Last month, on a hot Saturday afternoon, Justin Fehntrich showed up to bartend at a swanky Fire Island Pines estate. The event he was working, a fundraiser for an LGBT-advocacy nonprofit, had about 100 guests and two other bartenders. He got the bar with the best view: the one in the sun, wedged between the sprawling, sparkling pool and the breezy ocean shore.
Just as he and the other bartenders were about to prep their stations, a representative from the event’s official liquor sponsor asked if they wouldn’t mind squeezing four bags of limes. Justin offered to drive to the supermarket and buy a bottle of juice, but the rep insisted on fresh, so Justin and another bartender sliced and squeezed about 100 limes into pitchers for cocktails.
“That was a huge mistake,” says Justin, who’s a friend of mine and a student at Stony Brook University. A few days later, he found himself in the hospital—with second-degree burns.
On his way to the hospital, Justin posted a photo on Facebook of his hand, which was red, swollen, and dotted with thick, bubbly, yellow, fluid-filled blisters. “Poison oak?” he wrote. But it looked as if someone had cruelly poured scalding hot water over the top of his hand, not as if he’d accidentally brushed up against a noxious green vine. Shortly after, he added a picture of his hand wrapped in a thick glove of gauze and gingerly resting on a white-and-blue antimicrobial pillow. “Update,” he wrote. “It’s not poison oak, it’s phytophotodermatitis, or ‘margarita burn’….”
Yep, margarita burn. As Justin soon learned, the juice and oil of limes contain chemicals called photosensitizers, which make human skin extra-sensitive to sunlight. When an affected spot is overexposed, it burns.