3 Common Summer Skin Issues
Summer is nearly upon us which means spending more time outdoors. And while all that sunshine and activity is great, it does increase your exposure to insects, poisonous plants, and UV rays, as well as your risk of developing itchy, or even painful, rashes.
Here’s a look at three of the most common summer skin challenges and what to do about them.
1: Prickly heat
Often called heat rash, prickly heat occurs when materials like clothing or even lawn chairs block your sweat glands. The blocked sweat builds up under your skin creating a rash of tiny red bumps or blisters. While prickly heat most often occurs where clothing contacts your body or spots where the skin folds—think elbows, armpits, waists, or thighs—it can surface wherever sweat glands are blocked. When the blisters burst, they create a prickling or itching sensation.
The good news is prickly heat is easy to treat. The key is to keep your skin cool and dry. Try wearing loose, lightweight clothing that breathes. If possible, exercise or leave strenuous yard work to the cooler parts of the day.
If you’re looking for relief from the itching or tingling, leave the affected area exposed to cool air. For extreme itching or tingling, apply cold compresses or try a low-dose, over-the-counter anti-itch hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion. Avoid using perfumed soaps or lotions while the rash persists.
2. Plant-related rashes
In our part of the world, poison ivy, oak, and sumac are all abundant which means they’re a common source of summer skin irritation.
The leaves and stems of all three plants contain a toxic oil called urushiol. Eighty-five percent of people whose skin comes in contact with urushiol develop a swollen, blistering, itchy red rash, typically within 12 to 72 hours after exposure.
It’s important to note that urushiol has great ‘hitchhiking’ properties. That means you don’t have to have direct contact with the poisonous plant to develop a reaction. Urushiol can be transferred from clothing, pets, garden tools, and shoes.
In most cases, an allergic reaction from urushiol is mild and lasts around one to three weeks. In severe cases, a rash might last longer. The good news is that it’s not contagious, and scratching or touching the fluid from your blisters won’t cause it to spread the rash.
To treat mild symptoms of poison ivy, oak or sumac, start with calamine lotion or an over-the-counter anti-itch (hydrocortisone) cream.
For more severe reactions, especially those near or around the eyes, mouth, or genitals, contact your doctor or visit SVHC ExpressCare to discuss getting a prescription corticosteroid medicine. In some cases, a steroid that can be taken by mouth or be applied directly to the skin may be recommended.
It’s important to note that antihistamine and anesthetic lotions designed to be applied directly to the skin should be avoided as they may cause further irritation.
3. Sun allergy
As strange as it sounds, for some people, exposure to the sun can trigger an allergic reaction. Referred to as photodermatitis, the condition is especially common in the first month of summer and even after just a few minutes of exposure. The most common symptom is a red, itchy rash but it may also lead to painful patches of skin that develop blisters, hives, or a scale-like texture.
While the exact cause of a sun allergy is unknown, it is more common in women and people with light-colored skin and is often triggered by medications including antibiotics like tetracyclines, doxycycline, and minocycline.
Most sun allergies go away on their own in two weeks or less, but you can find relief from symptoms using an over-the-counter anti-itch (hydrocortisone) cream or an oral antihistamine.
To prevent future reactions, limit the time you spend outdoors (between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, including a broad-brimmed hat. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply as directed, especially if you’re sweating or swimming.
For the most part, summertime skin irritations and rashes do clear up quickly on their own. But if you have a rash that lingers or one that appears to be infected or is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms, contact your doctor for advice on what to do next.
Lixia Ellis, MD, PhD is a dermatologist at SVMC Dermatology.