Phytophotodermatitis is a type of contact dermatitis. It can be easier to understand by breaking its name down into three parts:
- phyto, which means plant
- photo, which means sunlight
- dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin
In this condition, contact with certain plant chemicals can cause skin inflammation when exposed to sunlight. It’s less common than other types of contact dermatitis.
The symptoms of phytophotodermatitis can be worrisome, but the condition usually goes away on its own over time.
SYMPTOMS OF PHYTOPHOTODERMATITIS
The symptoms of phytophotodermatitis vary based on the cycle of the reaction. At first, you may experience blister-like patches across the skin. These are often itchy and irregularly shaped. These patches appear wherever your skin is exposed to the plant substance. The most commonly affected areas are the:
Aside from round blisters, the patches can also appear in the form of drips and streaks.
The blisters don’t itch as much after the initial reaction. The redness and inflammation (swelling) also goes down. However, you may find dark pigmentation in place of the blisters. This is called post-inflammatory pigmentation. This stage can last for several weeks, or even months.
CAUSES OF PHYTOPHOTODERMATITIS
Phytophotodermatitis is caused by exposure to furocoumarins. This is a type of chemical found on plant surfaces. The chemical can become activated by UVA rays through the process of photosynthesis. If your skin comes into contact with the chemical and the chemical becomes activated, a reaction can occur. Contact with this activated substance, even briefly, can cause skin reactions in some people. Phytophotodermatitis affects the epidermis only. The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin.
Some plants that may cause phytophotodermatitis include:
- citrus fruits (most commonly limes)
- wild dill
- wild parsley
- wild parsnips
The initial blistering symptoms are caused by the effects of the chemical on the epidermis. Furocoumarins are also responsible for producing excess melanin in skin cells. This causes the subsequent discoloration of the skin.
Phytophotodermatitis also has a subtype called berloque dermatitis. This is caused by certain substances found in perfume. Symptoms include streak marks where you apply perfume — most often around the neck and wrists.
Berloque dermatitis is caused by a substance called bergapten, which may cause these reactions in high quantities. Though the condition is rare, you might consider avoiding this substance if you have sensitive skin.