Could That Margarita Be A Health Hazard?

Three limes and a juicer sitting on a wooden surfaceCan limes really make you sick? What exactly is phytophotodermatitis? And what does any of this have to do with your favorite summer beverages?

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What it is… 

First, a quick science lesson for you: Phyto means plant.  Photo means light.  Derm means skin.  And –itis means inflammation.

Phytophotodermatitis is an itchy, painful rash that can occur after sunlight hits areas of the skin that have come into contact with the juice or oil from limes and/or their peels.

Why it happens…

The juice and oil in limes contain light-sensitive chemicals called furocoumarins. Normally harmless, when these chemicals come into contact with UV rays, they chemically transform, which can result in a very uncomfortable rash.

What it looks like…

Phytophotodermatitis generally looks red, blistery, itchy and is as uncomfortable as poison ivy. Doctors say that the rash resembles paint dribbling down the arm.

How to treat it…

Cold compresses and over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream should relieve the itching and inflammation. As with any inflammatory skin condition, if you scratch and break the blisters, it can potentially cause infections and scarring.

How long it can last…

A phytophotodermatitis rash can remain  for months, even years. However, if it lasts longer than a couple of months, talk to your doctor.

Are limes the only foods that can cause this?

Unfortunately, phytophotodermatitis can result from skin’s contact to many different substances, including some fragrances, fruits, vegetables and grasses exposed to sunlight.

How to prevent it…

People in the service industry, such as bartenders, waiters and cooks, tend to be the most susceptible. Doctors advise wearing gloves whenever possible, wearing mineral sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and washing suspected areas of exposure with soap and water, followed by a generous application of sunscreen.


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