Spilling your cocktail can actually cause a painful sunburn, a condition known as phytophotodermatitis
Mixing margaritas poolside may have a dangerous downside—one that has nothing to do with the alcohol itself. Turns out, lime and lemon juice can actually burn your skin when exposed to sunlight. (Out all day? Rely on these 20 Sun Products to Help Protect Your Skin.)
It’s a condition called phytophotodermatitis, sometimes called Margarita photodermatitis or Lime Disease (not to be confused with Lyme Disease). It occurs when the chemicals present in certain fruits and plants get on your skin and then react to UV rays, leaving something akin to a really bad sunburn. “You can get redness and swelling, or even blistering in the affected areas,” explains Micole Tuchman, M.D., a general and cosmetic dermatologist in NYC. Eventually, the burn may turn brown, leaving a skin discoloration that can sometimes last for months—although permanent scarring is extremely rare, Tuchman reassures.
The biggest plant offenders are those in the umbelliferae family (parsley, celery, carrot, wild parsnip) and in the rutaceae family (lemon, lime, and certain orange), as well as fig leaves. In addition to day drinkers, phytophotodermatitis is most often seen in trail runners, hikers, or chefs and bartenders who regularly handle citrus fruit. (Learn about The Super-Sneaky Ways the Sun Is Getting to You.)
The worst part? The chemical reaction doesn’t happen immediately, so you may not even realize you’ve been burned until 24 hours later. And because of how the reaction looks, as well as the fact that it peaks two to three days after exposure, many people think they just have poison ivy or poison oak.
The best way to avoid Lime Disease: Wash your hands with mild soap and water after handling any of these plants before you head into the sun. “The burn can happen pretty quickly so people who know they are sensitive should wash off any juice right away and wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that provides both UVA and UVB protection,” Tuchman says. (Don't let it all sweat away on that hike! We've got New Sunscreen Formulas to Fit Your Active Lifestyle.)
If you do get a burn, first and foremost get out of the sun, advises Tuchman. “You can apply a cool wet compress to the affected area to reduce the discomfort,” she suggests. If there’s a lot of blistering and peeling, try an over-the-counter antibiotic skin protectant like Silvadene cream, she says.
If the burn hurts too much or is covering an extensive area of skin, you’ll definitely want to see a dermatologist. He or she can prescribe a topical steroid and strong anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce the pain, redness, and swelling, Tuchman adds.
Who knew spilling your margarita poolside could have bigger consequences than just a wasted cocktail?!