How to use bergamot oil safely to avoid skin reactions
Bergamot oil is relaxing and optimistic, but be sure to use bergamot oil safely to avoid negative skin reactions.
Bergamot oil comes from the peels of bergamot fruits—citruses that resemble oranges with bumpy rinds. Their peels can be green, yellow, or orange. Bergamots are too sour to eat, so they’re not as popular as fruits like oranges and lemons. (Although bergamots are sometimes used as flavorings, such as in Earl Grey tea).
Bergamot oil has a sweet, citrusy, green-herbal scent . . . and a host of therapeutic uses! However, it’s highly phototoxic.
In this post, you’ll learn what sets bergamot apart from other citruses, how to use bergamot oil safely (despite its phototoxic properties), and specific recipes to help you get started blending.
Did you know?
A phototoxic oil causes negative skin reactions in sunlight. If you apply a phototoxic oil to skin (at a certain concentration) and then expose that skin to the sun, you can experience burns, blisters, or other reactions.
Bergamot essential oil: a unique citrus
Bergamot has a lot in common with other citrus oils . . . and also with lavender!
Its main component is d-limonene, which is present in all citrus oils. d-Limonene has been shown in research to calm nervous, anxious feelings, and to help banish sadness. It’s an important component if you’re looking for a mood-boost!
Bergamot also contains high percentages of linalool and linalyl acetate, which happen to be the two main components found in lavender oil.
These two little molecules are largely responsible for lavender’s world-wide reputation for peace and relaxation. They’ve been shown to calm the mind and body as one. They both have this effect individually, and when they appear side by side, they work in synergy to enhance one another’s effects. Their presence in bergamot makes the oil helpful for releasing physical and mental tension.
The natural combination of d-limonene, linalool, and linalyl acetate makes bergamot oil a powerhouse for stress relief and easy-going optimism!
Use bergamot oil safely: phototoxic concerns
Bergamot oil also contains components that are phototoxic.
These components cause negative (and sometimes painful) skin reactions in the sun. You can learn about this issue in more depth on our blog post, “Essential oils & sun exposure: what you need to know.” Here’s a quote from that piece: “Phototoxic essential oils contain natural compounds that react with UV light. When a phototoxic essential oil is applied to your skin (even if it’s diluted), and that skin is then exposed to sunlight, it can cause burning, blistering, and permanent (or semi-permanent) discoloration.”
Bergamot is one of the most highly phototoxic essential oils.
Some of the safest ways to use it are through inhalation (such as diffuser blends and personal inhalers), and for green cleaning. Try these recipes:
To use bergamot oil safely in topical products, we suggest diluting it at no more than 0.4%. That’s just about 2 drops per 1 oz/30 ml of carrier, like in the recipes below. (If you want to be extra safe, only apply your topical blends to skin that WILL NOT be exposed to the sun.)
If you get bergamot oil on your skin...
If you get undiluted bergamot oil (or another phototoxic oil, such as lemon) on your skin, first wash the area with soap and water. Then apply a plain carrier oil, like jojoba wax or avocado oil, to the area.
Use the same precaution if you accidentally apply a blend that contains more than 0.4% of bergamot. For example, if you apply hand lotion from a 1 oz/28 g bottle that contains 5 drops of bergamot, go ahead and wash the lotion off your hands, then moisturize with a carrier oil.
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Linck, V.M., da Silva, A.L., Figueiró, M., Caramão, E.B., Moreno, P.R.H. and Elisabetsky, E. (2010) Effects of inhaled linalool in anxiety, social interaction and aggressive behaviour in mice. Phytomedicine 17, 679-683
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Peanna, A.T., D’Aquila, P.S., Panin, F., Serra, G., Pippia, P. and Moretti, M.D. (2002) Anti-inflammatory activity of linalool and linalyl acetate constituents of essential oils. Phytomedicine 9, 721-726
Tisserand, R., Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.