A 1994 article in the journal Contact Dermatitis describes a woman with no history of hand dermatitis who, a few minutes after cutting up a butternut squash, experienced itching, blistering hands that cleared up within a day with the help of a topical eczema treatment cream. Six weeks later, she tried cutting up a squash again, and the blistering followed almost immediately.
Although they aren't able to identify which compound in the squash triggers the reaction, the authors conclude that some people experience a type of allergic contact dermatitis to the squash species Cucurbita moschata, which includes butternut squash, Kentucky field pumpkin, and calabaza pumpkin. Since these types of squash typically have a thick skin, those who pick and handle them on the way to the kitchen aren't exposed to the allergy-causing compound. It's only once you peel and cut up the squash that it can potentially trigger a reaction.
The best way to avoid a reaction if you know you have a sensitivity to C. moschata is to wear gloves while cutting the squash. If it's too late and you're already experiencing red, itchy, peeling hands, a topical anti-itch cream may help, but rest assured that the symptoms will probably disappear within a day. (If they persist, or if the symptoms are extreme, consult a doctor.)
Have you ever experienced an allergic reaction to butternut squash?
(Image: Anjali Prasertong)