Did you know that making margaritas and then heading to the beach could leave you with a painful, swelling burn? In this episode of Reactions, we chat with chemist Tien Nguyen, Ph.D. – who experienced just that – and learn why lime juice plus the sun is a really bad combination.
I learned something about margaritas recently.
I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and I came across a post by my friend T.N. A casual day of making margaritas and hanging out on the beach ended in this.
Cool. Won’t be attending any of my meetings today.
Oh my god. Yeah.
Do you see that?
Yes, I can. Yeah.
So wait, how many days out is this? From when you made the margaritas.
Three weeks now.
T.N was just hanging out with family at the beach sitting under an umbrella.
And I decided to make a batch of margaritas. So I hand squeezed eight to like 10 limes, and then immediately brought them out to the beach where we hung out for like the entire afternoon.
Seems pretty harmless, right?
I had a kind of like a, I don’t know. It was like a kind of a semi circle here, it was slightly red, but it didn’t really feel like anything. All day long we were thinking, did you put your hand up in the sun? Or was it sticking out of the umbrella or something?
And then the next day, it started to really heat up and it kind of swole up. And then by that night, like I basically couldn’t sleep.
Oh my gosh.
Yeah, I couldn’t even bend my fingers because this whole back of my hands started to swell up, and blisters formed like all over the back and along my fingers as well.
That really painful looking burn is called Phytophotodermatitis. And it’s caused by a combination of lime juice plus light from the sun.
A combo that actually damages your DNA.
When the DNA in your cells is damaged, your cells will self destruct, that’s called cell apoptosis. And I forgot what I was gonna say. Cool, I shouldn’t have had that margarita, great choice.
It’s often a critical way for your body to stop cancerous tumor growth or stop an infection from spreading.
If you’re making a margarita, there’s a good chance that lime juice will get absorbed into your skin. From there compounds in that lime juice called psoralens
will wedge their way into your DNA.
Your DNA has four types of nucleotides. Adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. And psoralens weakly interact with all of them.
They don’t react with DNA. They just kind of hang out there. That process of a molecule wedging its way into your DNA is called intercalation.
This intercalation is not a big deal until you’re in the sun.
Several wavelengths of radiation from the sun will activate psoralens. So they form covalent bonds mainly with thymine.
That covalent bonding breaks the normal interactions between thymine and adenine, damaging the DNA. So then your cells self destruct like I mentioned earlier.
That is what happens when your skin gets covered in lime juice and is then exposed to the sun. And it leads to this uncomfortable situation you see here.
My sister is a physician’s assistant. And she used to work in a dermatologists office. So we were just sitting around, it was like after dinner and she was washing the dishes. She turned around and was like, “Did you get any lime on your hands?” And I was like, “Oh my god, the margaritas.”
And everyone just started laughing. And we were like, “This would be so stupid.” My sister was so proud of herself for making the diagnosis. And–
That’s a true sister form where she’s like, “I know you’re sort of in pain, but I think I figured out what happened to you. So kudos to me.”
The advice for Phytophotodermatitis is to treat it like you would a really bad sunburn. But remember, we are a YouTube channel, not a doctor. So if you think you have Phytophotodermatitis, definitely talk to your doctor.