If you use certain oils on your skin or if you see an aromatherapist for a massage, you may be warned about going essential oil roller ballinto direct sunlight after your session. Sometimes it will be because it’s summer and the carrier oil means you are more likely to burn, however in some cases it can be due to the essential oil being used.

Some essential oils are phototoxic. Phototoxicity is a term used to describe essential oils which contain chemicals that react with UVA light to generate inflammation. This inflammation appears as sunburn and can even cause blistering. Some common essential oils which have phototoxic effects and may possibly be used in a massage are: bergamot (Citrus bergamia), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), lemon (Citrus limon), mandarin (Citrus reticulata var mandarin).

You may have noticed that these are citrus oils. One reason it is useful to know how your essential oil was obtained, is because it affects the chemical composition of the oil.

If a citrus essential oil has been steam distilled the furanocoumarins, which are the chemicals responsible for the phototoxicity, do not pass into the essential oil. If you have a cold pressed, expressed essential oil then it is likely to have the furanocoumarins in it. In the case of bergamot it is possible to buy essential oil Bergamot FCF, which is Bergamot furanocoumarins free. Bergamot FCF has had the bergapten removed, which is the furanocoumarins chemical within bergamot that reacts with the UV light.

essential oilsSo is it better to buy steam distilled citrus oils and bergamot FCF essential oil?

It depends what you want it for. Many aromatherapists prefer to use expressed citrus oils and bergamot without the furanocoumarins removed, because they are the whole oils and have a more complete aroma. If you are planning to use oils in a sauna, for intense steam distillation, or before a sunbed then it is safer to choose other oils or steam distilled citrus oils.

To avoid these issues it is a good idea not to sunbathe after using essential oils. If you are going into the sun you can apply suncream or consider the clothing you are wearing, and whether it can shield from UV rays. If it is a particularly sunny day and you are planning to head out into the sun, your aromatherapist can discuss with you if it may be more appropriate to change the blend or what precautions you should take.


Louise Morgan Holistic TherapistLouise is an holistic therapist who owns the Therapy Centre, BS14 9HB, a clinic offering a range of holistic and beauty therapies. Louise offers reflexology, aromatherapy, aromatology, holistic massage, Indian head massage, reiki, baby massage and story massage. She is a mum of two boys and when she is not working she enjoys getting outdoors with her family. For further information visit louise-morgan.co.uk or contact her clinic on 01275 217160