Photosensitivity: How to use essential oils safely during the summer

photosensitive essential oils

Some essential oils applied to the skin can react when we are exposed to the sun. Do you know what they are and how to avoid risks?

In the summer afternoons, it can be useful to apply essential oils to help you relax. It may also be helpful to apply some venotonic oil to the legs to relieve heat-tired legs. 

Or maybe, you use essential oils to ease your headache, or you just like the fragrance. There are many different reasons why essential oils can be useful in summer.

However, not all essential oils can be used on the skin after exposure to the sun.

Oils that don’t mix well with the sun are known as photosensitive oils and a chemical reaction is created, called phototoxicity or a phototoxic response.

This chemical reaction happens when photosensitive essential oils are exposed to ultraviolet light from sources like the Sun or a tanning bed.

In this article, you will discover which essential oils can cause a reaction and should be avoided in the sun, how to avoid these reactions, and which essential oils are safe to take care of yourself in summer.


Although the vast majority of essential oils are safe and their use doesn’t involve any risk if you have exposure to sunlight, there are indeed notable exceptions, not only in terms of specific types of oils but also in terms of how to apply them.

When an oil reacts to ultraviolet light, this creates the release of free radicals, which can build up in cells and cause damage.

Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron and because of this, they are in search of an electron, which it takes from the body to create a balance.

When this exchange of an election happens, damage to your DNA happens.

Other reactions that can occur when some essential oils are applied to the skin when exposed to the sun are skin irritations.

These skin irritations can include red, itchy, stinging, or burning feeling, and the skin can also be inflamed.

Another issue that can happen is a permanent change in the color of the skin as well as dark spots that occur over time.

A phototoxic burn usually starts as a rash that can start between one to twenty-four hours following exposure to the sun or UV light.

The rash can form a painful clump of blisters, this depends on the amount of time you are exposed to the sun or a UV light, the amount of oil used as well as the dilution ratio.

Essences from the peel of some citrus fruits

This is common in the case of essences extracted from the peel of some citrus fruits, such as bergamot, bitter orange, mandarin, grapefruit, or lemon, among others.

If these or other phototoxic oils are used for any reason, then the Sun and tanning beds should be avoided for the next 12 to 24 hours.

What is the cause of this phototoxic response? There are two methods for extracting essential oils from their source, steam distillation, and cold press.

Essential oils that are extracted through steam distillation are not photosensitive, because this method leaves behind a molecule called Furanocoumarins, also known as FC.

When these molecules are exposed to any kind of ultraviolet light, they become activated.

That is why the oil obtained from the leaves of these citrus fruits does not present any photosensitizing effect, such as the Petit Grain of bitter orange, orange blossom, and lemon or mandarin leaves.

With steam distillation, the peelings of the fruit are boiled and the steam and oil are allowed to cool and condense back into water.

The final step is to separate the oil from the water. This method was developed as far back as the Middle Ages.

With cold pressing, the oils are pressed out of the fruit through mechanical separation at a cold temperature which preserves the aroma and potency of the oil.

This method is the most common way to extract oils because of the ability to have more aromatic oil.

Essential oils of the Umbelliferae family

The essential oils come from some species of the Umbelliferous family, which is also known as the carrot family.

Examples include angelica root, lovage, biznaga, cumin, dill, or celery, which are also problematic.


Some oils that can cause a phototoxic response can be heavily diluted with a carrier oil, such as sunflower seed oil.

Remember that if an oil has been extracted through steam distillation, then the oil is safe because of the lack of FCs.

Essential OilDeluition PercentageDrops per 50ml Of Carrier Oil
Tagetes0.05%Half a drop
Bergamot0.4%4 Drops
Lemon2%20 Drops
Lime0.7%7 Drops
Grapefruit2.5%25 Drops
Orange Bitter1.4%14 Drops
Angelica Root0.78%7 Drops
Cumin0.4%4 Drops


For sunny days, there are a wide variety of fragrant and refreshing essential oils that we can continue to use.

These oils can be used for headaches, muscle aches, cramps, or simply to obtain a pleasant relaxing effect.

  • Peppermint
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Eucalyptus
  • Jasmine
  • Marjoram
  • Vetiver
  • Lavender
  • Roman sage

Here is an effective mixture of oils to relax you and even relieve headaches caused by nervous tension or stress.

Mix well and apply to temples, forehead, neck, and shoulders with a gentle but vigorous massage.

  • 4 to 6 drops of lavender oil
  • 4 to 6 drops of marjoram oil
  • 4 to 6 drops of peppermint oil
  • 25 ml of base oil, such as sunflower oil


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