So, ‘Margarita Burn’ Is a Real Thing (and This Is How to Avoid It)

margarita burn phytophotodermatitis

True story: About a month ago, I invited some friends over for margaritas, aka lemonade for grown-ups. And because I’m fancy (read: there was a sale on at the grocery store), I decided to use freshly squeezed lime juice. Over 30 limes later (and some serious hand cramping), I whipped up two pitchers' worth of mouthwatering margs. I am the party queen,” I smugly thought to myself as I lounged outdoors with my homemade beverage. Until the next morning, when I woke up with red, blotchy hands (and um, a slight hangover).

The diagnosis? Margarita burn, also known by its more scientific name, phytophotodermatitis.

“Phytophotodermatitis is a reaction which may occur when skin has come into contact with photosensitizing compounds in plants [called furanocoumarin] and then exposed to sunlight,” Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology explains. “The reaction often looks like a sunburn; it may blister, or develop into a red, itchy patch, similar to eczema.”

But that’s not all. “When the reaction resolves, there may be dark, streaky hyperpigmentation that can last for months.” Or even longer, if you believe my friend’s mom, who happens to be a doctor and told me ominously that “the markings may never go away.” (Fortunately, they did.)

And while citrus is the most common culprit, Dr. Lortscher warns that other plants like celery and parsnip can also cause phytophotodermatitis.

So, what’s a marg-loving gal to do? Defense is your best offense. The chemicals responsible for phytophotodermatitis come off quickly with soap and water, Dr. Lortscher tells us. Meaning all you need to do is wash your skin after contact with any suspect ingredients and you should be fine.

Too late for prevention? Treat a margarita burn the same way you would treat any other burn—with moisturizer and sunscreen. (Although if your skin is badly blistered, then you should go see a doctor, stat.)

As for me, once the worst of the redness had subsided, I used weekly exfoliators and hand masks to get my skin back to normal. Next time, I think I’ll just reach for the canned Negronis, thank you very much. Cheers.

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Alexia Dellner

Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...
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