People often assume that all citrus essential oils are phototoxic; although this is the general rule, there are a few citrus essential oils which are not phototoxic. In addition, it is important to note that some non-citrus essential oils are phototoxic. Here’s a quick guide to phototoxicity in essential oils.

Is Grapefruit Essential Oil Phototoxic? Photo Credit: ISP
Is Grapefruit Essential Oil Phototoxic? Photo Credit: ISP

What is Phototoxicity?

Phototoxicity, also known as photo sensitivity, means that an essential oil is more responsive to light, due to the presence of a radiation-absorbing substance, such as sunlight; in humans, it is thought that the presence of the chemical element furanocoumarins is responsible for this reaction. Certain essential oils contain furanocoumarins and therefore increase the risk of phototoxicity, or a reaction such as sunburn.

Some essential oils contain up to two per cent of furanocoumarins; these essential oils are most notably expressed citrus essential oils. Bergamot essential oil is high in furanocoumarins, although bergapetene-free bergamot essential oils are becoming more widely available.

Non-Phototoxic Essential Oils

However, there are some citrus essential oils that are not phototoxic – or it has not been significantly proven to be so. Those essential oils which are not known to be phototoxic include:

  • expressed sweet orange (Citrus sinensis); interestingly, distilled sweet orange oil is phototoxic (Lawless, Julia, 1995). In addition, do not confuse sweet orange essential oil with bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var. amara) essential oil – which is phototoxic

  • grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) – although there are differing opinions on this one

  • distilled lime (Citrus aurantifolia) – note that expressed lime essential oil is phototoxic

  • mandarin (Citrus reticulata)possibly phototoxic but it has not been proven to any great degree.

Phototoxic Citrus Essential Oils

Citrus essential oils which are phototoxic include:

  • lemon (Citrus x limon)

  • bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

  • bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var. amara)

  • expressed lime (Citrus aurantifolia)

  • distilled sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) – see note above (Lawless, Julia, 1995).

In addition, note that angelica root and seed (Angelica archangelica), caraway (Carum carvi),cassia (Cinnamomum cassia),cumin (Cuminum cyminum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), lovage (Levisticum officinale) and melissa (Melissa officinalis) may be phototoxic.

Safety Note: Even if an essential oil is not listed as phototoxic (or there is a difference of opinion on the subject), always use care and perform a patch test before use if you are of fair or sensitive skin. In addition, always dilute the essential oil before applying to the skin.

Learn More About Essential Oils with a Sedona Aromatherapie Course

If you would like to learn more about essential oils invest in a good beginner’s book such as Authentic Aromatherapy – or take a home study aromatherapy course with Sedona Aromatherapie! To learn more, visit the courses home page.


  • Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils London: Element

  • Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook Thorsons: London, UK

  • Price, Shirley, Price, Len 2012 Aromatherapy for Health Professionals Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone

  • Author is a certified aromatherapist.

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