"Phytophotodermatitis" - Sunburned by Limes

10 Sep 2013 04.34 am by K. Daniel

In the grand scheme of things, fruits and vegetables generally make you healthy. With the current trend of healthy eating and hollistic lifestyle choices, fruits and vegetables are becoming more and more popular. Organic is in vogue, as is responsible and sustainable farming practices.


The phenomenon is not only limited to what passes through our lips. It also extends to what we put ON our lips. And the rest of our faces. And body. Well you get the picture.


More and more cosmetic products are pushing for organic and exotic plant stuffs to be smothered all over our bodies. Soaps now come with aloe vera, moisturisers infused with coconut oil, make up is coloured using fruit pigments and added with antioxidants, while thyme and sage is used in shampoo. It's almost like a food fight for grown-ups, but this time, you're paying for it and smothering it on yourselves.


Obviously, not everyone is keen on paying a premium for fruits and vegetables which are not even going to be eaten. Because of that, several sites and blogs displaying DIY's for formulating your own beauty products (think face masks, peelers, and body scrubs) has sprouted.


A word of caution though. As with what you eat, be very aware of what you put on your body.


Today i've learned a new word. Phytophotodermatitis. It's a mouthfull. To break it down, based on my training in science i know that phyto refers to plants, photo means sun, and dermatitis means a skin condition.  Put them all together and you have a skin condition caused by plants and sun. Or as i first thought, sun-loving plants.


What brought this to my attention is a news article. The Sentinel posted that a group of 5 children received second degree burns after a pool party. After allergic reactions, acid burns, and other possible causes were ruled out, it was found that the skin condition and blisters were caused by exposure to limes and sun.


A quick google search reveals that phytophotodermatitis (i'll abbreviate this as PPD) occurs because of certain compounds in several fruits and vegetables results in sensitized skin when exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) light. This translates to excessive skin reactions to sun exposure for certain individuals.


Effects may range from mild blisters to severe burn-like symptoms, while healing of the affected area highlighted by skin cell death (shedding the old affected area) and sometimes hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin).


The types of produce which results in this kind of reaction is most often citrus fruits, however other produce such as cellery, carrots, parsnip leaves, and figs have been shown to cause similar effects.


According to a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, PPD has been relevant as an occupational hazard in citrus and cellery plantations. Other individuals who regularly work with such produce including bartenders and chefs are also at risk, however the condition requires the two factors, the chemical agent and radiation (sunlight or other sources) to produce blisters and other related symptoms.


This means that prevention by washing your hands after contact with such fruits and vegetables may be beneficial. In addition, because of the amount of plant chemicals required to produce such reactions is relatively high, simply touching a lemon might not necessarily cause the skin condition.


Treatment for PPD, once confirmed by a doctor/physician, usually involves steroidal drugs to reduce the inflamation. 


The good news is that the effects are, in most cases, isolated to the areas of skin exposed to the plants/plant parts responsible. According to one case study healing commenced in about 48 hours after treatment. 


Personally, this writer will still be enjoying citrus fruits, cellery, figs and parsnip. Yes, there are risks, but then again almost everything that we consume/expose ourselves to has some sort of risk factor. Common sensibilities will have to come to play.


Although i'll probably avoid decorating my face like a salad bar.



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