Essential oils and phototoxicity

Essential oils are getting increasingly popular however their correct usage is not followed by all. Can essential oils cause harm due to exposure to heat, sun, using tanning beds after using these oils? The answer is yes, they can harm even as much as 18 hours later and even on a cloudy day when you don't seem to see the sun but there are ultraviolet rays present and this may cause reaction with the essential oil you had used.  This is known as phototoxicity which can be mild to very severe and is something that everyone who uses essential oils for themselves or with others need to be keenly aware of. Phototoxic reactions actually occur at the DNA level. Reactions may look like increased pigmentation of the skin with no apparent burning, to the most severe cases a full thickness burns. The reaction will depend on the amount of essential oil applied, time elapsed from initial application, the intensity and duration of the UV light, and the person's skin type. The reaction may appear within a couple hours and continue to worsen for a couple days, or you might not notice reaction for up to 12 hours after UV exposure.

With the exception of sweet orange, all citrus essential oils that are obtained by cold-expression, have phototoxic components known as for furocoumarins. A few other non citrus essential oils also have furocoumarins and the same cautions apply. Citrus oils that are obtained by steam-distillation, which is less common, do not have furocoumarins and are safe to use in the sun. Some of the furocoumarin-rich essential oils may be safe to use in the sun, or UV light at a proper dilution. However, you need to know the dilution rate before taking a chance. So, sometimes it's just easier to avoid these essential oils when you know you will be in the sun.

The most phototoxic essential oil is bergamot citrus bergamia, which happens to be a wonderful oil to use for stress reduction. There are many stories we have heard and seen photos of significant burns related to phototoxicity. So, this is something everyone who uses essential oil should be aware of, keep exposed skin with an applied phototoxic essential oil away from UV light for a minimum of 18 hours. Certain essential oils with furocoumarins have the potential of causing phototoxic reactions. If exposing the area of skin where these essential oils have been applied to sunlight, or any UV light such as a tanning bed, ensure a significant time has elapsed. Phototoxic reactions can occur when the essential oils were applied up to 18 hours earlier. Phototoxic reactions can be mild or very severe and you might not see the reaction for up to 12 hours after UV exposure.  This is an important fact that should be understood by all who use essential oils. It is advisable to educate yourself about the correct usage, get advise from an aromatherapist and buy from a trusted source that sells good quality essential oils.



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