Urushiol, a compound that makes me miserable.

I eat a lot of mangoes, because they are delicious. My grandmother used to grow them in her suburban south Florida yard, and one day when I was ten I took the big oval seed from the mango she was cutting up and gnawed the remaining fruit off it. Twelve hours later, my entire face was a flaming, itchy red rash. In the thirty years since, I’ve handled mangoes with the utmost respect, always careful to open my mouth so wide that the fruit doesn’t touch my skin.

The other night, however, I got careless. I peeled a mango and cut it into a bowl with some sweet cherries (you really should try that combination), and neglected to wash my hands thoroughly — and then apparently spent the evening touching my cheeks, ears, forehead and surrounding facial real estate. The entire left side of my face, including an eyelid and reaching down into my earlobe, is red, itchy, and angry. Even my fingers are rashy.

Turns out that mangoes and poison ivy are related, and they both contain urushiol, an oily allergen responsible for the miserable, itchy rash. I spend just as much time in and around poison ivy, but at least I don’t ordinarily get it on my face.

It’ll be a long time before I peel another mango — at least without latex gloves and a face mask. I guess I’ll have to go back to the frozen kind.


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