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Why Did Nobody Warn Us About Margarita Burns?

All it takes is some lime juice and sunlight and you’ve got an extremely painful chemical reaction coming your way

Summertime! Who else is ready to lay in the sun, drink several margaritas, accidentally spill one on your chest and end up with a massive, blistering chemical burn? 

Seem a little niche? All it takes is some lime juice on the skin and sunlight, and you’ve got yourself phytophotodermatitis, more commonly known as a “margarita burn.” 

It happens innocently enough — you could be making lemonade on your porch or picking parsley in your garden, unknowingly setting yourself up for excruciating pain the next day. It’s because of a compound called furocoumarins, which naturally occurs in a variety of plants. Limes, lemons, parsley, celery, figs and other common fruits, vegetables and herbs contain them. Furocoumarins are also responsible for grapefruit’s potential toxicity when combined with certain prescription medications. Phytophotodermatitis is most commonly associated with limes, however, because it regularly occurs from people chopping and squeezing limes for drinks in the sun, often to make margaritas.

The compound triggers a photochemical reaction on the skin when exposed to UVA rays (such as those from the sun) that ultimately leads to skin cell death. This itself is a painless process — people with margarita burns don’t become aware of the burn until hours or even days later, when the skin becomes inflamed and blistered. The effects are similar to a severe sunburn, but only in the specific area that’s been exposed to furocoumarins. For that reason, people often get margarita burns on their hands or in dripping patterns on their body from spilling a drink. It’s even been seen on children after consuming popsicles made from real fruit or in a hand-print shaped burn from a parent chopping limes and then touching the child. 

Usually, the burns last a week or two, but the worst of it will happen within 72 hours of exposure. Most don’t require medical attention, and can be treated like any other burn. A quick lil Google Image search shows that the burn can be pretty gnarly, though. Last June, a Canadian woman told FOXx News that her margarita burn was “like being cooked from the inside out.” 

The only real way to prevent it is to just be super careful about avoiding the furocoumarin and sun combo. Sunblock (which you should be wearing anyway) can help stop the reaction from occurring, but this requires diligent reapplying, particularly on the backs of hands. It’s better to do all your chopping indoors, and thoroughly wash your hands afterward. Alternatively, wear gloves. 

Margarita burns really are one of those stupid, completely avoidable things that for some reason, few people know about. I can imagine this happening to me, easily. Fortunately, we’re both now armed with the power of knowledge. I refuse to let us be victims of the sun!