Here's a product warning you won't find on a label:

Did an itchy, blistering rash about the size of a silver dollar break out on your forearm a week or two before Christmas? Slightly swollen? Rosey-red patch? Also found in tiny traces on your thigh, belly, the inside of your wrists, perhaps?

"Cut your own Christmas tree, didn't you?" came the knowing question from one smart Maryland physician. According to the doctor, cases of Christmas-time "contact dermatitis" are nearly as certain a holiday tradition as heart attacks from shoveling snow.

The primary rash typically appears an inch or two above the wrist, he explains. Right about where the top of the glove ends as you reached into the branches of that Douglas fir while hauling it to the car. The irritating culprit? Good chance it's poison sumac. The resin-laden vine creeps through the woods and into trees and can trigger skin allergies that resemble the effects of poison ivy and poison oak. Some allergy-sensitive people break out just from contact with the sap of some trees.

Another warning: Some folks get the rash after removing the tree after the holidays--others get it coming and going.

Watered-Down Y2K?

An alert reader faxed a timely message Monday explaining that while checking his Y2K bottled water supplies recently, he noticed several 2.5-gallon plastic containers had leaked and were nearly empty. At the local supermarket, he noticed several of the containers were only partially full--suggesting leaks. At another store, a gallon-sized container started dripping before he got through the checkout line. We checked our Y2K water supplies and discovered a 2.5-gallon container of spring water had sprung a leak.

The problem: Should you actually need that water in case of utility disruptions, it may not be there. And, if there's a break in the container, the purity of the water may have been compromised. Check your stored water now--because leaks happen, especially in Washington.

Millennium Candles Snuffed

If you bought candles for the holidays, check out these two recalls:

* Hanna's Candle Co. recalled more than 3,000 "Millennium Martini Scented" candles served up in martini glasses and sold in October and November at Sam's Club nationwide. The $20 candles can burn against the container, cracking the glass. Return them to any Sam's Club store for a full refund.

* Neiman Marcus recalled about 5,600 "CerArte" candles with painted metallic surfaces that pose a fire hazard. Packaged in clear plastic, labeled "Made in Italy," 22 styles of the candles sold for $15 to $35 through Dec. 22. Return them to any Neiman Marcus for a refund.

Got a consumer complaint? Question? Smart consumer tip? E-mail details to or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, 20071.