Photo-sensitivity….. what and why?

What in the world is photo-sensitivity and why do you need to know?

So what exactly is photo-sensitivity?

Medicine net defines photo-sensitivity medically as an over-sensitivity of skin to light. Photo-sensitivity can be a side effect of medications or result from diseases, such as lupus. Treatment depends on the severity of the reaction and the cause. Photo-sensitivity can be prevented by avoiding skin exposure to ultraviolet light.

Photo-toxicity is a similar condition to photo-sensitivity however it is a separate condition. Where photo-sensitivity is an increase in the skins reaction to sunlight or UV rays causing reactions which are considered abnormal. Photo-toxicity is actually a severe reaction to sunlight due to a new chemical that has been introduced to the skin.

The Free Dictionary defines photo-toxicity as a severely exaggerated reaction to sunlight caused by a new chemical in the skin. The primary symptom is sunburn, which is rapid and can be severe enough to blister (a second degree burn). The chemicals associated with photo-toxicity are usually drugs. The list includes several common antibiotics—quinolones, sulfonamides, and tetracyclines; diuretics (water pills); major tranquilizers; oral diabetes medication; and cancer medicines. There are also some dermatologic drugs, both topical and oral, that can sensitise skin.

There are other individual conditions also noted on the medical-dictionary link above where sunlight/UV rays can cause reactions to the skin.

Okay so why do you need to know this?

Good question my friend. some essential oils can have the ability to cause or aggravate pre-existing photo-sensitivity or photo-toxicity. It is extremely important that you are aware of which ones, especially if you are photosensitive. Even if you are not, you should always follow instructions to minimise your risks associated with the conditions.

Personally, I have experienced photo-sensitivity whilst I was taking Roaccutane to treat my severe acne condition about 15 years ago now. Prior to taking it I rarely got sunburn and when I did my skin would go brown almost straight away. However, after taking Roaccutane I had to change my habits; I could not be out in the sun for more than 20 mins without burning quite severely and my skin no longer tends to tan. Thus, I do have a propensity for photo-sensitivity and must use my oils appropriately to avoid the condition. This unfortunately, is now a life long condition, sadly gone are the days when my skin would tan immediately.

What this means for you is that if you use an oil that has a potential to cause a photo-sensitivity reaction, it is recommended that you do not get direct sunlight exposure to the body part that the oil was administered to for a particular length of time. This is something that only occurs with some people, not everyone but if you have ever had a sensitivity to the sun whilst taking any other medications then you should pay particular attention to these directions of use. Photo-sensitivity will only occur with the topical use of an essential oil, not the aromatic or internal use.

Is there a list of these oils somewhere?

Any reputable company involved in the production and sale of tested [amended from US term:therapeutic] grade essential oils would be negligent if they did not have a list. dōTERRA, whom I use, do DōTERRA – Photosensitivity/Phototoxicity information and I would assume all others would too I would refer you to your supplier. The main oils I have noticed that dōTERRA warn about are those of a citrus nature. For example, when you look up dōTERRA’s Citrus Bliss blend listed beneath the “Caution” heading is the statements: Possible skin sensitivity…….Avoid sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after applying product.

You will note that when you review the individual details of the dōTERRA oils listed in the below graphic, they will all include a warning and a recommendation as to how long to avoid sunlight/UV rays following application.


DōTERRA have recently released a ‘Green Mandarin’ Oil; dōTERRA has added this oil in answer to fruit wastage (due to the normal 70% thinning process of farming) and lost profits for farmers (oh I love the heart of this company); this fantastic new oil not only allows the farmers to have profit through the whole farming process, but is also reported by Dr Hill to have no photo-sensitivity however I would still recommend to err on the caution – better to be safe in the use of your oils than sorry you weren’t . Dr Hill – YouTube – Green MandarindōTERRA – Green Mandarin.

Does that make these essential oils bad for us?

The answer to that question is when used properly, No.

There are numerous medications, diseases, hereditary conditions and treatments that are just as likely to cause this condition. When you are armed with knowledge and are following the relevant instructions for any of the noted medications or oils that may cause photo-sensitivity you will be able to limit your risk.

Using your essential oils: DōTERRA have guides for using your oils “Check them out here” . As essential oils have a fat/lipid soluble nature this allows them to easily penetrate the membranes of cells and be rapidly absorbed through the skin and thus into the blood stream to reach the whole body. The process can be completed by our bodies in as little as 10 mins. Due to this, the location of the application does not determine where our body puts the oil to use. Although application of an oil to the target area is ideal for a specific issue as it will give a localised benefit; using a carrier oil and massaging it into an alternative part of the body, for example the bottom of your feet, will assist in the delivery of the oil through out the body. So if you need to use one of these oils topically and you know you will be in the sun within the time-frame noted to avoid sunlight/UV rays, you can apply it to an area that will be covered and still receive the same benefit.

I hope this helps you understand this condition a little better and help you to enjoy your oils all the more being armed with knowledge and information.

Don’t hesitate to drop me a message if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them for you.


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