While summertime might mean more time spent in the great outdoors, it can also mean increased exposure to sunlight, chemicals, insects or plants – which can all lead to skin issues. Thankfully, many can be prevented, or treated at home. Lori Fiessinger, MD, a dermatologist with University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians), explains how to identify these conditions, and how to treat them if they happen.
Swimmer’s Itch is a rash that can develop after swimming in fresh salt water, and may appear minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water.
“It happens due to a parasite from the water burrowing underneath the skin,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “It looks like itchy welts throughout the body, except in the areas a swimsuit would cover.”
Swimmers can research the area prior to going, since infested water is typically reported. Drying off immediately after getting out of the water can also help prevent the rash.
Most Americans have experienced a sunburn at one point in time, and 60% reported being sunburned so badly that their clothing was uncomfortable.
“Despite our best intentions, sunburns happen,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “It’s always good to reflect on how the sunburn happened and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the future.”
Dr. Fiessinger recommends getting a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30, is broad spectrum and water-resistant. It’s also important to add a thick enough layer to keep your skin protected.
“To cover your body while wearing a swimsuit, you should use one ounce – or the amount of sunscreen that would fit in a shot glass,” she said. “Reapplication is also key.”
Sunscreen only lasts about two hours, and if you’re swimming or sweating, it lasts about one, so it should be reapplied accordingly.
“If you get a bad sunburn, make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “To relieve the pain, take cold showers, apply a moisturizer with aloe or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory.”
While most common in infants, adults can also experience heat rash, which occurs when sweat glands are blocked.
“Sweat gets trapped under the skin, creating tiny sweat-filled bumps that itch,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “Heat rash does not require any treatment as it resolves on its own, but for the unbearable itch related to heat rash, using either over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or taking an over-the-counter antihistamine can help.”
Reducing conditions that cause a lot of perspiration might help prevent the rash. Wearing light, cotton clothing, staying in air conditioning and taking cold showers during hot months can also help.
Warmer weather also means the start of tick and mosquito season in Minnesota, which can not only cause irritating bites, but also carry disease.
“The best way to prevent bites is by either applying an insect repellant that contains 20 to 30% DEET or by using clothing to keep skin covered,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “For bug bites that itch, try using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or taking an over-the-counter antihistamine.”
Ticks should be removed as soon as possible to prevent illness.
“Check your skin thoroughly after you have been in a heavily wooded or high-grass area,” she said. “If you find a tick, look up instructions online on how to properly remove it to ensure you get the entire tick.”
If you think the tick may have been attached for more than a day and a half, contact your doctor to discuss if treatment is needed to prevent Lyme disease.
“If you develop any rash around the tick bite site, contact your doctor immediately,” Dr. Fiessinger said.
“I recommend that anyone who likes to hike becomes familiar with what poison ivy, oak and sumac look like to try to avoid exposures,” Dr. Fiessinger said.
If you think you may have been exposed to one of these plants, try to gently cleanse the impacted skin with soap and water as soon as possible. Doing this within 10 to 20 minutes of exposure can sometimes prevent a rash.
“If you are delayed by an hour, washing may still decrease the severity of the rash,” Dr. Fiessinger said.
If the rash is mild, cold showers, hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine pills can help treat it at home. If it’s more than mild, contact your doctor for treatment.
Dr. Fiessinger sees patients at the M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center - Minneapolis and Maple Grove Dermatology Clinic.