Phototoxicity is defined by wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phototoxicity) as a chemically induced skin irritation requiring light that does not involve the immune system. It is a type of photosensitivity.
The skin response resembles an exaggerated sunburn. The involved chemical may enter into the skin by topical administration or it may reach the skin via systemic circulation following ingestion or parenteral administration. The chemical needs to be “photoactive”, which means that when it absorbs photons, the absorbed energy produces molecular changes that cause toxicity. Many synthetic compounds, including drug substances like tetracyclines or fluoroquinolones, are known to cause these effects. Surface contact with some such chemicals causes photodermatitis; many plants cause phytophotodermatitis. Light-induced toxicity is a common phenomenon in humans; however, it also occurs in other animals.
So what does this mean in regards to essential oils? Well, this means there are a few that you want to avoid if you are going to be out in the sun! They contain chemical compounds, called Furanocoumarins, that enhance this reaction on the skin. The oil reacts with the UV rays and can cause skin reactions like redding or darkening of the skin, rashes and itchiness. Avoid these oils in creams, lotions and other blends made with carrier oils to ensure that you won’t have a reaction in the sun.
Of course, nothing can be THAT easy, right? The oils that are steam distilled do not contain the same compounds in cold pressed versions. Therapeutically, these oils remain comparable. The others in the “safe” list do not naturally contain the phototoxic compounds. You can buy bergeptene-free bergamot, which is NOT phototoxic. So – you can use some of the oils on the “do not use” list if you follow VERY specific guidelines. They are outlined below.
For every ONE OUNCE of carrier you can safely use:
Using these guidelines, you can feel assured that you & your family can safely use essential oils in the sun! Get out there and enjoy summer – safely! As always, please leave a comment below or email us with if you have questions. If you need help choosing oils that are right for your situation email us at aromatherapist@plant therapy.com