Updated 7/14/17. As an esthetician with over 25 years of hands-on experience, I thought I had encountered most every skin condition and issue on the planet. But this summer, I personally experienced something I had never even seen or heard of before. It’s a skin condition called phytophotodermatitis that caused me to form an unusual brown spot. Let me first give you the back story—as it’s a funny one.
I went to Nantucket for a weekend this past summer with my best girlfriends. And as always, my friends drill me for free advice on how to best care for their skin. One of my friends showed me this area on her hand between her thumb and forefinger with brown discoloration. She said she didn’t do anything to that area of her hand. It just showed up one day (four weeks prior) and had only faded ever so slightly. I was baffled and had no clue how she got it.
At the end of the weekend, I flew back to Austin and noticed that I had a brown spot of discoloration on my thigh. It was very similar to what my friend had on her hand. “What was this?” I thought. “Did I catch some strange disease from my girlfriend’s hand that transferred to my leg?!” (The photo above shows my friend’s hand on the left and my thigh on the right.)
After a few weeks, the spot on my leg really hadn’t faded much, so I met up with a dermatologist friend of mine to get her assessment. She took one look and immediately said, “You must have gotten lime or lemon juice on your leg and then went in the sun.” What? I had never even heard of such a thing. I thought back to when it appeared and realized it was right after I got back from Nantucket, where I spent a few days at the beach in direct sunlight drinking water with lemons. At some point, I must have squeezed the lemons into my water and wiped my leg. Crazy!
I called my girlfriend to share the news and to see if this made any sense regarding her hand. Lo and behold, yes. She did a few tequila shots while out in the sun, and she noticed the discoloration on her hand the morning after. For those who don’t know, when doing tequila shots, you first lick the area between your thumb and forefinger. Then, you sprinkle salt on that area, drink the shot, and bite into a fresh lime wedge. The second shot that she took, immediately after the first, was the culprit.
With all the fresh lime juice in her mouth, my friend licked her hand again when she took the second shot. This transferred the lime juice that was in her mouth from her tongue to her hand. While she was out in the sun later, this is what pigmented her skin. Not only did she wake up the next morning with discoloration on her hand—but with a big headache, too!
Phytophotodermatitis is a condition in which the chemicals in citrus fruits (limes, lemons, and even celery), cause a chemical reaction on the skin when it interacts with UV sunlight. It’s also called “lime disease” (not to be confused with Lyme Disease). The result can be blistering and burns, but in mild cases like ours, will simply form brown pigment. The spots eventually fade on their own but can linger for months.
Now that I know what it is, she and I are simply treating our spots how I would any other brown spot. We are both using Vitamin C&E Treatment, a stable, no-sting vitamin C serum with melanin-suppressing properties as well as these 7 Ways To Get Rid Of Sun Spots. It’s now mid-September… while the spots are slowly fading for both of us, it’s still going to take a while.
So there you have it. You learn something new every day!
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Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”