Zilker Garden Festival| Causes and Prevention of Plant Dermatitis

The time has come again for the breathtaking Zilker Garden Festival in Austin Texas. Local events like these are very important to keep the community together, and keep us busy and appreciative of the nature around us. As you know, it is very important to keep skin safety in mind when attending outdoor events by hydrating and using sunscreen and lotion.

“We rarely think about it,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified dermatologist, “but believe it or not, some people can actually have allergies to the plants themselves!”

“It’s very true,” confirms Dr. Miriam Hanson, skin care expert at Sanova Dermatology. “As a dermatologist, I often tease out information about my patients’ exposures and how these effect the skin.” For example, chrysanthemums are known to have chemical called sesquiterpene lactones, which can cause a significant skin eruption in florists and other individuals that handle these flowers.

Plant dermatitis is the medical term given to an allergy or irritation that is linked specifically with coming into contact with a plant or its parts. Over 100,000 people a year call poison control due to plant dermatitis. “In general, sensitivity to plants presents itself in one of a few ways,” explains Dr. Hanson.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis is the body’s reaction to something that irritates the skin. “I often think thorns and barbs,” says Dr. Hanson, “but really, it’s not just cuts and scraps. The leaves, sap and even stem can induce an irritation and reaction in the skin that presents as redness or inflammation, itching, burning, rash, and in some cases, even a chemical burn.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis is the the more well-known adverse reaction to plants. “Rus dermatitis, as it is referred to, is almost seasonal here in Austin,” says Dr. Mamelak. This type of contact dermatitis includes interactions with plants like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. “We’veeven seen reactions when patients ingest some plant products like mangos and cashews. “The skin rash is similar to that seen with irritant contact dermatitis, although sometimes we see streaks or linear patterns on the skin.”

Phyotophotodermatitis is the last general category. “This plant dermatitis is unique because it involves exposure to a plant plus the sun,” explains Dr. Mamelak. Basically, the juice from certain plant families including Moraceae, Leguminosae, Rutaceae, or Umbelliferae gets on the skin, and then the skin is exposed to the skin. “This results in something called a phototoxic reaction,” says Dr. Mamelak, “which can appear as anything from a dark streaks to a red patch with a blistering rash.” For those non-plant people, these species include parsley, parsnips, celery, carrots, giant hogweed, and limes.

“I usually see at least one case of phytophotodermatitis after every spring break,” claims Dr. Hanson. “One inevitable questions is Margarita, or Corona with lime!”

Treatment for these types of contact dermatitis varies from oral medications to creams. But the best way to protect yourself is to cover the skin that could come into contact with plants, or avoid them completely.

Tips for Avoid Plant Dermatitis

Be aware of your allergies and surroundings – Avoiding contact with items that cause you irritations or produce adverse effects is always suggested.

  • Be aware of your body and signs of irritation – At the first sign of itching or swelling, avoid contact with potential irritants.
  • Be aware of children – Small children tend to pull on and chew anything within reach. Being conscious of their actions while around plants is always suggested, as they are coming into contact with many allergens for the first time.
  • Be prepared -Plant dermatitis is common. Recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction to a plant and seeking help from your dermatologist before things get too bad is always the best course of action.

The Zilker Flower Festival will take place at Zilker park Saturday, March 29 and Sunday, March 30 from 10am – 5pm! Enjoy the flowers, and protect your skin!


If you have any questions about skin or remedies for your eczema, acne, dermatitis, etc. feel free to contact us with your concerns! If you have any questions feel free to contact us to set up a consultation with the doctors of Sanova Dermatology.

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