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Don't Let A "Margarita Burn" Ruin Your Summer Friday


Things are bound to happen when you day drink outside in the summer. Maybe some funny things? But also bad things. Things you’ll definitely regret come the next morning. Beyond the obvious ramifications of drunken buffoonery without the forgiving cover of darkness, there’s dehydration, the inevitable headache, the nap from 3 to 5 followed by the inability to fall asleep later. If you manage to escape the day without a sunburn, you’re lucky. (Who remembers to reapply in between gulps of a cold, mind-altering beverage?) But you could also get unlucky, and develop a case of phytophotodermatitis. Never heard of it? We hadn’t either, until aesthetician Sofie Pavitt brought us into the loop. The colloquial term for phytophotodermatitis is “margarita burn.”

“What typically happens is that somebody will be outside squeezing limes for margaritas, or pushing a slice through the top of a Corona bottle,” Pavitt explained. The problem happens when a little juice splashes onto your hand or wrist. Lime juice contains a chemical called furocoumarin, which starts behaving badly when it’s exposed to UV light. Furocoumarin is actually found in citrus peels, like bergamot, bitter orange, grapefruit, and lemon, too—it’s the reason why those essential oils are often associated with irritation. And it’s also in the juices of celery, carrots, and grapefruit, and parsley. Anyway, when you go in the sun with a bit of lime juice on your skin, the spot it touches becomes inflamed. “Within 24 hours, you may develop a rash which then goes on to be blistered and super painful.” Yikes!

The best way to deal with a margarita burn is to not get one in the first place—Pavitt noted that among clients who do experience phytophotodermatitis, many of them end up with residual hyperpigmentation that’s tricky to treat. (She waits for winter, then uses chemical peels to lift the excess melanin.) “You should always wash your hands immediately after consuming citrus outside,” Pavitt advised, “and then apply a high factor broad spectrum SPF.” If you do think you’ve been burned by your cocktail, soothe it with a cold, wet compress to reduce the pain. You may also need a prescription topical steroid, so when you sober up, make sure to follow up with a dermatologist. And don't worry—they won't take it personally that they weren't invited to the darty.

Photo via ITG