What Is Margarita Burn? Your Friendly Summer Reminder To Watch What You Drink In The Sun

Welcome to your annual reminder that, although margaritas and summer may seem like a match made in warm, beachy heaven, you need to be careful with how you deploy your favorite cocktail when you’re in the sun. Skin exposure to margaritas and sunlight can cause chemical burns, severe enough to trigger pain, massive blisters, and skin discoloration that can last for months. If you want to avoid marring your summer fun with a nasty skin rash, be sure to keep your cocktails off your skin. (And wouldn’t you rather put them in your mouth anyway?)

The problem with so-called “margarita burn” is not the margarita itself, but the lime involved: When citrus is exposed to UV light, it causes a skin condition called “phytophotodermatitis,” which can make skin burn, blister, and break. It can also cause hyperpigmentation (brown spots) that can take months to disappear.

You need to be careful, not only with margaritas, but also with any type of citrus (lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit…) that may get on your skin while you're out in the sun. That includes when you’re cutting up limes or other citrus to make cocktails, squeezing a lime into your beer, or accidentally spilling your drink on yourself (Hey, we’ve all been there). If you are trying to lighten your hair using lemon juice, you also need to be really cautious about keeping the juice off your face and neck. (After all, your DIY highlights won’t look nearly as awesome if you have chemical burns on your hairline).

Hikers also need to be aware of the dangers of phytophotodermatitis. You may not be drinking a lot of citrus-y cocktails while you’re trekking through the wilderness (although, hey, I don’t know your life), but there are a few other plants that cause phytophotodermatitis, including celery, certain wildflowers, wild dill, wild parsnip, and wild parsley.

According to the Mayo Clinic, phytophotodermatitis sometimes looks like rashes from poison oak or poison ivy, but it often comes in telltale patterns, in which you can see just how someone has been exposed to citrus (in dribbles, drips, or even handprints).

Dr. Dawn Davis, a dermatologist for the Mayo Clinic, told BuzzFeed Life that phytophotodermatitis can affect all skin types and colors. “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,” she explained.

Davis told BuzzFeed that you can treat a mild case of phytophotodermatitis by applying 1 percent hydrocortisone cream two to three times a day to the affected area. You should see a physician, however, if your condition is severe (blistering, skin breakage, lots of swelling) or if it gets worse over time.

Of course, the best method is prevention; there are a couple common-sense steps you can take to keep phytophotodermatitis from ruining your next day at the beach: First, be sure to thoroughly wash any skin that has been exposed to citrus with soap and water before going in the sun. That means that you need to wash up after preparing cocktails, and that you have to be vigilant about noticing if you accidentally get citrus on your skin — even if it’s just the minor spray of juice you get when you’re squeezing a slice of lime into a beer. If your get citrus on you, don’t stay in the sun — go inside and wash it off with soap and water. (And then be sure to reapply sunscreen when you go back out!) Second, if you’re hiking, try wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent oils from wild plants from getting on your skin.

Here’s to a happy summer, free of terrifying margarita-induced skin conditions. Cheers, everyone!

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