Margarita burn, it turns out, is a real thing — and, no, it doesn’t refer to a vicious hangover. Bartender Justin Fehntrich found this out for himself after working an event at an estate on Fire Island, where he was volunteering at a fundraiser for an LGBT-advocacy nonprofit. While prepping for the event, Fehntrich helped slice and squeeze roughly 100 limes, an innocent-enough task that sent him to the hospital with a hand that was red, swollen, and marked with blisters.
The burns, it turns out, were the product of phytophotodermatitis, also known as margarita burn. The oils and juices of limes, like some other fruits and vegetables, contain photosensitizers, which make people particularly sensitive to sunlight. (A second bartender also suffered similar, but less severe, injuries after he was given a spot in the shade.)
Bartenders and chefs who handle citrus fruit are the most susceptible to phytophotodermatitis, but it’s rare enough that Fehntrich hadn’t heard of it. The burns are treated like others, with antibiotics and then gauze until they heal. But the frequency of cases hasn’t been firmly established in the U.S., and the condition isn’t always recognized by doctors, who can mistake it for other skin conditions. The consequences are as real as those from any other burn: Fehntrich had to wear gauze for three weeks and take time off from work, and he’s still waiting for new skin to grow. The next time you’re grilling fajitas outside and want to prepare a pitcher of margaritas on the fly, don’t forget: Wear gloves, kids.