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The Aromahead Blog - Aromatherapy Education and Resources

How to Use Phototoxic Essential Oils Safely


Lemon, Grapefruit, Lime . . . ahh, sweet, fresh citrus essential oils!

They have such vibrant, zesty energy and smell so good when you diffuse them or use them in topical blends...

But wait! Citrus essential oils are phototoxic! Can you really use them in topical blends?

Yes, absolutely.

Before I explain how, let me explain what it means for an essential oil to be phototoxic.

Phototoxic essential oils can cause skin reactions in sunlight and UV light (such as tanning beds). These reactions are no fun, and some people choose to avoid using citrus essential oils in topical blends altogether just to be on the safe side.

But there’s good news! You can “be on the safe side” and still use citrus essential oils!

First of all, there are some citrus essential oils that don’t cause phototoxic reactions at all. These are:

  • Green Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
  • Distilled Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Yuzu (Citrus junos)
  • Tangerine (Citrus × tangerina)

Did you notice I pointed out that distilled Lime is not phototoxic? That’s because Lime is unique—it can be cold-pressed or distilled, and the production method determines whether it’s phototoxic. Cold-pressed Lime is phototoxic, but distilled Lime is not. Other citruses (like Lemon) can be distilled as well, but it’s not as common of a practice.

Now we’ve discussed the citrus essential oils that aren’t phototoxic. What about the ones that are? You can still use those in topical blends, as long as you dilute them in carriers appropriately.

Here are the guidelines for each phototoxic oil and how many drops you can safely use in 1 oz (30 ml) of carrier. This information comes from Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young’s book, Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, 2nd Edition.

  • Cold-Pressed/Expressed Bergamot – 2.4 drops per oz (I just use 2 drops to keep it simple)
  • Cold-Pressed/Expressed Lemon – 12 drops per oz
  • Cold-Pressed/Expressed Lime – 4.2 drops per oz (I just use 4 drops)
  • Cold-Pressed/Expressed Grapefruit – 24 drops per oz

As long as you stay within these dilution guidelines, feel free to use these citrus oils in your topical blends. Don’t let the word “phototoxic” make you shy away. Citrus oils want to inspire happy feelings! They’re wonderful in body oils and lotions, digestion creams, and pain relief blends. Be mindful of how many drops per oz you’re using, and you’ll do just fine. 

Founder at Aromahead Institute
Andrea Butje is an internationally-recognized Aromatherapist who has changed the educational paradigm through her inspired approach to teaching essential oils and Aromatherapy Certification. Check out her book, The Heart of Aromatherapy, at Aromatics International!

Topics: citrus, Aromatherapy Education, Essential Oils, photosensitive, phototoxic, Phototoxicity, uv rays

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