You may’ve heard that some essential oils—citrus oils in particular—have phototoxic properties.   Although a handful of essential oils can cause photoallergic reactions, they are extremely uncommon, whereas everyone needs to take steps to avoid phototoxicity.

Photo-toxic essential oils can cause skin reactions in sunlight and UV light (such as tanning beds).

Citrus oils have many amazing skin benefits, so it makes sense to use them wisely as part of a healthy skincare regimen, if you do it safely and approach it as a smart, well-informed consumer.

Non-Phototoxic Citrus Oils

Some citrus essential oils that don’t cause photo-toxic reactions at all.     These are:   

Cold press Mandarin (green)
Cold press Tangerine
Cold press Sweet or Blood Orange
Neroli (orange blossom)
Steam distilled Lime

Steam distilled Lemon
Steam distilled Bergamot Bergapten-free


Phototoxic  Citrus Oils

They can still be used in topical blends, as long as they are diluted them in carriers appropriately. These are:

Cold press Lime
Cold press Lemon
Cold press Grapefruit
Cold press Bergamot
Cold press Orange, bitter


Some types of citrus essential oils can cause phototoxic reactions when they’re applied the skin without dilution. However, phototoxicity doesn’t occur when safe concentrations of citrus oils are used.

 An analysis done by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review determined that citrus oils are safe in the small amounts found in cosmetic products.

Listed here are some commonly used phototoxic essential oils and the number of drops of each per ounce of carrier that can be used safely:

  • Cold pressed Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) 2 drop
  • Cold pressed lemon (Citrus limon) 12 drops
  • Cold pressed lime (Citrus aurantifolia) 4 drops
  • Cold pressed grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) 24 drops
  • Orange  (Citrus x aurantium) 7.5 drops

Bergamot - Bergaptene Free (Calabrian) Essential Oil

In this variety, the bergaptene content which causes photosensitivity has been removed. This allows the Bergamot to be used in skin and hair care formulations without worrying about sun exposure after use. Bergamot Bergaptene Free Essential Oil can be used infact to treat skin ailments such as psoriasis and eczema and it is considered to relieve stress and anxiety.

Finally, all photo-toxic oils can be used, as long as they’re applied to areas of the skin that will not be exposed to the sun, and as long they are safely diluted . Therefore, simply avoid sunlight for at least 12 hours after application to the skin.


If you’re including the phototoxic oil in a wash off product, then the same rules don’t apply. Since the essential oil won’t be sitting on the skin, there is no concern for phototoxicity.