Summer weather is approaching leading many to reach for a slice of lime to put in their ice cold drink. Surprisingly, one might find her skin breaking out with a burning rash called phytophotodermatitis after handling that lime. Phytophotodermatitis occurs if chemicals in certain plants come in contact with the skin making the area sensitive to light. A common culprit causing this condition is limes leading to the name “margarita dermatitis” but it can also occur from contact with other plants such as celery, parsley, lemons, figs and Queen Anne’s lace.
Phytophotodermatitis happens from exposure to two events: a photosensitizing substance and UV light from the sun. Furocoumarins are the photosensitizing chemicals in certain plants and fruits and are at their highest levels in spring and summer increasing the likelihood of exposure. A reddened swollen rash develops 12 to 36 hours after contact and is replaced by an area of discoloration that may last for months or even years.
Phytophotodermatitis may be mistaken for other forms of dermatitis but one clue is that the rash appears in drip mark shapes, hand print marks or bizarre sunburn spotches. To see photos go to www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1312240/. The rash sometimes occurs with blistering but it burns rather than feeling itchy as in poison ivy. It commonly appears on the hands, wrists, forearms or lower legs.
Phytophotodermatitis is more common is people who handle fruits and vegetables for a living such as bartenders, grocers or agricultural farm workers. Children can develop this rash if they play in certain grasses belonging to the same family as Queen Anne’s lace.
People have also been found to develop phytophotodermatitis after using lime juice as an insect repellent or from grinding up figs to make up a homemade tanning lotion. There was even on report of a woman who developed phytophotodermatitis after getting perfume with oil of bergamot, which comes from wild plants, on her hand and she has continued to develop the rash whenever the area is exposed to UV light.
1. Wear sunscreen to reduce the amount of UV light exposure you get from the sun.