Minneapolis musician Adam Levy learned the hard way just what can happen.
He was celebrating his daughter’s graduation last month and preparing various dishes outdoors.
“I was making a lot of food and handling a lot of things and the very last thing that I did was about a dozen limes, squeezing those for this chimichurri sauce for this meat I was going to grill,” Levy told CBS Minnesota station WCCO.
The next day, he noticed redness where his skin had come in contact with the lime juice. And it soon got worse.
“It started blistering and then I noticed my tongue was swelling up and the following day my breathing was messed up and I was like, ‘This isn’t just sun,'” Levy said.
It wasn’t. The lime juice had reacted with the sun, and the result was a serious skin condition called phytophotodermatitis. It happens due to a sensitivity to chemicals in certain plants and fruits. The reaction is triggered when skin comes in contact with those chemicals and then is exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet light.
Dr. Jamie Davis of Uptown Dermatology in Minneapolis said the severity of the condition can vary. “Some people just get a dark pigmentation from it, some people actually blister. It can be equivalent to a second degree burn,” she said.
Some people nickname it the margarita rash, but limes aren’t the only foods that can cause it.
“Celery root, fig, wild parsnip and essential oils, too,” Davis said.
It’s similar to a sunburn mixed with poison ivy, and it’s not rare, said Davis, who sees it regularly in her office.
Chefs and bartenders who work outside may be especially vulnerable to the skin condition. Experts recommend washing your hands immediately after you handle limes or other plants that can cause the reaction, and consider doing your lime-squeezing and food prep indoors.
“If you are drinking a margarita, or a Corona with a lime, or a fruit salad that has lime, just to be aware. Don’t do it out in the sun, and if you do, wash right away,” Davis said.
Levy ended up needing IV medications and steroids. After two weeks, his wounds are still healing.
“I got a little queasy for the last week, but I love lime. I’m just going to be more careful about it,” he said.