There are ways that using essential oils can increase our enjoyment of the summer, however with the warm weather comes some cautions for using essential oils safely.
While the best practices of safe usage involving dilution and external use only always apply, phototoxicity is an additional concern in the summer months. This may seem like the ideal time to enjoy the light refreshing scent of the Citrus oils, but these oils are particularly dangerous to use in the sunshine. Most Citrus oils are phototoxic; meaning that applying them to the skin and then exposing that skin to sunlight (or UV lamps) can result in blistering burns which can lead to permanent skin damage. The chemical constituents known as 'furanocoumarins' are responsible for this phototoxic reaction and these compounds occur in nearly all expressed Citrus oils. The worst offender is Bergamot, and it is this oil that lead to studies beginning in the 1950's which determined the chemicals responsible for these painful reactions.
Happily, we don't have to completely avoid using all Citrus oils on our skin in the summer! We do have some alternatives, the most common being steam distilled Lime and Lemon essential oils, and a fractionated grade of Bergamot know as "Bergamot FCF" (furanocoumarin-free); this is the only Bergamot that I use, and while I am told the the scent is not as nice as the natural Bergamot, the safety is more important to me. Remembering to properly dilute essential oils is also key to having a safe experience.
Another way to enjoy these refreshing oils and manage the risk is by using them in the diffuser and not on our body. Remember that if you are in doubt, it is best to avoid the oil! Consulting a qualified Professional Aromatherapist is also a good idea when considering safety issues such as this.
Phototoxic Essential Oils
Possible Phototoxic Oils
Source: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety, (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014),p.87
Essential Oils are wonderful, and when we respect their power and use them with appropriate care, they can greatly enhance our lives.
Wishing you a relaxing, fun, and safe summer!