When it comes to margaritas, there’s not much to dislike. Frozen, on the rocks, flavored, or even virgin, they’re pretty much everyone’s ideal summer drink. But this classic cocktail does have a dangerous side—known as the margarita sunburn—and we’re telling you about it so you don’t have to find out what it is the hard way.
The margarita sunburn, a more colloquial term for phytophotodermatitis, happens when oil or dander from some plants (celery and parsley are top offenders) and citrus fruits (most commonly, lime) gets on your skin and then is exposed to UV light. The combination causes a chemical burn reaction (usually one to two days after exposure) that can get quite severe, leading to burning, stinging and even blisters. It also usually results in hyperpigmentation, which can take months to fade.
“Phytophotodermatitis occurs anytime the skin is in direct contact with furanocoumarins, organic chemical compounds found in plants, and then exposed to UV light. Common foods containing these compounds are limes, grapefruit and Valencia oranges,” explains New York dermatologist Julie Russak MD. “All skin types are vulnerable and affected. The severity of the burn is determined by the amount of juice sap that was deposited on skin and the amount of UV exposure.”
“The best way to reduce your risk is to wash the skin with gentle soap that was in contact with the furanocoumarins. If that is not an option, avoid significant UV exposure and sweating,” Dr. Russak advises.
To be safe this summer, remember to wear a ton of sunscreen and don’t touch limes and sit in the sun.