Fun In The Sun: A Primer on Phototoxic Oils

As I write this, it’s a cool 97 degrees in Central TX. The sun is out and after just a few minutes on my porch, I am wondering why I thought it would be a good idea to venture out of my climate-controlled home. But honestly, who doesn’t associate summertime with being outside getting their dose of Mother Nature’s vitamin D while sipping a fruity drink?
 
So if summer finds us spending more time outdoors, it’s also the perfect time to pay more attention to what we are putting on our skin before we head outside. The obvious skin care product to apply pre-sun is sunscreen, but today, I want to talk about certain ingredients that have a high likelihood of increasing our sensitivity to the sun and may cause a phototoxic reaction.
 
After reading so many comments and posts regarding phototoxicity, I felt that it was important to share information from an authority on this topic -- Robert Tisserand.1 His book titled Essential Oil Safety is an excellent reference manual for all looking to read more about this topic in great depth. 

First, some basic definitions:
Photosensitivity - an immune system skin reaction that is triggered by exposure to sunlight. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, redness and inflammation.
 
Phototoxicity – a type of skin photosensitivity triggered by sunlight exposure, but caused by a chemical that was either swallowed or topically applied to the skin. Symptoms resemble those of a severe sunburn.
 
In skin care products, fragrance components in essential oils may contain the phototoxic chemicals known as furanocoumarins (FC’s). Products containing oils with high levels of FC's should not be applied to the skin before sun exposure. Below is a list of some phototoxic essential oils to peak your interest. Also included is a list of oils that are non-phototoxic (aka safe!) and have often been mischaracterized as being problematic.

It is important to note that not all oils listed above possess the same risk of phototoxicity. The final percentage of the oil found in a finished product also affects this risk. For example, bergamot oil that is not free of furanocoumarins, ranks highest on the list, but the level of risk will ultimately depend on how much is included in a particular product.
 
Grapefruit essential oil is on the list and is considered low risk. There are different varieties of grapefruit oil with red being the very lowest risk. Grapefruit Red is found in our Original Body Polish, Original Body Butter, Bee Cream and Lotion Bars. We feel very confident in including this oil in those products, as the amount used is approximately one-sixteenth of the recommended maximum use level to avoid phototoxic reactions. This translates to a tiny percentage that is significantly below the accepted usage rates.
 
I have wanted to write about this topic for a long time to not only dispel some of the misinformation out there, but to offer helpful information about our use of certain ingredients. Though the information here is not comprehensive and is meant to serve as a primer and an introduction of sorts, it is my hope that you learned something new that will help you take better care of your skin especially as it relates to sun exposure.
 
If you ever have questions about any of our ingredients or products, please reach out to us via the contact form on our website. We are here to help and look forward to hearing from you.
 
Wishing all of you a wonderful weekend and if you are in the USA – Happy Fourth of July!
 

Love,


Rachel



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