Get the juice on your skin, and the sun can yield some serious power.
That’s what Adam Levy, a 52-year-old from Minnesota, learned firsthand after he was preparing for his daughter’s graduation party by squeezing limes. Hours later, his hand broke out in a two-inch blister and swelled to four times its normal size, and he began to feel dizzy and nauseous, he told the Daily Mail.
Two days later, he went to the hospital. That was when he finally made the connection between his second-degree burns and his lime prep.
“The blistering was exactly where the lime juice droplets would have touched my skin while I was squeezing them out,” he told the Daily Mail.
Turns out, limes were the culprit—and it’s not as crazy as it may sound. Credit a condition called phytophotodermatitis, which is a fancy name for a rash or burn caused by a chemical in citrus fruits called furanocoumarin. It makes you more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays, says dermatologist Delphine Lee, M.D., Ph.D., director of translational immunology at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
That’s because the acids in citrus can exfoliate the outer layer of your skin, which thins it out, explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. So if you go outside in the sun afterwards, you can be more susceptible to getting burned. The ingredients in citrus fruits like limes can also react with the sun to cause a severe inflammatory reaction, sometimes called a margarita burn, he says.
As with other sunburns, you likely won’t notice it right away—but a few hours later, you may start to experience the redness, irritation, and blistering. And as with Levy, the rash will likely show up mimicking the lime or lemon juice running down your arm.
In less severe cases, your doctor may just prescribe an anti-inflammatory ointment to reduce discomfort. But in Levy’s case, he was put on an IV drip of steroids and antihistamines, and even had his blister lanced.
As the burns heal, you might be left with painless brown spots called hyperpigmentation, which can last for weeks or months, says Dr. Lee.
To prevent these citrus burns from happening in the first place, prepare anything that involves lime or lemon juice inside—or, at least, in the shade. And wear rubber gloves for extra protection.
Then, be sure to wash your hands well after handling the fruit, Dr. Lee advises.