Relaxing with a fruity drink by the pool? A hangover might be the lesser of your worries if you're not careful.
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Relaxing with a fruity drink by the pool? A hangover might be the lesser of your worries if you're not careful.

Summer sippers are learning the painful way that certain beverages containing lime juice can lead to a nasty burn if a bit of the drink ends up on your skin while you're lounging in the sun. Yep, that includes your beloved margs and even a cold beer with a lime slice on the rim.

The technical term for this: phytophotodermatitis, also dubbed “lime disease” (not Lyme disease) and “margarita dermatitis,” is a chemical reaction that can occur when substances make skin extra sensitive to ultraviolet light. In simpler terms: lime juice + skin + sun = sunburn from hell.

The reaction typically occurs within 24 to 72 hours of sun exposure.

“The person will develop a burning sensation, usually with redness or itching. If it’s severe it can lead to blisters and discoloration,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of Skin Rules. Some examples of what it can look like:

But you don’t have to pack up your cooler and head indoors just yet. For one thing, that may not even help. “This has even happened to people who were sitting indoors by a window because window glass allows the penetration of UVA light,” explains Dr. Jaliman.

Your safest bet when you're outdoors is to always wear and reapply sunscreen throughout the day—and lather it on before you start drinking or head outdoors. And inside or out, if you notice you’ve spilled, wash the area with soap and water immediately to avoid the risk of a burn. (If you're outside, reapply sunblock afterward.)

“It's important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or above,” Dr. Jaliman adds.

Lime juice isn’t the only cause, though it's more common. It can also come from perfumes with certain photo-sensitizing chemicals, including Bergamot oil (which is derived from a type of orange) or lavender.

And if you’re a mango lover, peel it properly before eating and venturing into the sun.

“People who don't peel the mango and eat it straight from the peel tend to get this reaction on their face,” Dr. Jaliman warns.

What to do if it happens to you

If you do start to notice irritated skin after spritzing yourself with a fragrance, or after a spill, treat it like a bad sunburn.

“You can use aloe vera, burn creams containing sulfa or topical antibiotics, such as special bandages to prevent scarring,” Dr. Jaliman says. (Try DuoDERM patches, she suggests.)

If the burn gets infected, see your derm. You may need an oral antibiotic to aid the healing. If the brown mark won’t seem to go away even after the burn has healed, you can apply a topical skin bleach containing niacinamide or hydroquinone or opt for laser treatment, according to Dr. Jaliman.

“Sometimes if the burn is very bad, a laser may be required to remove the brown discoloration,” she adds. “You can have a gradual laser treatment done where you have a series of treatments—maybe 4 to 6—performed two weeks apart.  The best one for this is called the Medlite laser. It's non-ablative laser so there's no downtime required.”

And don’t forget to wear sunscreen every day—“rain or shine,” reminds Dr. Jaliman—after this kind of burn so the hyper-pigmentation doesn’t get worse.