Citrus fruits are a great mix when it comes to phototoxicity; some are, some are a little, and some are not. Sometimes it’s the rind, other times the leaves. Never the blossoms though. Additionally, and we’ll get to it later, it primarily depends on the processing method.
Furocoumarins, organic substances involved in the plant’s defense against insects, diseases, and dangerous microbes, are the citrus molecules that cause sun sensitivity in our skin.
When handled improperly, good for citrus can become harmful to people.
Furocoumarins are found in many — but not all —citrus, and essential oils extracted from the rind generally contains higher parts of the chemical, while essences of other parts, such as leaves and flowers, usually contain much lower levels of furocoumarins and are safe to use on sunkissed skin — UNLESS the essential oil is steam distilled from Mandarin leaves, which contains another phototoxic substance: dimethyl anthranilate. You see what I mean by inconsistent bunch now, right?
The levels of furocoumarins in citrus essential oil also depend on the extraction method: Because Furocoumarin molecules are heavy and less volatile than many of the other components in essential oils, steam distilled oils are generally safe to use in the sun, why cold pressed (expressed) oils are photo toxic.
Another method altogether and not much talked about, probably because it’s old fashioned and not commercially viable is extraction by sun-infusion. An ancient method we use at LEPAAR to extract plant nutrients into biodynamic Olive Oil with the warmth and light of the Sun over a period of 3-6 months. In this process, the plant compounds are synergised and diluted by the Olive Oil, lowering the amount of Furocoumarins in all citrus rind, pulp, flower and leaves extracts created this way to a level that’s safe to use on sun exposed skin.
For me, this comparison of extraction methods really highlights the problems of increasingly overused essential oils in natural skincare — something Christo and I have been vocal about for years. They are extremely powerful and must be micro dosed only, ideally in homeopathic (highly diluted) quantity, to not disrupt the skin’s microbiome balance and overstimulate psychoactive function.
General cosmetic safety guidelines for essential oils in skincare formulas are between 0.5-5% — which is incredibly high for such a strong substance. Our composition contain minimal amounts of essential oils, dosed at or below 0.01%.
How about a list of what’s what:
PHOTO TOXIC CITRUS ESSENTIAL OILS
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) / cold pressed rind
- Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) / cold pressed rind
- Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) / cold pressed rind
- Lemon (Citrus limon) / cold pressed rind
- Lime (Citrus aruantifolia) / cold pressed rind
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) / steam distilled leaves
NON PHOTO TOXIC CITRUS ESSENTIAL OILS
- Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) — steam distilled (flowers (Neroli) + leaves (Petitgrain) only)
- Blood orange (Citrus sinensis) — cold pressed or steam distilled (all parts)
- Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) — steam distilled (rind only)
- Lemon (Citrus limon) – steam distilled (rind + leaves only)
- Lime (Citrus aruantifolia) — Steam distilled (rind only)
- Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)— cold pressed or steam distilled (rind only)
- Orange (Citrus sinensis) — cold pressed or steam distilled (all parts)
- Satsuma (Citrus unshiu) — cold pressed or steam distilled (all parts)
- Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)— cold pressed or steam distilled (rind only)
- Tangelo (Citrus tangelo) — cold pressed or steam distilled (all parts)
- Yuzu (Citrus junos) — cold pressed or steam distilled (all parts)