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.
When certain essential oils deemed phototoxic are applied undiluted or not properly diluted, then exposed to the sun or a tanning bed, issues may occur. To avoid such issues, properly dilute and avoid sun exposure 18-24 hours after use of these oils. Here is a list of phototoxic oils and how many drops are safe when added to an ounce (30ml) of carrier oil.
Angelica Root (Angelica archangelica) – over 7 drops per ounce of carrier
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) (cold pressed) – over 2 drops per ounce of carrier
Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium) (cold pressed) – over 13 drops per ounce of carrier
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) – over 3 drops per ounce of carrier
Fig Leaf Absolute (Fiscus carica) – should never be used for anything - Carcinogenic
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) (cold pressed) – over 24 drops per ounce of carrier
Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) (cold pressed) – 4 drops per ounce of carrier
Lemon (Citrus limon) (cold pressed) – over 12 drops per ounce of carrier
Mandarin - LEAF only (Citrus reticulata) – over 1 drop per ounce of carrier
Rue (Ruta Graveolens) – over 1 drop per ounce of carrier
Tagetes (Tagetes minuta) – over 1 drop in 5 ounces of carrier
The steam distilled version of grapefruit, lime and lemon if available are not phototoxic. Furanocoumarins are only found in the cold-pressed oils.
If you are using these oils or a blend that contains any of these oils, please be careful. If you are going to be in the sun, apply the oil to a place where the sun will not be exposed to and avoid artificial tanning. The sunburn above is VERY mild compared to some I have seen after using a phototoxic oil. Since many of the citrus oils are phototoxic, if working with the fruit make sure to wash your hands afterward. By squeezing a lemon or lime wedge into your water (because we all know that adding essential oils to water is NOT a good idea), you are releasing the oils from the peel onto your hands. This could cause a case of phototoxicity. Also, wild parsnips that can be found growing in ditches and unused last also contain furanocoumarins. The slightest touch can cause major issues.
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Love and light!
Caution: The material on this page is not meant to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified medical practitioner. Since the actual use of this product by others is beyond our control, no expressed or implied guarantee as to the effects of their use can be given nor liability taken. Use at your own discretion. Any application of the recommendations is at the user’s risk. Sweet Willow Spirit, LLC disclaims any liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of this information and assumes no responsibility for any actions taken. This should not be used in place of traditional therapies but solely as a complementary means for bringing well-being. The FDA has not evaluated the statements on this website. No claims are made as to any medicinal value of any oil or healing modality.