A bright and clear summer day calls you outside to play or relax and soak up the sun. But when it comes to protecting your skin, summer brings its own challenges.
Shorts and tank tops leave much more skin exposed and vulnerable to burns, bites, rashes and more. Start with a good SPF 30 lotion to prevent sunburn (and reapply regularly), and take the following steps to prevent these other common hot weather skin woes.
SKY: Sun-related dangers
Acne breakouts: face, chest or back
When you’re hot, you sweat, and the sweat mixes with oils your body naturally produces. That clogs pores, which can cause an acne breakout.
- Use oil-free sunscreen.
- Don’t wipe away sweat on your face, chest or back with a towel. That can irritate the skin and make it more susceptible to breakouts. Gently blot away the dampness.
Sweating is your body’s way of cooling you off. In extremely hot or humid conditions, when you’re wearing heavy clothes or exercising strenuously, you can sweat a lot. That can cause your sweat ducts to get blocked, and with nowhere to go, sweat gets trapped under the skin, causing little red bumps or blisters. This is heat rash.
Adults are most likely to see heat rash in skin folds or spots where clothing rubs against the skin. Babies, whose sweat ducts are not completely developed, are more likely to get heat rashes on the neck, chest and shoulders. If the rash is deep in the skin, it can cause an itchy or prickly feeling.
- Avoid tight clothing and synthetic fabrics that trap sweat and irritate skin.
- Stay cool. Get into the shade or step inside if you are sweating.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Dry, itchy skin
Too much sun, pool chemicals and air conditioning can suck the moisture right out of your skin.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen: SPF 30 or higher and waterproof.
- If there’s a shower by the pool, rinse yourself off as soon as you get out, ideally with a mild cleanser.
- Use fragrance-free moisturizer at the start of the day and reapply periodically.
LAND: Plants and bugs
People spend a lot more time outside in the summer, which means higher exposure to bugs like mosquitos. We’re also more likely to leave doors or windows open, which makes us more susceptible to bites from unwanted intruders like spiders.
- Use insect repellent with DEET (this helps repel ticks as well). While some people are cautious about using DEET, the CDC says it’s perfectly safe for most people and is the best way to prevent insect bites.
- Avoid soaps, lotions and sprays that have sweet fragrances.
- Stay inside at mosquito prime times: dawn and dusk. If you know that you will be outside at that time, wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Clean up clutter in your yard and garage, don’t pile wood by the side of your home, and get rid of standing water (where mosquitos breed).
- Wear gloves when moving wood and rocks.
- Check your shoes for spiders before putting them on.
If you live near tall grass or woods, beware of ticks. These spider-like creatures feed on blood, jumping onto the nearest mammal and sinking their legs into them. Some ticks can spread serious diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme disease.
Shoes, long pants and sleeves help, but always check your skin and scalp as soon as possible after being outside.
- If you find a tick has latched onto your skin, gently pull it out with a pair of tweezers. Pull straight up, being careful to get the whole head and body together.
- Check your pets, too.
- If you develop a rash or fever, consult your doctor.
Poison ivy, sumac and oak
You probably never knew that you were allergic to uroshiol oil, but that’s the “poison” in poison ivy, sumac and oak that causes a streaky, itchy, blistery rash in 70-90% of people. Usually the rash lasts for a few weeks and goes away on its own, but if you experience swelling or have trouble breathing, consult a doctor.
- Stay away. Follow these rhyming rules:
- “Leaves of three. Let them be.”
Poison ivy and poison oak grow in a three-leaflet cluster.
- “Longer middle stem. Don’t touch them.”
The middle stem in the cluster extends further out than the other two.
- “Hairy vine. No friend of mine.”
Poison ivy climbs up rocks, trees and other structures, and its vines have distinctive little tendrils that look like hairs.
- Poison sumac doesn’t have a rhyme, but look out for a sparse shrub with long thin branches. Each stem has a row of leaves pointing upward on each side.
Here’s a quick guide to poisonous plants in Tennessee.
WATER: Unseen irritants
There’s nothing as refreshing on a hot day as a dip in cool water, but lots of invisible organisms that cause skin problems live in water or damp conditions.
Little parasites that live in lakes, rivers and oceans usually attach themselves to birds and animals, but if you splash around, they may be drawn to your exposed skin. They burrow in, causing an allergic reaction: your skin tingles, itches or burns, and little red pimples and blisters emerge. You can soothe the irritations with corticosteroid cream, oatmeal baths and cool compresses.
- Avoid contaminated water. If a sign warns against swimming in a certain area, don’t.
- Towel dry or rinse off with clean water immediately after getting out.
- Don’t feed birds or wild animals near water that people swim in. The cycle that leads to parasites in the water starts with them.
When water stays in your ear after swimming, the dampness can breed bacteria, infecting the skin that lines your ear canal. In a mild case, symptoms include itching and redness. Without treatment, the condition may worsen and become painful and even block the ear canal. Consult a doctor if you are in pain.
- Wear clean earplugs and a bathing cap.
- Tilt your head and pull your earlobe when you finish swimming to let water drain out.
- Use a clean, dry towel to gently rub the outside of your ear. (Do not stick a cotton swab into the ear canal.)
Sweaty feet or going barefoot can put you at risk for the common fungus that causes athlete’s foot. Symptoms include intense itching, blistered skin and cracks that can be painful and unsightly.
This fungus thrives in moist environments, like gym showers and pool decks. It can also attack dry flaky skin, though, so all sandal-wearers are susceptible. Athlete’s foot usually starts between the toes, but can spread to the toenails, causing them to get thick and yellow.
- Wear shower shoes or flip-flops in public showers and around pools.
- Do not wear someone else’s shoes.
- Dry your feet completely before putting on shoes and socks.
- Air out gym shoes after use by loosening the laces. Don’t let them sit in your gym bag.
- Don’t towel off your feet and use that same towel to dry the rest of your body. Athlete’s foot fungus can spread to any place on your skin.