Sun and Citrus – A Dangerous Combination


Phytophotodermatitis, sometimes referred to as “margarita dermatitis” is a skin injury which can occur if you spend time in the sun with citrus juice on your skin. It can result in severe burns, often mistaken for chemical burns or other skin conditions. In some cases the burn is never apparent, but hyperpigmentation occurs. When that happens in children it is often mistaken for child abuse, because it is common for the injury to look like a hand-shaped bruise, where a parent who had the juice on their hands touched the child.

Last summer, five California girls were taken to the hospital with second degree burns after playing with limes in the sun all day. The burns were not noticed until the next morning, were extremely painful, and caused huge blisters. Doctors said the scarring should go away in about nine months to a year.

Citrus juice such as lime juice, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice are the most common cause, and the juice from other plants including parsnips and celery will cause the reaction in some people. What happens is the juice sensitizes the skin to the ultraviolet radiation. The most common result is hyperpigmentation that looks like a bruise, but in more severe cases there can be a burning sensation and blisters can form.

It takes time for the reaction to set in so you will probably not be aware of it until after the damage is done. It can take 24 hours to notice symptoms which get progressively worse until 48 to 72 hours after exposure to the combination of juice and sun.

To avoid Phytophotodermatitis you don’t have to give up your favorite fruits. Just be sure to wash your hand, face, and any other body parts that may have come in contact with the juice before going out in the sun, and be sure to wear sunscreen.