Beautiful Blue Borage May Cause Phytodermatitis; Photo Copyright Sharon Falsetto All Rights Reserved
Beautiful Blue Borage May Cause Phytodermatitis; Photo Copyright Sharon Falsetto All Rights Reserved

Phytodermatitis is caused by an allergic, irritating, or severe reaction to contact with plants. Just as some essential oils are known to cause photosensitivity, some plants have the ability to be either/both a phytodermatitis reactor and a phytophotodermatitis reactor. Here is a quick introduction to some of the aromatic plants that may cause one or both of these reactions if you are an aromatic gardener, herbalist, distiller, or plant cultivator.

Types of Phytodermatitis

Phytodermatitis, literally “plant dermatitis,”causes the skin to become itchy, red, sore, painful, swollen, and eczema-like. Phytophotodermatitis is a specific reaction to plants, that have a high level of furocoumarins, combined with exposure to sunlight. It is not an immunologic reaction.1 Specific symptoms of phytophotodermatitis include headache, nausea, fever and chills. Left untreated for a long time, or constant exposure to the irritant, it may cause skin cancer.2

Phytodermatitis can also be caused by:

  • a specific chemical reaction to that contained within a plant. Injury to the skin exposes the person to the potential of a reaction.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis by previous exposure to plant and by someone with a sensitized immune system.

  • Contact urticaria from exposure to irritant hairs of a plant.3

Types of Aromatic Plants That May Cause Phytodermatitis

Aromatic plants that can cause phytodermatitis include the following:

  • phytophotodermatitis – Apiaceae plant family members including angelica, celery and carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace); Rutaceae plant family members including rue, bergamot, and lime; Moraceae plant family members including fig (not used in aromatherapy); Fabaceae plant family members including Copaiba balsam.1

  • St John’s wort (Hypericaceae).

  • Rose – a combined reaction to the chemical components contained within the plant and by injury from the thorns of the plant.

  • Yarrow – an irritating reaction to the chemical components contained within the plant.

  • Borage – and other members of the Boraginaceae plant family may cause phytodermatitis.

  • Asteraceae plant family members contain chemical components such as sesquiterpene lactones that can cause allergic contact dermatitis.

Plants as Healers and Irritants

Just as essential oils are use to soothe and heal many problems, plants can be used in the same way. However, the opposite is also true. Both plants, and essential oils, can be the cause of problems such as (phyto) dermatitis. This is just a brief look at the subject of phytodermatitis and warrants further study.

If you are interested in learning more about aromatic plants and essential oils, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie Linguistics of AromaticsTM Home Study Program.


  1. Botanical Dermatology, Phytophotodermatitis, accessed September 5, 2016

  2. University of Maryland Medical Center website, Photodermatitis, accessed September 5, 2016.

  3. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program PDF Report, Phytodermatitis: Reactions in the Skin Caused by Plants, accessed September 5, 2016

  • Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.

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