Sun, fun, and allergic reactions? That doesn't sound like anyone's ideal summer, but it's an unfortunate reality that comes with warmer weather. "The skin problems that stand out when I think of 'summer' are things like sunburn, insect bites, Lyme disease, and poison ivy," says Kenneth L. Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. While pinpointing the root cause of some of those issue can be easy (you know too much time in the sun can lead to a sunburn), others aren't so simple as flare-ups can happen due to a variety of reasons. To help, we've nailed down the most common skin issues and asked a few expert dermatologists to explain how to solve them.
Once you've been burned, you'll never forget. Telltale signs of a sunburn include redness, swelling, itchiness, and even blistering. Ouch! Once the damage is done, focus on trying to soothe the skin while it heals—cool washcloths, aloe, and ibuprofen can help. Whatever you do, avoid the sun in the immediate future. "It's important to keep compromised skin out of the sun while it heals and to leave blisters alone while also watching them for signs of infection including oozing," explains Deanne Robinson, MD, founder of Modern Dermatology of Connecticut. "It's also important to stay hydrated from within and drink plenty of water."
Depending on how allergic you are to a particular type of insect, bug bites can be quite nasty, with deep inflammation and swelling that lasts for weeks. "We're outdoors more during the summer, so we run into more of these critters," explains Howe. Empower yourself by doing a little research on your local insect population—such as sand fleas in the Bahamas, ticks and chiggers in the Hamptons, and mosquitoes everywhere! One bug in particular to be leary of? Ticks, which may carry Lyme Disease. "This summer is projected to be particularly bad, as the winter isn't cold enough to thin the tick population as much as usual," Howe adds. "I see a lot of patients every summer to evaluate for the bull's eye rash of Lyme."
Heat rash traditionally presents itself as raised red bumps that may feel prickly to the touch. You'll commonly spot them in skin creases or areas of tight clothing where air cannot circulate. Why? It forms when the sweat (produced by the sweat glands in the dermis) attempts to cool the body, but is trapped because the ducts are blocked by a fold of skin or clothing. The best way to prevent this is to opt for loose fitting, sweat wicking clothing and keep the area clean and dry. If you're already dealing with a heat rash, steroid cream can calm down mild inflammation.
Like heat rash, it's common to see eczema flare in areas that trap moisture, such as the elbow crease and behind the knees. Try to keep these areas clean and dry with exposure to fresh air when possible. Also, be super cautious about reading the ingredient list of products. For example, "the ingredients in chemical sunscreens can cause eczema to flare (or present for the first time) so I steer patients toward mineral based blockers," wants Robinson.
Itchy, dry, flaky skin isn't just a winter occurrence—several summer factors can dry out your delicate dermis including chlorinated pool water, air conditioning, and ultraviolet light from the sun. "UV light compromises the skin's barrier function, making it less capable of retaining moisture," explains Howe. "Air conditioning surrounds us with constant dry, arid air; while chlorine is directly irritating to our skin." Thankfully the solution is pretty simple: apply moisturizer often, especially after you shower.
Folliculitis described as "the inflammation of the hair follicle, usually caused by bacteria and or fungus," says Robinson. "It typically it looks like small red bumps or white headed pimples; the best way to prevent folliculitis is to exfoliate the skin regularly." However, she cautions against traditional loofahs because they can harbor bacteria. For chronically affected patients, laser hair removal might be the best bet.