Let’s Chat About Phototoxicity

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My Story of Getting “Burned” By the Sun and the Oily Connection

With awareness that my blog may be overlooked this weekend due to the excitement of the oily event of the year, don’t go away! I’m going to share on that later too!

For now, I decided to start with the sunny topic first. This is for a few reasons:

(1) Those who are tuning in at later dates won’t need to fast forward through the old news. They can just hit stop at the end of the topic.

(2) This is a subject everyone needs to be aware of… if they go out in the sun and love essential oils. Whether you are heading out to soak up the rays with dad this weekend, and/or, touring the great outdoors and farm of Young Living Essential Oils, you’ll want to read on!

(3) If this  “oily naturopathic doc” got a little too lax in her respect for the phototoxic potential of certain essential oils, twice, I thought I better ‘fess up again. Why not use this opportunity to take my lemon (oil) moment (literally) to make some oily-infused lemonade for everyone!

Hopefully, now I’ll get it nailed in my brain that no one can get lazy about the discoloring effects of a combination of some beloved essential oils and a long day in the sun!

My full story can be found here. It is a bittersweet tale of slathering on lemon oil the night prior to boogying on my paddle board. Regardless of using coconut oil and peppermint oil, the SPF was not enough to be able overcome the cellular reaction of my skin. (source, source, source, source, source, source)

Earlier this week, I went into all the details on how this happened*… at the biochemical level.

*Note: There was an empty space in my cupboard where my favorite sunscreen had previously resided. 

This video blog is a quick review of the basic points. This way, you can go out and safely enjoy the sun with dad and/or other oily lovers while you keep your skin healthy, glowing, and with even tone.

Welcome to the science of phototoxicity.


What Phototoxicity Is NOT

Let’s look at what it isn’t to understand what it is better.

There are two types of phototoxicity.  An article from Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery reports:

  • Photosensitivity may be phototoxic or photoallergic. Phototoxicity is much more common…
  • Photoallergy is an uncommon acquired altered reactivity dependent on an immediate antibody or a delayed cell mediated reaction.
  • This nine-page PDF goes into all the biochemistry for those who want all the details.


What Is Phototoxicity?



In Geek Speak

It is my belief that my uneven skin tone is the result of a reaction between the furanocoumarins (FCs) in lemon essential oil with the DNA in my cells. The sun caused this crosslinking response.

I don’t believe I’m producing antibodies or having an allergic response to lemon oil, as FCs are more likely to cause reactions that are “phototoxic.” (Check out that nine-page PDF.)


In English

It’s when you go out in the sun after slathering on certain essential oils and return to a skin reaction. Often it appears to be a burn, redness, and/or uneven color.


What NOT to Do About Phototoxicity



We do NOT need to go running around screaming in circles and frantically collecting our citrus oil bottles to pack them away for a rainy day!

There is no need to avoid all citrus oils or other oils listed that can cause this increase in probability of sunburn or sun response.


What TO DO About Phototoxicity

Here’s what to do:

  • It is best to wait 12-18 hours before exposure to the sun when applying certain essential oils. (source, source)
  • Cover the application area of the offending oily slathering, if you weren’t prepared to lay off them the morning or evening prior to a day in the sun.
  • Be aware of what oils cause this response. An article on Aromaweb lists all the essential oils that you need to be careful of and a summary of the major points.
  • Learn tips on the YLEO blog on what to do if you get caught in the rays with a skin altering oil in your cute lil’ dainty or manly hands.

These include: getting into the shade, rinsing with cold water, and diluting the area of exposure with vegetable oil.

  • Don’t freak out about a few drops of ingestion.

I’m looking into this in a detail for a follow up blog. In reviewing the research, it seems to me to be all about dosage and timing.

Disclaimer: IF you’re one of those sensitive types and/or don’t want to take any chances, then Do NOT drink and citrus-sip in the sun.


That’s the topic of week!

To end on a really good note, remember we do have a non-chemical, toxic-free sunscreen that is oil-infused and phototoxic free!

Let me know your thoughts and experience of fun in the sun with essential oils!



Additional Resources and References:

Get an essential oils consult from me. I apply the philosophy and principles of the naturopathic and functional medicine to guide you with which essential oils and supplements will work best for you!

This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

Thanks Pixabay and iStock purchases.