Phototoxic – Citrus Essential Oils and the Sun

Have you heard of photosensitive essential oils or phototoxic essential oils?  Certain essential oils can cause a skin reaction when exposed to the sun.  This is called photosensitivity or phototoxicity.

It’s a reaction to essential oils that could¬†cause blistering of the skin where the oil had been applied, severe sunburn, or a long-lasting change to the color of your skin. Definitely, something to be avoided.


which essential oils are phototoxic, which citrus oils are NOT phototoxic, and how to safely use phototoxic essential oils even when your skin will be exposed to the sun


Most of the essential oils that cause this photosensitive reaction from the sun are citrus oils.

But (and this is an important but) not all citrus essential oils are phototoxic.

Yes, that’s right.¬† According to the research reported in Tisserand and Young’s book, Essential Oil Safety, the following citrus essential oils are not phototoxic:

  • Mandarin essential oil
  • Wild orange/Sweet orange essential oil
  • Tangerine essential oil
  • Steam-distilled lemon essential oil
  • Steam-distilled lime essential oil
  • (lemongrass is also not phototoxic.¬† It’s not even citrus, but I frequently see it listed on charts and in articles saying it is phototoxic, so I thought I’d try to clear that one up, too)
one essential community logo
Join our email list!

Get essential oil recipes, info, and ideas via our email newsletter.

So which citrus oils are phototoxic?

  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Grapefruit essential oil
  • Bitter orange essential oil
  • Cold-pressed lemon essential oil
  • Cold-pressed lime essential oil


avoid sun for up to 48 hours if skin has been exposed to higher than recommended amount of phototoxic essential oils


Be especially careful with bergamot and cold-pressed lime essential oils.

The citrus essential oils listed above are not all equally phototoxic.

It takes 24 times as much grapefruit essential oil to be as phototoxic as 1 drop of bergamot.

Here’s a list of the maximum number of drops per ounce of carrier oil before each of these essential oils will cause a phototoxic reaction:

  • bergamot 1 drop
  • cold-pressed lime 4 drops
  • bitter orange 8 drops
  • cold-pressed lemon 12 drops
  • grapefruit 24 drops


which essential oils are phototoxic, which citrus oils are NOT phototoxic, and how to safely use phototoxic essential oils even when your skin will be exposed to the sun


What does it all mean?  Can we still use these phototoxic citrus essential oils when our skin will be exposed to the sun?

Here are a few safe ways to use these phototoxic essential oils on our skin:

  1. Use fewer drops of the phototoxic essential oil than the recommended maximum listed above.¬† So, for example, the recommended phototoxic-safe maximum number of drops of grapefruit per ounce of carrier oil is 24.¬† A 10ml roller bottle is 1/3 of an ounce, so the recommended maximum for a 10ml roller bottle is 8 drops of grapefruit.¬† (that’s a lot!)¬† Use fewer than 8 drops of grapefruit per 10ml of carrier oil and you can safely use that diluted grapefruit roller bottle even on skin that might¬†be exposed to the sun.
  2. wear sun-protective clothing over the phototoxic oil
  3. Diffuse the essential oil instead of applying it topically
  4. Use the phototoxic essential oil in a product that will be washed off (soap, shampoo, sugar scrub, bath bomb, bubble bath, shower gel, body wash, etc)


phototoxic essential oils (like bergamot, grapefruit, and bitter orange) can safely be used in shampoos, soaps, and other products that are washed off.


While you should be careful using essential oils in the sun, there are many safe ways to use essential oils in the summer.  Here are a few favorite essential oil recipes for summer that I think you might like:

DIY Bug Spray That Really Works!

25 of the Best Summer Essential Oil Diffuser Blends

Homemade Peppermint Cooling Spray

After Sun Spray {made with essential oils}

Clever & Creative Ways to Use Empty Essential Oil Bottles

Calming diffuser blends for stress

DIY Peppermint Cooling Foot Cream

DIY Stinky Shoe Spray with essential oils


Interested in more recipes, tips, and ideas for how to use essential oils?

Please join us…

we’re on Facebook here

we’re on Pinterest here

click here to sign up our email newsletter


  Hi, I'm Sarah from ONE essential COMMUNITY. We're a community who loves using essential oils, making natural diy items, and helping each other live our healthiest lives! We're so glad you found us. Please join us at

Please note: This is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice.  Products mentioned in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products and information on this page are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This website is not a substitute for professional care.  Always consult your medical doctor regarding your medical care. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Disclaimer: Please know that this website contains affiliate links. This means that should you click on certain links, and then subsequently purchase a product, I will receive a small commission. The price is exactly the same for you as it would be without the affiliate link.  Thank you for supporting me in this way.

Want to Save This Post?

one essential community logo
Join our email list!

Get essential oil recipes, info, and ideas via our email newsletter.

Enter your email & We'll send it to your inbox. Plus, get essential oil recipes, info, and ideas via our email newsletter!

Save Article

By submitting this form, you consent to receive emails from One Essential Community.

Photo of author

Sarah Lewis

A little thing about me: I ūüíô essential oils. I also love using my background in research to help people learn more about essential oils and all the wonderful ways they can be used. I share DIY recipes for natural cleaners that really work, non-toxic beauty solutions, and holistic wellness. My essential oil recipes, info, and tips have been viewed more than 20 million times. I've been featured on MindBodyGreen, Health & Natural Living, All Natural Ideas, This Natural Home, Natural Living Ideas, and Passion for Savings.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.