WARNING: The following photos are graphic.
Elise Nguyen has a simple message for anyone who uses oil-based products before tanning: read the bottle very carefully.
In a Facebook post from April that has now gone viral, Nguyen said she applied doTERRA essential oils to her wrists and neck before going to a hot yoga class and using a tanning bed in March.
“The next day, I noticed irritation where I applied the oil. Initially I thought it was a reaction to a new laundry detergent. Well over the next couple of days, I developed nasty blisters due to a chemical burn,” she wrote on the social media site.
Read the details
Nguyen said she later noticed a caution on the bottle that read “stay out of sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after application.”
She later developed second- and third-degree burns.
“These pictures are the worst blisters and then today and the next ones are on day [sic] 3, 6, 10, and 12. Currently, I’m on day 22 of this burn. I still have open areas and they still hurt if I hit them wrong,” she wrote on Facebook.
And although she acknowledges it was her own mistake, she is using her story to warn others.
“I’m not blaming the company, it was my own damn fault. But every yogi that I’ve talked to has no clue that this could have happened. So as summer is getting closer, and the weather is getting nicer, I just want everyone to be aware of this. Please, please read the bottles of anything you put on your skin,” she said.
Risk of mixing oils and sunlight
Dr. Jennifer Pearlman of PearlMD Rejuvenation in Toronto says a reaction like this is known as phototoxicity.
“Essential oils are often fragrant oils used for relaxation and therapeutic uses. However, if applied to the skin before sun exposure they can result in skin damage,” she tells Global News.
Phototoxic reactions occur when a substance like an essential oil that absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light is applied to your skin, she adds.
“[It] increases the damaging effects of the sun by absorbing, magnifying and then releasing the UV rays to skin cells. This can damage tissue resulting in burns, blisters and sun damage.”
The company responds
Over the weekend, essential oil company doTERRA commented on Nguyen’s painful experience.
“We were saddened to see the ordeal Elise Nguyen has endured due to a combined use of essential oils, a tanning bed, hot yoga, and perhaps other factors. Since learning of this incident, doTERRA has attempted to reach out to Ms. Nguyen to find out more about her experience,” the company said in a statement.
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In Nguyen’s Facebook post, some commenters noted she had most likely used doTERRA’s Wild Orange essential oil in particular.
“Using [an analytical method] and specifically [selective ion monitoring], our scientists can confirm that no furanocoumarins are present in our Wild Orange oil,” the company wrote.
Furanocoumarins are toxic compounds that can be found in some species of plants and citrus fruit.
“As a reminder, we recommend that everyone use properly-diluted application techniques and, as Ms. Nguyen noted, doTERRA cautions users to avoid contact with the sun (or tanning beds) for up to 12 hours after applying cold-pressed oils, including citrus oils.”
Being mindful of your skin
Pearlman says as we head into warmer months, always be mindful of what you apply to your skin — read labels very carefully.
“Some common essential oils to use with caution when out in the sun because of potential phototoxicity include angelica root, bergamot, verbena, expressed lemon and lime, and distilled orange, tangerine and grapefruit. These oils contain furanocoumarins that absorb UV light and damage nearby skin cells,” she says.
She also recommends protecting skin from UV exposure by taking daily doses of omega 3 fatty acids as a supplement. And of course, wear sunscreen.
The Canadian Dermatology Association suggests using an SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen, as well as limiting sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“When it comes to sun safety, it’s best to ingest your ‘oil’ rather than risk phototoxicity by applying before going out,” Pearlman says.