Taste the lemonade, take a dip in the pool, feel the blades of grass between your toes. Summer’s long days are here to enjoy, but some of the season’s greatest outdoor pastimes wreak havoc on our skin. Sunbathing, swimming, and exploration bring a host of irritants to the surface: While we envision a warm, soft glow of summer skin, many of us fight itchy, red flare-ups instead.
Areas of inflammation are common in summer, leading to bumps, blisters, and areas of itchy, swollen skin. These are often caused by touching a troubling substance, explains Dr. Jeffrey Zwerner, Senior Medical Director of Dermatology at Teladoc. Contact dermatitis can come from poison plants, chlorine, and even a new detergent or soap you’re using while on vacation. Sunburns, bites, and stings can also be bothersome this time of year. Here are some tips for surviving summer’s most pesky skin irritants.
More than one-third of adults in the U.S. reported a sunburn in the previous year.* Children are even worse offenders: 70 percent of children admit to recent sunburns,** and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that kids get 80 percent of their total lifetime sun exposure by the time they’re 18.***
After being in the sun too long, skin may become red, itchy, and hot to the touch. The best way to protect yourself from the sun, Dr. Zwerner says, is prevention. Look for shade, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wear long-sleeved, protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and large sunglasses.
When shopping for sunscreen, look for those that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.**** Reapply every two hours, experts say, and more frequently if you’re in or near water. These protective strategies will help prevent skin cancer from developing, too.
If you’re feeling the burn, draw a cold bath, moisturize the skin with cream, and take aspirin. Drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun! If your sunburn is bad enough, skin blistering or peeling over a large area may develop with fevers or chills. Seek medical advice if you have these symptoms of a second- or third-degree sunburn.
Rashes from reactions
Summertime exploring can steer you unknowingly to poisonous plants, either off the beaten path or right in your yard or local park. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac aren’t actually poisonous, but they give off an oil that causes skin to itch badly and blister. If you know you’ve been in contact with these plants in wooded or marshy areas, wash your clothes and skin thoroughly. A reaction of red, itchy, and swollen skin will appear within one to three days if you’ve been affected. Treat with calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, and an antihistamine. If your rash covers the eyes, face, genitals, or is severe, talk to a doctor.
Bee and wasp stings are a threat during summer months, and can cause local swelling, itching, a rash, or even more serious reaction. If stung, apply a cold compress or ice for soothing, but if you have trouble breathing, swelling in your lips or arms, or hives, call 911 immediately. These symptoms signal an anaphylactic reaction.
Mosquito bites are a common, yet bothersome, side effect of outdoor fun this time of year. Mostly people just get a small bump with some redness or swelling within a day of the bite. Treat the itching with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, or a doctor can prescribe a more powerful one. Prevention is effective: Cover up skin and use a bug repellent with DEET. Ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, can also be avoided by covering up skin, wearing a hat, and using insect repellent. If you’ve contracted Lyme, you may notice a bull’s-eye rash around the bite. Consult a doctor.
If you’re an ocean explorer, jellyfish are a concern: This burning, prickling sting can leave irritated marks or “tracks” on the skin. If stung, rinse the area with vinegar, remove the tentacle parts with tweezers, and soak the skin in hot water. If you frequently swim or surf in seawater, consider wearing a wetsuit.
More causes and solutions
If your skin is suffering, don’t be too quick to blame summer itself. If a rash has developed, think about whether you’ve tried a new food, started wearing different perfume, or started a medication.
Viral rashes are very common in both kids and adults this time of year. If you’re having other symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, and congestion, a virus could be causing a rash. In children, hand, foot, and mouth disease is a minor, common virus that can cause blisters in the mouth or red dots on the feet and hands or trunk. It most commonly spreads in the summertime. Keep up with good hand hygiene practices at home and while traveling.
If you are having a skin flare-up this summer—home or away—licensed Teladoc doctors can help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can even upload photos of your skin so our board-certified dermatologists can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan within two business days. Go ahead and feel that summer breeze with ease.
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If you are in the United States and think you are having a medical or health emergency, call your healthcare professional, or 911, immediately.