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What is Phytophotodermatitis?

Lime and Sun? Better let us handle that!

It’s still summertime, and hopefully we are all taking care of our skin by using sunscreens and sun protection. But there is another common skin condition that dermatologists see during summertime: Phytophotodermatitis. Say what? Never heard of it? Well lucky for you, we are here to break down the need to know information for you.

Phytophotodermatitis means inflammation of the skin that is caused by exposure to certain plants in combination with sun exposure. Some plants contain light-sensitizing chemicals that can cause blistering rashes or hyper pigmentation (dark pigment) after sun exposure.

One of the most common causes of phytophotodermatitis is from limes. Patient’s often come in and have recently been exposed to lime juice after squeezing a lime into a drink or using limes in other modalities on a warm sunny day. Real lime popsicles that run down on a child’s hands and arms can also cause the rash. Adults and kids can both are at risk for developing phytophotodermatitis.

When it comes to limes, the rind of the lime contains chemicals called furocoumarins, that when exposed to sunlight react. These oils are deposited onto the fingers and can be transferred onto other parts of the body. It is not uncommon that the pigment left behind after reacting with the sun can resemble bruises. Sometimes it looks like streaks from where the lime juice dripped. Often the inflammation upon exposure is so mild, patients don’t notice it until the pigmentation shows up a day or two later. In severe cases, a blistering eruption can happen.

Limes tend to be the most common culprit, however other plants can cause phytophotodermatitis too. Wild parsnip, parsley, and celery can also cause this problem.

So what happens if I’m exposed? Well, the good news is the rash and pigmentation will resolve on their own. Avoidance is the best approach, however the chemicals can be removed with simple soap and water. The resulting hyperpigmentation can be treated with a bleaching agent that you can be prescribed by your dermatologist.

So next time when you put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up, just shake a little lighter!


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