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Author: Dr Ian Coulson, Consultant Dermatologist, East Lancashire NHS Trust, UK. Copy edited by Gus Mitchell. November 2021.


What is phytophotodermatitis?

Phytophotodermatitis, a form ofplantdermatitis, is a skin reaction that occurs after natural photosensitising chemicals (furanocoumarins) present within plant sap and fruits, become smeared onto the skin, and there is subsequent exposure to sunlight.

The areas affected become acutely red, and often blister. Skinlesionsmay belinearor streaked inmorphology. After theacuteinflammatoryreaction subsides, there is typicallypostinflammatoryhyperpigmentationwhich may last for years.

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Who gets phytophotodermatitis?

Phytophotodermatitis candevelopin anyone. It is not anallergy, and accidental contamination of the skin with the juice or sap from a causative plant, followed by sun exposure, may induce the reaction.

Individuals at greater risk include:

  • Vegetable pickers
  • Hikers and walkers who accidentally brush past plants
  • Children may make pea shooters from the stems of plants and contaminate their lips
  • Bartenderseg, lime juice exposure
  • Gardeners
  • Those using “strimmers” (brush cutters, weed or string trimmers).

What causes phytophotodermatitis?

Many plants contain furanocoumarins, which are responsible for the acutephototoxicreactions. Ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) interacts with the furanocoumarin, producing cell membrane damage andinflammation.

Local accidental smearing of plant sap onto the skin followed by light exposure is the most common type of reaction;ingestionof plants rich in furanocoumarins cause a moregeneralised光敏性. The reaction is a directtoxiceffect and does not involve the immune system.

Table 1. Common causative plants

Botanical name Common names
Umbelliferae Ammi majus Queen Anne's Lace
Heracleum spondylium Cow parsnip
Heracleum mantegazzianum Giant hogweed
Pastinaca sativa Parsnip
Apium graveolens Celery

Citrus bergamia


Dictamnus albus

Gas plant, burning bush of Moses

Moracea Ficus carica Fig(from sap, not fruit)

What are the clinical features of phytophotodermatitis?

Approximately 24-48 hours, after exposure toultraviolet radiationfrom sunlight, the area of skin contaminated by the photosensitising sap/juice becomes red, inflamed, and often blisters.Ulcerationmay occur, the area willscale, and then heal after several weeks to leavepostinflammatorypigmentation, which may last for several years.

There are several possible patterns of reactions:

  • Linear streaks on the exposed areas of skin, particularly limbs
  • Drip shaped lesions on the arms (eg, lime juice exposure)
  • Round lesions on the lips from using a plant pea shooter
  • Spatters and streaks on the face and torso from using a string trimmer
  • Redness and swelling on the exposed sites of the face, hands, and arms after eating large amounts of furocoumarin-containing foods
  • Redness from use of botanical / herbal cosmetics on theexposed skinwhere they have been applied
  • Lesions on the hands and fingers, especially in vegetable pickers (parsley, parsnip, and celery).

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How do clinical features vary in differing types of skin?

Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation may be more intense in skin of colour.

What are the complications of phytophotodermatitis?

是如何phytophotodermatitis diagnosed?

The history of accidental exposure to causative plants combined with the clinical appearance is diagnostic.

What is thedifferential diagnosisfor phytophotodermatitis?

What is the treatment for phytophotodermatitis?

General measures

The use of asunscreenwith high UVA protection in addition tocovering the skinto prevent further light exposure may diminish the severity of the reaction if it is commenced as soon as the accidental exposure is recognised.

What is the outcome for phytophotodermatitis?

Provided offending plants can be recognised and avoided, it should notrecur. Occupational phytophotodermatitis in vegetable pickers can be avoided by wearing appropriate gloves. Those using “strimmers” should protect themselves using a visor and protective clothing.

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  • Abugroun A, Gaznabi S, Natarajan A, Daoud H. Lime-induced phytophotodermatitis. Oxf Med Case Reports. 2019;2019(11):470-2. Published 2019 Dec 9. doi:10.1093/omcr/omz113.PubMed
  • Choi JY, Hwang S, Lee SH, Oh SH. Asymptomatic hyperpigmentation without preceding inflammation as a clinical feature of citrus fruits-induced phytophotodermatitis. Ann Dermatol. 2018;30(1):75–8. doi:10.5021/ad.2018.30.1.75.PubMed
  • Son JH, Jin H, You HS, et al. Five cases of phytophotodermatitis caused by fig leaves and relevant literature review. Ann Dermatol. 2017;29(1):86–90. doi:10.5021/ad.2017.29.1.86.PubMed

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