Aug. 16, 2007 Adding a slice of lime to a favorite summer drink is nice to cool off with, but it could leave your skin burning, say dermatologists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
The condition, called phytophotodermatitis, happens when a certain plant compound comes in contact with the skin, making that one area light sensitive. During the summer, lime juice is the common cause for this condition, which is why some doctors call it 'margarita dermatitis.'
"The reaction usually looks like a sunburn, or a poison ivy rash, with redness and sometimes swelling and blistering," says Dr. Rajani Katta, associate professor of dermatology at BCM. "It can be itchy and painful, and leave behind skin discoloration."
The photosensitizing compound is also found in plants such as celery, parsley and even Queen Anne's Lace. Exposure can come from fruit drippings, scratches from branches or airborne particles.
"It's not just the plant that causes the condition," Katta said. "The skin must be exposed to both the plant compound and the sun."
Treatment is similar to treating a poison ivy rash. Cool compresses and hydrocortisone creams along with oral antihistamines are used. Severe cases could require steroid pills.
"This is a common condition, but most cases are mild and people usually won't head to the doctor," Katta said. "I find patients are more bothered by the discoloration left behind rather than the inflamed area."
Preventative action is best. Be aware of what plant products you come in contact with and wash the area thoroughly before going out in the sun. As always, make sure to apply sunscreen and stay in shaded areas to maintain good skin health.
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