Limes, lemons can lead to ‘super sunburn’

Lime phytophotodermatitis in a bartender mixing drinks and working in the sunlight. (NIOSH via the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries)
Lime phytophotodermatitis in a bartender mixing drinks and working in the sunlight. (NIOSH via the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries)

A hot day and a cold glass of lemonade or a margarita may seem like the perfect pairing, but dermatologists warn that it could be harmful.

Going into the sun after getting  lime or lemon juice on your skin can cause blisters and dark spots. It’s called phytophotodermatitis, also known as “lime disease” or margarita photodermatitis. It’s like a sunburn, only worse.

Spectrum Health dermatologist Mary Yurko said she sees patients come in with the condition in the spring and summer months.

“You get something on your skin that acts like a super sunburn accelerator — so lime juice, lemon juice, sometimes orange juice, plants like Queen Ann’s lace or parsnips,” she explained. “It gets on your skin and up to 24 hours later, if it’s still there, you go out in the sun and you get a sunburn.”

The burn happens when the chemical psoralen interacts with sunlight.

“It’s in the skin of the lime and when the lime is squeezed and you get some of the juice or what’s in the skin on your hands, it stays there and makes you more sensitive to the sun,” Yurko said.

On children, phytophotodermatitis burns are often in the shape of a hand and can be mistaken for abuse when in reality a parent simply touched their child after handling an accelerator.

“The parent made a margarita and then picked up their child,” Yurko provided as an example.

The good news is that the damage is temporary.

“The worst that (could happen is) it can hurt, and you might leave permanent brown marks on your skin for up to a year,” she said.

To avoid the burn, dermatologist say you should wash your hands when you are done dealing with limes, lemons, celery or any other accelerator.

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