Longer days and warmer weather mean more time outdoors. But all that fun in the sun, water or woods can do a number on your skin. Don’t let summer bummers ruin your fun this year. We talked to top skin docs for tips on how to treat 8 common seasonal hazards…
Sunburn, heat rash and bug bites can quickly wreak havoc on your summer. Just ask a dermatologist.
“This time of year, I see more outdoor and exercise-related skin issues than any other [season],” says Francesca Fusco, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Got a summer skin-care issue? Read on for simple ways to fix it.
Hit the beach without sunscreen and you’ll go home with a burn. But on gray or shady days, don’t assume you’re safe from UV rays.
“[People] don’t realize sun can reach them through clouds or trees,” says Boston-based dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, M.D. “Or they forget to cover up areas like ears, necks and lips.”
Skin soothers: Popping ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin stops pain and inflammation. And don’t scratch. It makes itching worse and can cause infection.
Instead, use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream 2-3 times a day, or spritz on a post-sun product like Solarcaine Aloe Extra Burn Relief spray, which contains lidocaine, a topical anesthetic that dulls discomfort.
Or try a natural remedy: Dip a washcloth in cool, full-fat milk and place on sunburned spots several times a day, 5-10 minutes at a time. Milk’s lactic acid stops inflammation and itchiness, Dr. Fusco says.
Thin, cool tomato slices also make good compresses.
The lycopene in tomatoes is an anti-inflammatory, and the fruit’s wetness reduces swelling by drawing some liquid from the sunburn, Dr. Fusco adds.
2. Heat rash
Also called prickly heat, this skin rash shows up as little red bumps or blisters when sweat ducts get blocked.
Because heat and excessive sweating can cause clogs, summer is prime time for rashes to pop up – in infants and adults.
Skin soothers: Avoid heat and humidity as much as possible. Sprinkle rashes with powder containing cornstarch or menthol. Both help dry up and cool down sweaty skin, says Jeannette Graf, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Stop Aging, Start
If you’re itchy, apply a hydrocortisone cream as you would with sunburn.
And stick to natural fibers like cotton. Synthetic fabrics tend to irritate skin, says Dr. Graf.
Also, they breathe less so you don’t stay as dry and cool.
These tan-colored patches of discolored skin, half-an-inch wide or larger, are “related to [estrogen and progesterone] hormones – that’s why pregnancy and birth control pills can bring [melasma] on, and it worsens with sun exposure,” Dr. Graf says.
Typically, this skin condition crops up on cheeks, nose, forehead or upper lips, and both sides of the face.
Skin soothers: Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when it’s strongest. Fade melasma patches with daily use of over-the-counter skin-lightening products containing licorice, vitamin C, kojic acid, soy or retinol, Dr. Graf suggests.
Exfoliating dead skin cells can also remove pigmentation and even out discoloration. Try a weekly, at-home glycolic acid peel or microdermabrasion, Dr. Graf advises.
If these techniques don’t work, ask your dermatologist to prescribe a skin lightener, such as Tri-Luma, a cream with skin-bleaching hydroquinone, a low-potency steroid that reduces redness, and retinoids to slough off dead skin.
4. Bikini line bumps
Hair down there tends to be thick, coarse and wiry. Shaving can make it curl back under the surface, becoming an ingrown hair.
“Your body sees it as something foreign, and it responds with inflammation and red bumps,” says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.
Don’t scrape this thin, sensitive skin with a razor. It’ll make it bumpy.
Skin soothers: Look for products with skin-soothing ingredients like green tea, aloe or cucumber, says Dr. Kauvar. Or dab hydrocortisone cream on bumps to reduce inflammation. And prevent future bumps with these tips:
Warm up in the shower first. “[Heat] helps hair loosen up, so it’s easier to remove,” Dr. Kauvar says.
Always use shaving gel to protect skin. In a pinch, conditioner or body wash works too.
Cut irritation risk by using a gentle hand and a sharp razor (toss old, dull ones). Choose one with multiple blades; it removes hair in fewer strokes and with less pressure.
Shave in the direction hair grows – going against it cuts shafts on an angle, making them more likely to curl back under skin.
5. Body breakouts
Sweating leaves bacteria on skin that can clog pores, leading to acne on the back, chest or arms.
Skin soothers: Look for cleansers with salicylic acid; it kills bacteria and unclogs pores, says Alex Khadavi, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California.
Skip ones with grainy exfoliators (like crushed seeds, oyster shells or apricot pits), which can irritate skin and worsen acne.
Creams with salicylic acid are also good for spot-treating mild breakouts. Benzoyl peroxide works too, but it can bleach fabric, so make sure it’s dry before you slip on clothes, Dr. Khadavi says.
Don’t overwash. Body breakouts don’t mean your skin’s dirty, and over-cleansing can make it dry.
“In response, oil glands just produce more pore-clogging oil,” Dr. Khadavi says.
And don’t pick! Popping pimples doesn’t clear them up faster – even touching them increases your risk of scarring or infection, Dr. Khadavi adds.
6. Dry skin
Chlorine and salt water don’t just dry out your hair; they strip skin of moisture too. Add the sun’s drying rays and salty sea air, and you’re left with parched, itchy skin from head to toe.
Skin soothers: Applying lotion at key times replaces lost moisture and helps skin retain it.
Here are some other expert tips:
Slather it on after a bath or shower (while skin is damp) to seal in moisture. Put more on dry spots as soon as you come in from a day outside.
Before bed, use a thicker cream that can penetrate while you sleep.
Exfoliating skin once or twice a week with a loofah removes dry flakes, which also helps lotion penetrate.
If you’re headed into the pool or ocean, cover super-dry spots with a heavy-duty hydrating cream like Vaseline or Aquaphor. “These act as a barrier between your skin and the chlorine or salt water,” Dr. Graf says.
When skin’s really dry, take an oatmeal bath: Add 1-2 cups of regular oatmeal to lukewarm bath water and soak for 5-10 minutes. This breakfast favorite’s fats and proteins reduce skin’s water loss and heal dry, cracked skin.
7. Poison ivy rash
The leaves of poison ivy plants (as well as poison oak and sumac) release an oil toxin called urushiol that can leave skin red, blistering and itchy.
Sometimes you’ll see a rash right away, but it can also take days or weeks to crop up, Dr. Graf says.
Skin soothers: Urushiol clings to fabrics and pet fur, so wash clothes and wipe off Fido as soon as possible.
If you get a rash, cleanse skin with lukewarm water and soap.
Then, apply hydrocortisone cream a few times a day.
If you’re itchy, also dab on an over-the-counter antihistamine cream.
And don’t scratch. That increases inflammation, which only makes you itch more.
Go to a doctor or emergency room if your reaction is severe, you have trouble breathing or swell up.
8. Bug bites
You’re not the only one who loves being outside in summer. It’s prime time for mosquitoes and other bugs too. Some people don’t react to bites, while others can end up with itchy welts.
(Get pictures of the most common culprits in our bug bite sideshow.)
Skin soothers: Having a severe bite reaction, like nausea, breathing difficulties and facial swelling? Head to the emergency room immediately.
For milder cases, ease the itch with hydrocortisone cream or try an anti-itch cream like calamine lotion.
Welts are calmed by an over-the-counter antihistamine like Claritin or Allegra – look for the non-sedating kind so it doesn’t knock you out.
And prevent bug bites in the first place with a citronella insect repellent. It’s as effective as the chemical kind but safer on skin, Dr. Graf says.