Beer with lime leaves mark

By J_Howard

You may want to be cautious next time you grab a beer with a lime. If the circumstances are right, spilling the beer on skin can cause “Mexican beer dermatitis,” according to a case report presented in Archives of Dermatology.

This condition is caused by the lime juice in the beer reacting with sunlight on the skin. It can create a streaky red or brown rash, causing burning or itching. In serious cases, this can look like a jellyfish sting or poison ivy, according to the case report by Scott Flugman, a dermatologist in Huntington, N.Y.

“The main issue is that most people are not aware lime causes photosensitivity,” Flugman said. “So patients [who] do come in are usually pretty anxious the rash is so bizarre looking.”

“Mexican beer dermatitis” gets its name from the combination of putting a lime into Mexican beer and having it spray out the top of the bottle onto bare skin. This is common when drinkers place their thumb on the mouth of the bottle and invert it so the lime floats to the glass bottom.

When this happens, the drink’s carbonation causes a spray of mixed lime juice and beer to come out of the mouth of the bottle, when the drinker attempts to seal it with his or her thumb. This in turn may spill onto the exposed skin, Flugman said. The result is most commonly seen in his patients after they have come back from vacation or a sunny spot, where the beer and lime juice mix gets the exposure of skin and sunlight.

Though the term is new, the condition is not. Imported beers, such as Corona and Dos Equis, are some of the more popular beers in the U.S. , according to the case report.

Joaquin Brieva, associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University, said “Mexican beer dermatitis” is another name for phytophotodermatitis, a type of contact dermatitis caused by the reaction of citrus juice with sunlight and has been common for centuries.

“Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin, when the skin is red and inflamed for any cause,” Brieva said. “This particular dermatitis is from the sunlight acting on a chemical applied to the skin from a plant.”

Brieva said people should be careful when they’re washing off lime and other citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges, because they can cause a similar reaction. This condition is not limited to beer. Other citrus juices can cause the condition.

“People like a little [lime] in their Corona or margaritas,” Brieva said. “Even with lemonade the peel of the citrus fruit has a particular substance [that] makes it active with the sunlight.”

Flugman said many of the symptoms go away within a few days, but a discoloration of the skin could last longer.

“It is like symptoms of sunburn,” Flugman said. “It may itch or burn for a day or two, but by the time I see them in the office, it is usually just discoloration they have.”

Carolyn Jacob, director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, said, patients can see a dermatologist to get a steroid cream if skin is red and itchy.

“It looks like a sunburn, but it ends up being splotchy or drippy,” Jacob said. “It usually fades over time.”

Flugman said “Mexican beer dermatitis” is not limited to drinking at the beach. It can happen anywhere where people are out in the sun. Jacob, who owns a practice in Chicago, said she sees a few cases every summer.

Flugman added it is important for patients and doctors to know about the condition so it can be easily identified and taken care of.

“Not everyone cuts limes or works with them, but as far as drinking beer with lime, that’s something that is a common activity, especially over the past 10 to 15 years,” Flugman said. “This is something we will only see more of as time goes on.”