Red, Itchy, Peeling Hands? Could Be Butternut Squash Dermatitis

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

A few weeks ago after peeling and slicing a butternut squash, the skin of my hands became tight and red, and started peeling a little. It went away within 24 hours and I didn’t think about it again, until I happened to read the comments on a recipe for roasted butternut squash pasta from several years ago. Many readers mentioned experiencing the same symptoms after cutting up butternut squash, which led me to some answers about this strange condition, including the best way to manage it.

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?