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Essential Oils & Photosensitivity

Essential Oils & Photosensitivity

Understanding sun sensitivity & sun sensitizing ingredients. Read on to learn the correct way to use citrus oil in sun recovery products!


We talk a lot about the importance of after-sun skin recovery on The Lab Edit. Supplying your skin with ample hydration, understanding how to reverse sun damage, and how to cool down over-exposed skin is crucial to overall skin health. But another area of great focus for us is correctly understanding sun sensitivity and how sun sensitivity ingredients play a role in our formulations. We take our ingredients, including the use of essential oils, very seriously and pay close attention to avoid toxicity at all costs. 


Taking this focus a step further, we want to educate our consumers about photosensitivity and phototoxic essential oils. In todays post, Essential Oils & Photosensitivity, we unpack the huge misconception in the market about the correct and incorrect way of using citrus oils in sun recovery products and why we go the extra mile, regardless of cost, to use  ‘steam distilled’ essential oils to combat photosensitivity. 


There is a big difference between the use of steam distilled extracts versus cold-pressed extracts. In short, there is a potential for phototoxicity associated with the use of cold-pressed essential oils, which is precisely why we use steam distilled extracts in our Antü Collection. Moreover, it’s also important to understand that the concern surrounding phototoxicity lies with those essential oil ingredients that become oxidized upon exposure to air--which is why we use airless tubes to avoid that from happening in the first place!


Sun Sensitivity & Sun Sensitizing Ingredients

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fear mongering when it comes to essential oils which is why we need to focus on science rather than assumptions. When looking at our INCI List you may be wondering why we use citrusy essential oils to provide fragrance when everyone is talking about it how they cause phototoxicity—but the truth is we test our essential oils for the presence of furanocoumarins like bergapten to ensure they are bergapten-free (more on that later).

In addition, you have to be aware that essential oils can cause problems if you put a concentrated amount of them directly on your skin! So, let’s dive in further to learn more about essential oils and photosensitivity!


What Is Photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity is another word for sun sensitivity. It is defined as a type of allergic reaction caused by sunlight because exposure to the sun leads to the formation of highly reactive chemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS) on the skin which can trigger an allergic reaction (itchy eruptions, rash, hives, blisters, redness and inflammation).  This type of skin damaging susceptibility to UV light is commonly referred to as photosensitivity or sun sensitivity.


Essential Oils & Photosensitivity

Fragrances in the form of essential oils are considered to be photosensitizers, but why do you have to be diligent when it comes to essentials oils and photosensitivity?

It’s important to have some level of understanding when it comes to potentially sensitizing ingredients like essential oils (especially citrus oils) because misinformation can cause your skin to burn in the sun. So we have to ask the question do essential oils promote photosensitivity? The short answer is NO, if the essential oils are used correctly.


Citrus Oils & Photosensitivity

Some of the most frequently used essential oils for imparting fragrance are citrus oils such as lemon oil and lime oil. These essential oils have a reputation of being potentially photosensitizing or phototoxic, so some clarification and education regarding citrusy essential oil in skincare is crucial (especially when used in skincare products geared to recoverys from the sun). 

First, it is not essential oils, in their entirety, that have the potential to illicit phototoxic reactions upon contact with UV light. Rather, specific constituents present in certain types of essential oils are the culprits when it comes to potential phototoxicity. These constituents include coumarins and furanoocoumarins/psoralens, with bergapten being the most common member of the furanoocoumarin family. There are, however, several caveats that should be noted prior to any red flags needing to be raised regarding their likelihood of inducing photosensitivity.


Next, like we mentioned at the start of this article, the quantity of essential oils in a product will influence the likelihood of whether a person may experience a phototoxic reaction to begin with. So typically the greater the amount of essential oil present in a product, the greater the likelihood for photosensitivity. This is why many companies keep the quantity of essential oils present in their products to a minimum.

Lastly, whether an essential oil is potentially photosensitizing depends on how it was sourced. For example, citrus oils that are merely cold-pressed from a fruit peel and directly incorporated into a product have a greater likelihood of causing photosensitivity, as opposed to those that have been subjected to a distillation process (like we do!) known as steam distillation that removes the furanocoumarins like bergapten.  This can be verified using analytical instruments in quality control. 

As mentioned at the start of this post, we use  steam distilled essential oils because this distillation step removes potentially photosensitizing components (coumarins, furanoocoumarins like bergapten) from the oil. This is why “distilled/filtered” essential oils are more expensive than essential oils that are merely cold-pressed because the potential for phototoxic reactions on the skin are eliminated.


Enter Antü

So how does one protect themselves against photosensitivity when it comes to skincare? Photosensitivity and the skin-damaging inflammation associated with it, is just one of the reasons we developed the Antü range.  

Infused with our patented AntüComplexTM, the entire range has been clinically proven to neutralize reactive oxidative species (ROS) present on the skin to combat inflammation, and in fact can neutralize any photosensitizing reactive oxidative species that may be present in citrus oils before they have a chance to cause damage to your skin. In fact, proactive inhibition of photosensitive reactions can be realized with regular use of the AntuTM range.


So when it comes to the use of potentially photosensitizing essential oils in our products, we’re overly diligent when it comes to following the industry-recommended concentration limits of essential oils. In addition, we take the safety and health of our consumers to the next level by using steam distilled” essential oils in our products!

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