, then exposed to sunlight, a severe sunburn may occur.  There are many variables in this equation.  Dose, dilution and the time between application and sun exposure are all things that need to be considered.  As far as I know, (no documented cases have been reported) of a quick walk from the car to the house to cause a burn.  However, working outside in the sunlight could easily be too much.