For every glorious beach or lake day, camping trip, or hike through the woods, there is a potential skin problem to go with it: accidental sunburns, unexpected rashes, itchy bites, and more. Not to mention if you have little ones along with you! Here are some of the most common skin hazards – and how to handle them (reminder: talk to your doctor if you develop a significant reaction, all info here is informative only).
Sun and blazing temperatures can cause a variety of pink, itchy, irritated, and generally unpleasant rashes. Early in the season, sun-exposed areas - such as the face, chest, and forearms - may develop a pink, itchy rash called polymorphous light eruption; this gradually fades as the skin adapts to the summery sunshine, but the rash may appear again the following spring. Later in the season, when it gets really hot, it’s common to see tiny, blister-like bumps called miliaria (if sweat glands become blocked or/and inflamed), or a rash within body folds (if the skin stays damp, allowing yeast or other germs to cause redness and irritation). These rashes can sometimes be prevented - if you do your best to keep skin cool and dry, seek the shade, avoid excess UV exposure and peak hours, and practice careful sun protection. Plain, soothing moisturizers may help to alleviate some rashes. Call your doctor if any skin eruption is severe, not resolving, or if you find yourself relying on cortisone cream for more than a few days.
It can happen to all of us - if you forget to protect yourself on a hot day, miss a spot, or don’t reapply sunscreen in time. Prevention is always the best treatment of course, since sunburns are not just painful and uncomfortable – they increase the risk of skin cancer and skin aging. This is why doctors recommend wide hats, protective clothing, broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 applied every two hours and after swimming or sweating, seeking the shade, and avoiding the midday sun.
Supplements containing nicotinamide (vitamin B3) or the antioxidant fern extract Polypodium leucotomos might make the skin a little more resilient to UV exposure, though they are not a replacement for sun protection.
Once a sunburn happens, it helps to avoid the sun, stay hydrated, apply aloe or a rich moisturizing cream twice a day (plain yogurt does the trick too!), and consider anti-inflammatory herbal ingredients for skin, such as licorice, turmeric, bromelain, willow bark, witch hazel, chamomile, yarrow, oak bark. If fever, nausea, widespread blisters, or body-wide symptoms develop, it’s time to seek medical care.
Hand sanitizer overuse
You may be reaching for hand sanitizer (when soap and water aren’t nearby, if you are camping etc) more often than usual in the wake of COVID-19. By using too much, your hands could crack and become dry. After making sure your sanitizer is no longer wet, follow up with an emollient to keep moisture locked in after you rub away those germs. Remember, water and soap is best if available.
You’re more likely to brush up against the allergy-causing oils in poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac in the summer when you’re spending more time outside in Nature. Few substances in the world can cause such maddeningly itchy rashes as these plants. Their leaves, stem, and roots contain a natural oil called urushiol that can deposit on the skin, causing redness, rash, and even blisters that may persist for 3 to 4 weeks. The oil is washed away with soap and water, so it can’t be spread around or passed to others once you have bathed - but you could pick it up from clothing or a dog that’s collected urushiol on its fur.
Recognize and avoid the plants (as an old saying goes, if you see “leaves of three, let them be”), cover areas of skin that may be exposed if you’re going to be in the woods, place clothes directly into the laundry afterward, and wash the skin thoroughly with soap and water if you suspect you’ve made contact. Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may help relieve itch, and a doctor can prescribe cortisone creams or pills if needed - like if rashes are intense or widespread, if you have a lot of facial swelling, or if you’re not able to sleep due to itching.
When you first start getting outdoors, the sun can damage your tender skin. Your immune system could sense this attack and respond, causing you to break out in hives or an itchy rash. You’re more prone to a sun allergy if you take certain medications, you have fair skin (Fitzpatrick scale type I or II) or people in your family are sun sensitive. The best thing you can do in this case is to find shade and use protective light clothing while enjoying the summer sun.
Insect Bites and Stings
Mosquitoes, chiggers, and ticks - oh my! Usually, biting, and stinging insects only cause an itchy bump when they strike. But sometimes, the reaction can be more severe and widespread. You might have swelling, a rapid heartbeat, lowered blood pressure, and trouble breathing. Wear repellent or clothing and close-toed shoes to cover skin when you’re out. Avoid bright colors and perfumes. Applying cool compresses can relieve the swelling. Topical oatmeal compresses (mix oatmeal and water in a bowl) or oatmeal baths will help with the itch and swelling. Another topical remedy for this is honey - due to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; apply a small drop on the bite.
Call your doctor if you ever have a spot that won't heal, drains, bleeds, or seems infected.
The warmer months are peak season for hungry ticks, which lurk in grassy, wooded areas waiting to cling to unsuspecting hikers, campers, and gardeners. A tick bite often doesn’t feel like anything, so check your skin for critters if you’ve been out in the woods or gardening. If you find one, cleanse the site with rubbing alcohol and use tweezers to firmly pull the tick out, or call your doctor for help. It’s thought that a tick has to be on the skin for 24 hours or more to be able to spread disease, such as Lyme or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It’s important to call your doctor if you develop redness, rash, fever, aches and pains, or other symptoms after a tick bite.
If you plan to take a dip in lakes, oceans, or other natural bodies of water, take care to prevent swimmer's itch (itchy pink spots caused by an allergy to tiny organisms called schistosomes), or clam digger’s itch. Avoid water that’s caused this rash on others or has signs warning that it’s infested. When you do swim, rub your skin briskly with a towel afterward to prevent parasites from burrowing in and giving you a rash.
Jellyfish tentacles contain venom. A sting can be painful or sometimes life-threatening. It usually happens by accident when you touch one, or swim or wade among them. If you can’t get medical help right away, remove any jellyfish tentacles and soak the wound in hot, clean water for 20-30 minutes. You can also apply vinegar to the affected area to stop the burning feeling and the release of the toxin.
Avoid: rubbing with towel, applying pressure bandages, rinsing with human urine, rinsing with seawater, applying alcohol.
Dark spots (aka Hyperpigmentation)
If you’re prone to these brown patches of skin on your face, the summer sun can bring them out in full force. Put broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen (mineral please!) on your face daily, and reapply it every 2 hours. Wear a hat and glasses, and stick to shade as much as possible. Also, avoid waxing or harsh skin products that can irritate your skin and make this worse.
Remember: treatments for hyperpigmentation are contraindicated during summer months.
Mix sweat, bacteria, and oils, and you have a recipe for clogged pores! If your skin is acne-prone, this often translates into a breakout. Keep a towel or sweat band on hand to blot your skin as you sweat. Wash clothes you’ve sweated in, and opt for oil-free skin products or adapalene gel (Differin) to help keep pores clear.
Consult with your doctor what is the best options for your skin during summer and how you should modify your skin routine.
The openings that your body hairs grow out of are called follicles. Tight clothes, acid and chlorine from hot tubs, or damage from shaving and waxing can irritate them. If follicles get infected, they can be painful, itchy, and swollen. To prevent it, make sure your clothes are loose, shave in the direction your hair grows, use shaving gel, and only lounge in hot tubs you know are clean. It usually clears out on its own in about 2 weeks. You can use a warm compress to ease the itching or use a medicated shampoo such as Nizoral (ketoconazole) daily.
How can you prevent it?
Avoid: scratching or touching the area as it can spread the infection; sharing towels and other personal items; using oils on the skin.
Consider it the most delicious of all skin rashes: sun exposure combined with a splash of lime, lemon, or other botanicals can lead to a discolored patch, often on the
hands, face or forearms. It starts as a rash within 24 hours of exposure, then it can evolve into painful blisters or itching, and end up into dark patches. Called photodermatitis, this unharmful condition usually resolves within two to three weeks, though the dark marks left behind could linger for longer.
Treatment is similar to poison ivy rash - cool compresses, oral histamines, sometimes short term topical steroids. If blistering is severe, it will be treated as a burn due to the risk of a secondary infection.
Now you are informed! Stay safe & have a Happy Summer enjoying your glorious time in Nature.
Cheers to your Health!