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Feeling the Burn: Lemons Damaging Summer Skin

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Looking to add that sunkissed summer highlight to your hair? Don't go with the standby lemon, as its chemicals when paired with the sun has been known to develop burns and rashes that in some cases have blistering, according to ScienceNews for Students

About the Burns

Scientists have identified phytophotodermatitis as a term for a sunburn being caused from something plant-based that has made the skin sensitive to sunlight.

ScienceNews for Students interviewed Robin Gehris, skin specialist at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and reported that she sees burns made by these specific plant chemicals at least once a week, with most of these cases specifically being caused by limes or lemons.

The Chemistry of Lemons

The chemicals that the lemons are giving off are called psoralens or furocoumarins, and when paired with the ultraviolet rays of the sun, it causes double the damage. The chemicals start by binding to the DNA, and it then damaging that DNA. The skin cells then begin to die, leaving the infamous burn.

That's only the first part though. The chemicals can also react with oxygen to produce free radicals, which also kills skin cells. It can take the skin anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours to absorb these chemicals from the plant juice.

Lemons are not the only plant that has psoralens in it, with others including limes, celery, parsnips and mulberries. However, eating these foods does not impact the skin, and the burns only occur when the juice, sap or leaves touch the skin. When this happens, be sure to thoroughly wash the skin before exposing it to any sunlight.

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