Phytophotodermatitis is a type of contact dermatitits. It came from the words “phyto” which means plant, “photo” which means sunlight, and “dermatitis” which is inflammation of the skin. This reaction happens when you expose your skin to certain plant compounds and then to sunlight. The symptoms of this condition can be worrisome, but it usually goes away on its own.
The culprit behind this reaction is the chemical furocoumarins. Some plants produce them as a defense mechanism against fungi and insects. If someone touches a plant with this chemical, this compound can travel to the core of the skin cells and interact with the person’s DNA. However, phytophotodermatitis only affects the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin. This chemical is activated by UVA rays through the process of photosynthesis.
Some plants that may cause phytophotodermatitis include carrots, celery, citrus fruits (mostly limes), figs, wild dill, wild parsley, and wild parsnips, to name a few.
Symptoms vary based on the cycle of the reaction. Usually a person who experiences phytophotodermatitis experiences blister-like patches across the skin which are often itchy and irregularly shaped. Common areas that get affected include the legs, hands, and arms. Aside from blisters, the patches can also appear in the form of drips and streaks.
The blisters do not itch as much after the initial reaction but after the redness and inflammation subsides, it is replaced by a dark pigmentation on the blistered area, which is called post-inflammatory pigmentation. It usually lasts for several weeks or even months.
Phytophotodermatitis has a subtype called Berloque dermatitis, which is caused by substances found in perfume. This has the same symptoms as phytophotodermatitis, and it mostly occurs around the neck and wrists. Berloque dermatitis is caused by the substance called bergapten.
Phytophotodermatitis is more prevalent during spring and summer, when plants are most active in producing substances that might be toxic to the skin.
Mild cases of phytophotodermatitis do not necessarily require a doctor’s visit. However. severe blistering and itching should be consulted with a primary care physician or a dermatologist. Also take note that phytophotodermatitis can be confused with other skin conditions such as sun allergies, poison ivy, sunburn, poison oak, and hives.
Mild cases may be treated with cool washcloths. Topical creams can help relieve itching, initial blisters and inflammation. When it comes to the pigmentation changes, topical medications and steroids won’t help. Skin discoloration will often fade on its own over several weeks. It will also help if a person who has phytophotodermatitis, to stay indoors and reduce sun exposure to prevent the discoloration from darkening even further.
- Be sure to wash your hands after being outdors
- Wear gloves when gardening or doing activities that require you to get your hands dirty
- Wear hypoallergenic pants and long sleeves in wooded areas
- Put on sunscreen to protect the skin