Ah, summer! We've been waiting all winter to break out the shorts and tank tops and enjoy summer's longer, warmer days. But exposed skin can lead to common summer skin problems that can take the fun out of your day. To help you manage these issues, here's how to avoid and treat five of the most common skin irritations this summer.
You know the drill. The sun's rays can be sly, and even on a cloudy day, you can get enough sun exposure to develop a painful and potentially cancer-causing sunburn. A blistering sunburn is the most dangerous kind, but even less extreme exposures can increase the risk of cancer. Certain medications can also increase the likelihood of a sunburn or sun reaction, including some antibiotics and pain relievers.
When you can, take steps to protect your skin by seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing (such as long sleeves, pants, sunglasses or a hat with a brim) and applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. If you can't reach a certain area of skin with sunscreen, ask a friend or family member to help. Be sure to reapply sunscreen often, especially after swimming or sweating.
2. Acne/oily skin
Sweat plus bacteria plus oily skin can add up to a summer acne flare, and greasy sunscreen products don't help either. To prevent this common summer skin problem, reach for sunscreen products labeled as "non-comedogenic," or "oil free," as they'll be less likely to clog pores and cause acne. Always use a clean towel to wipe sweat off, and be sure to take a shower and wash your sweaty clothes after each workout.
3. Dry, itchy skin
Hot, dry air seems to suck the moisture right out of skin, especially as you age, and you can't count on humidity to keep your skin healthy in the summer. Sun exposure and swimming in chlorinated or salty water can dry out your skin, but so can staying indoors in air conditioning. You avoid dry and itchy skin by rinsing it with warm (not hot) water after swimming, using only mild soap, and applying lotion to trap in moisture after showering or bathing. Dialing back the AC can also help.
4. Prickly heat/heat rash
Prickly heat, or heat rash, is another common skin issue in the summer. The condition is more common in kids, but adults can get it too, usually on the torso or thighs. Again, sweat is the culprit. It gets trapped under the skin and causes an itchy, stinging, prickly rash of red skin and small bumps or blisters. Wearing loose clothing can help keep your skin cool and dry, and drying powders, such as pure cornstarch, can also help. An over-the-counter corticosteroid or antibiotic cream may also be helpful for soothing the rash.
5. Poison ivy/oak/sumac
As they say: leaves of three, let it be. While poison ivy and poison sumac are more common in the east and poison oak is associated more with the west, all three of these plants contain poisonous urushiol oil and have leaves that come in threes. But sometimes you don't notice the configuration of the leaves until it's too late, and just touching something that's touched one of these plants can be enough to produce a red, itchy, blistering rash just a day or two later.
If you do come into contact with one of these plants, washing right away can help contain the rash to a small area. Be sure to launder your clothes as well. Milder cases will usually resolve on their own in about 10 days, but more serious cases may require prescription-strength corticosteroids or even oral steroids. To prevent exposure, wear long pants and sleeves when you're hiking in the woods, and garden gloves when you're mulching or weeding.
Common summer skin problems are mostly avoidable or treatable with home remedies, but if a rash becomes uncomfortable or doesn't resolve in a week or two, it's a good idea to call your doctor or dermatologist. It's only summer once a year, and you want to enjoy every minute of it.