Friends, you might want to sit down, because I have some disturbing news: Your favorite poolside cocktails might be hurting you. But wait! Before you go sob in a corner over the death of all that is summery and good, let me assure you that your days of sipping margaritas on the beach are not over. With some simple precautions, you’ll be able to indulge in icy, salt-rimmed deliciousness out in the sun for months to come. (Well, at least until winter comes and destroys all our dreams). Margaritas can burn skin when exposed to sunlight, as some of you may have already learned the hard way. The culprit here is the lime, which, along with other citruses, celery, wild dill and parsley, and certain wildflowers, can cause a skin condition called phytophotodermatitis when applied to the skin and then exposed to UV light.
The reaction of the light and the chemicals in these fruits and plants can cause nasty chemical burns that blister, flake, and develop hyperpigmentation (brown spots). People can get phytophotodermatitis when they consume cocktails out in the sun: If you make margaritas, squeeze a lime wedge into a beer, or spill a citrusy cocktail on yourself without washing it off, you can find yourself with painful burns later. Another (nonalcoholic) source of phytophotodermatitis is the old “lemon juice in the hair” trick; in this case, lemon juice can get on one’s face and neck and cause a chemical reaction. As Dr. Dawn Davis, a dermatologist for the Mayo Clinic, explained to BuzzFeed Life, “Anyone who gets a relative amount of oil or liquid from the plant on their skin and then gets an adequate amount of UV light will get the reaction.” You only need to look at these images of poor souls who’ve had this sun reaction to know that phytophotodermatitis is NOT KIDDING AROUND:
FORTUNATELY, you can take steps to prevent phytophotodermatitis: If you get oils or juice from any kind of citrus, celery, or wild plants on your skin, wash it off thoroughly with soap and water — This rule applies to when you’re preparing cocktails, but also to when you spill a drink on yourself (Believe me, the inconvenience of having to go inside and wash is far outweighed by the joys of not having chemical burns on your skin). If you’re out hiking and exposed to wild plants, it’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants to prevent plant oils from getting on your skin.
Davis told BuzzFeed that, if you do get phytophotodermatitis, you can treat a mild case with 1 percent hydrocortisone cream two to three times a day. If you experience a more severe reaction (a lot of swelling, blistering, or skin breakage) or your reaction worsens over time, you should see your doctor immediately. The blistery, swollen, red, itchy, painful stage shouldn’t last more than five days or so, but the resulting hyperpigmentation (dark spots) can last for months.
The lesson here is that, although the sun is glorious, it’s also trying to kill you. Be safe out there, friends: Keep the cocktails off your skin, and wear sunscreen!