Sunday, December 11, 2011

Essential oils: Folded oils and phototoxicity of citrus essential oils

What the heck does folded mean when it comes to essential oils? Folded oils tend to be citrus based oils - orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon - and we see them as 5X or 10X folded.

Folded essential oils are those that have been further distilled and concentrated to create a more concentrated, and usually stronger smelling, essential oil. The oils should have a longer shelf life because some of the terpenes that contribute to oxidation of the oil have been removed, and they should be safer to use in leave in products thanks to the removal of those same terpenes.

Unfolded essential oils tend to contain furanocoumarins or furocoumarins, which can make the oils photosensitizing. Removal of these compounds can make the oil less likely to be phototoxic when used in leave in products. (Notice I said the word "likely"...)

A phototoxic ingredient "is a chemical compound which becomes toxic when exposed to light. Some medicines: tetracycline antibiotics, sulfonamides, amiodarone, quinolones. Many cold pressed citrus essential oils such as bergamot oil. Some plant juices: parsley and Giant hogweed. Others: psoralen." (Wikipedia). You'll notice the word "cold pressed" before the word citrus. This is because the cold pressed versions of essential oils contain more furocoumarins, which is why they are folded to ensure there are fewer photosensitizing compounds.

Can we use folded oils in leave on products and be guaranteed the product users won't be subjected to phototoxicity? No, and here's the problem with essential oils in general....

I've mentioned before that mineral oil is used a lot in commercial products because it's predictable. We know that when we see something like "light mineral oil" (I'm making up this name for the purposes of this post) that it has a certain characteristics. When we see something like sunflower oil, we know some general things, but it is affected by the terroir - the place it was grown, the climate, the way it was processed, and so on - so the characteristics are not the same with every bottle. This means it could change the viscosity of our lotion, the amount of linoleic acid, and so on. It's the same thing with essential oils. Although we know that orange oil contains orange essential oil, each bottle could be different with differing levels of terpenes or other compounds depending upon the climate, growing temperature, processing, and so on. So when I see something called 10x orange oil, it means that the oil has been concentrated to increase the fragrance and remove some of the photosensitizing compounds. But the 10x orange oil from one company might be different than the 10x orange oil from another company thanks to different manufacturers and different places they've been grown.

As a rule, I don't put citrus based essential oils in anything that won't be completely rinsed out. That means I reserve them for my body wash and shampoo for the most part. It does suck because the Creamsicle lip balm I made with vanilla and orange essential oil tasted amazing...

If you're using folded essential oils, the risk is lower, so I leave it to you to make your own decisions based on the information you have from your supplier and past experience. If you're new to essential oils, please be really careful when using orange, lime, lemon, and so on...the goal is to make the end user happy, not burn them when they're out in the sun for a few hours.

I know some of you are considering writing to me to say that you have used citrus based essential oils safely and think my comments are insane. To you I say, fantastic! I'm glad you can use them well. But please consider this story...A very enthusiastic young woman posted her lip balm recipe - lime juice, sugar, and Vaseline - on a very large crafting forum with the comment, "I guess I sell lip balm now!" I got in trouble from the moderator for telling her this was a very bad idea, so I abandoned that forum, spent more time at the Dish, and started up this blog.  There are people out there who think this kind of recipe is a good idea to make and to sell. If you have successfully used non-folded citrus based essential oils in your products, to you I say, "Kudos!" But please remember that your success isn't necessarily what others will experience! 

Wow, how did we go from information to a lecture? Sorry about that! Join me tomorrow for some ideas on how to use orange oil in our products!

I encourage you to read my article from Handmade Magazine for more information on citrus essential oils as I've learned a lot more since I wrote this post! The quick summary? Orange and yuzu are not phototoxic! 


Starfire said...

That is extremely valuable information for those both selling and purchasing products.
Thank you so much!

TygerMae said...

Thanks for answering my question. I confess that I once made a lip balm with Orange oil, but it was for myself and I only used it in the winter since I don't go out very much. I would never use it in a leave on product for my husband or boys since they have very sensitive skins. I was once part of the group who used to think that if I could use a product then everyone could. I now have come to understand that everyone IS different and what I can handle, might give someone else a very bad time. Thanks for all the information you generously share with us little people.

Nedeia said...

I ma really really curious about the dosages. I have made (only for myself) a lemon & peppermint lip balm. For a 7 ml lip balm I have used 2 drops of each essential oils... with my bottles, 1 ml of EO equals 35 drops.

In the math below I am ONLY taking into account the Lemon EO:

I have used 2/35 (0.057) ml of EO per lip balm (7 grams). if this lip balm has 100 uses, this would mean 0.057/100 = 0.00057 ml EO per use. But I bet a 7 grams lip balm (in a stick, not a pot), there will be more than 100 uses. But for the sake of math, let's assume that it will be used 100 times. This means 7/100=0.007 grams per use on my lips, out of which I have 0.00057 ml of EOs and 0.00643 oils and butters and vit E (I use it in all my lip balms).

I also tend to lick my lips alot, so I apply the lip balm several times per day. So... I really really try to understand: how much harm can the lemon EO do at this dosage of approx 0.00057 ml per use? I fully agree on the fact that each of us have our own skin, which can be more or less sensitive. I do know that the lips have a thinner skin and that they need protection. I do understand that citric EOs are potent solvents ... but... isn't it possible to use them safely on the lips at such low dosage?

I am not trying to argue or to be nasty, no, I ma just trying to understand . I love the citrus flavors and I want them in my lip balm.

Katie said...

Lime juice, sugar and Vaseline?? Ick!!

Lilou said...

Hi Susan
what about recent studies that tend to exlude Orange E.O. from the list of phototoxic E.O.s. I don't think they were talking about a folded Orange E.O.
Any insight on that?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lilou! I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond, but this just came up again and I wanted to update the page. I will have links shortly - just not at the right computer for them. You are completely right. Orange essential oil - folded or unfolded - is not considered phototoxic. I would, however, caution that orange contains a lot of limonene, which may strip oils from our skin, so always use it at the suggested usage rates!

MIA W said...

The article speaks about essential oils, but what about citrus fragrance oils, are they ok to use in lotions?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...


mayoushkaleh said...

Hi Susan!

What about Orange wax in a lipbalm? What is the % of e.o. typically in this by-product of the OJ industry? I'd love to know more about how to use this 'wax' which is not hard at all..
Thanks again for all the knowledge you share!!