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Safety first – Essential Oils and Phototoxicity

Updated: May 24, 2022

Phototoxicity, also known as photosensitivity, photocontact dermatitis or photoirritation, is an inflammatory skin reaction. If you expose your skin to UV light after applying certain essential oils, the skin can become irritated. These oils contain furanocoumarins which react to UV light. Damage to the skin could be permanent because the skin is exposed to a chemically induced skin irritant.

The biggest culprits here are cold pressed citrus essential oils. However, not all citrus oils cause phototoxicity and the ones that do can be used safely. Examples include – grapefruit, lime, lemon and bergamot.

If you have used any photosensitive oils on your skin, avoid the sun, tanning beds and UV light for at least 12 to 18 hours. This applies to products that remain on the skin such as creams or serums. If you use a product such as shampoo or a bath product that washes off, you will generally be safer since the product is washed off. If you use one of these oils in a steamer for the face or in a sauna, the oils particles will make contact with the skin. Consider taking a shower to remove any residue or stay away from UV light.

Symptoms of phototoxicity are:





Skin discoloration


Scaly patches

Raised skin


Known phototoxic or photosensitive essential oils:

Angelica Root

Bergamot Peel

Bitter Orange

Cumin Seed

Grapefruit Peel

Lemon Peel

Lime Peel

Mandarin Leaf

Rue Leaf

Citrus oils that are not p phototoxic or photosensitive essential oils:

Steam distilled lime

Red Mandarin

Sweet Orange


Blood Orange


  • If you apply a product that contains a photosensitive oil, stay away from UV light for a minimum of 12 hours

  • If you must go out in the sun, make sure you cover your skin.

  • If you experience any irritation, stop using the product all together and wash it off.

  • Always read the ingredients on products before you start using them.

  • If the irritation worsens call your doctor.

  • If your skin is irritated, dip a washcloth in whole milk and lay it on the affected area. The high fat and protein concentration in whole milk will sooth the burn and promote healing.

  • Please do your research first if you take prescription medication. As an example – tetracycline make increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV light.

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United States

(If you or someone you know may have been exposed to a dangerous substance, contact poison control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or go to for assistance.)

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