Summer can be dangerous for so many reasons. Shark bites, ticks, and mosquitos carrying Lyme disease and other unsettling illnesses, heatstroke, amusement park accidents, unexpected animal guests at a picnic, and maybe, not surprisingly, margaritas.
And we’re not talking drinking too many classic margaritas and ending up sleeping it off nestled in some beachfront bushes, waking up to a hangover and a surprise sunburn either.
The problem with margaritas, it seems, are the limes—not only their juice but also the oils found in the skin of the citrus favorite. Lime juice seems to be the biggest problem for bartenders, who spend a lot of time squeezing fresh limes to make margaritas, the perfect summer cocktail.
Limes contain furanocoumarins, which are photosensitizers that make skin super-sensitive to the sun’s rays, potentially producing a condition called phytophotodermatitis, better known as “margarita burn.” 1
With so many beach parties happening in the summer, bartenders are at risk if they are making margaritas because their hands become covered with fresh juice while working under the sun.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the furanocoumarins are triggered by exposure to the sun or other forms of ultraviolet light. Hands are the most at risk, but if the juice splashes onto other areas of the skin, that skin will also burn.2
Researchers became more aware of the problem in 2018 when one Fire Island bartender suffered second-degree burns with large blisters on his fingers, as well as the tops of his hands. Suddenly, more cases popped up, and margarita burn was all over the largest news stations, offering warnings for bartenders to take care and stay out of the sun during margarita season.
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Bartenders, chefs, and citrus growers and harvesters are probably most at risk for phytophotodermatitis because of squeezing limes and other citrus fruits is part of their job, but what about other substances?
Essential Oils to Avoid Under the Sun
Like lime juice, there are other substances that can trigger photosensitivity, and should therefore never be applied to the skin prior to going out in the sun.
Essential oils that can trigger phytophotodermatitis include members of the citrus family—not only lime, but also bergamot, orange, lemon, grapefruit, kumquat, neroli, tangerine, mandarin, and petitgrain.
Other oils that are not part of the citrus family that also contain furanocoumarins include cumin, rue, lemongrass, and angelica root.
Rue, an evergreen, is traditionally used as a sedative, while angelica root contains bergapten, which gives it its phototoxicity. Bergamot also contains this compound. Lemongrass, which offers a lovely lemony aroma, contains some of the same properties of the citrus family, including phototoxicity, even though it is not a citrus fruit.
In the same that way bartenders experience margarita burns, these essential oils can trigger a chemical reaction upon UV light exposure if you use them topically prior to going outside.
Symptoms include redness, swelling, and blisters, and the pain is similar to a traditional sunburn.
What’s the Problem with Sunburn?
In 2013, a study found that using sunscreen reduced signs of aging, meaning that skin that has been burned by the sun, whether in the process of making margaritas or accidentally stepping outside with the wrong essential oil on your skin, can later show signs of photoaging.
The sun has two different types of rays: UV-A and UV-B rays, and each can damage the skin differently. UV-B rays are the ones responsible for sunburns and most skin cancers associated with the sun, while UV-A rays trigger signs of aging, especially sun spots and sagging skin.
But sun damage in an insidious thing.
If you ever spent time in the sun getting a tan, you’ve done damage to your skin, mostly advanced aging. According to research, 80% of the skin’s aging is a result of sun exposure. Much of the rest is caused by sugar, and the way sugar molecules react to collagen and elastin proteins.4
If you’ve ever seen someone’s skin under ultraviolet light, the damage is evident, even if it has not yet shown itself on the skin’s surface. So, what is a person who has suffered sun exposure or sunburn—including margarita burns—to do in order to prevent looking older than their years?
Well, there are some solutions from nature, so what it takes away, it can potentially restore.
There are several essential oils that contain the antioxidant beta-carotene, including carrot seed oil, as well as carrier oils such as mango, apricot kernel, and grapeseed oils. These can help restore the suppleness of the skin, so it sags less.
While the beauty aisle is packed with retinol products, a more natural alternative is almond oil. This excellent carrier oil is packed with retinol, which can help fight signs of aging, especially dark spots that are triggered by sun exposure.
Other Anti-Aging Oils
When it comes to skincare, carrier oils offer some of the best benefits, and many can help accentuate the benefits of essential oils or work independently to provide a range of benefits for the skin. Some oils to consider adding to your collection because of their skincare benefits includes argan, evening primrose, calendula, goji berry, pumpkin seed, raspberry seed, rosehip oil, sunflower, and tamanu oils.5
What Happens If You Do Get Burned?
If you use the wrong essential oil, there are several others that can help relieve your pain.
For the initial burn, choose oils that act as analgesics and anti-inflammatories. These will ease pain by bringing down the heat factor of the burn. Look for eucalyptus, cooling peppermint, blue chamomile, Douglas fir, and helichrysum. These oils contain compounds that can help ease the pain associated with sunburn while offering moisture that may promote healing. In fact, we took a look at these in another recent MONQ blog post.
To speed the healing process, lavender, tea tree, Roman chamomile, and carrot seed essential oil help restore skin and speed up repair after sun damage. Carrot seed is believed to help stimulate the production of new collagen and elastin cells, which can also counteract the effects of sun-induced aging.
There might be some buzz about “margarita burns,” but squeezing limes for margaritas is by far not the only way to increase photosensitivity—and not only bartenders are at risk. Because of this, it’s especially important to read the labels of the products that you’re using, such as essential oils, to make sure that there’s no risk for photosensitivity before you decide to go out in the sun.
It’s a lot easier to keep your skin looking young and healthy using natural compounds than it is to bounce back from something like a sunburn. However, being mindful of what you’re putting on your skin, and adding essential oils that don’t cause photosensitivity into your daily routine can be a great way to boost skin health for years to come.
Photo credits: HandmadePictures/shutterstock.com, NestorEliyashevskiy/shutterstock.com, FotoDuets/shutterstock.com, NokLek/shutterstock.com, DashaPetrenko/shutterstock.com