Outdoor summer activities can be fun, but your skin is often subjected to increased stresses in the process. Here are some tips to help you deal with some of the most common problems I see in my office during this time.
Quickly addressing the symptoms of a sunburn can offer pain relief and lessen the long term damage on the skin.
- As soon as you notice overexposure to the sun, apply over-the- counter hydrocortisone cream. Hydrocortisone (0.5 to 1%) helps reduce the inflammation in the skin and calm the skin’s histamine response. Avoid applying to areas of thin skin without seeing a health care provider. Young children and any adults with contraindications to hydrocortisone need to see their health care provider as well.
- Cool compresses are extremely useful to quickly cool and soothe the skin. A towel soaked in cold water can be applied for 15 minutes, then replaced with a fresh towel, until the skin is cooled.
- You may apply other remedies such as aloe vera gel as well.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen are useful as well, addressing the pain of sunburn and at the same time reducing inflammation (caution should be exercised in children or people with contraindications to these types of medicines).
- Drink lots of fluids. Sports drinks work best to replace fluids and electrolytes.
If the sunburn is severe, seek advice from a dermatologist, urgent care center or other healthcare professional. Medical treatment may include stronger topical or oral steroid medications, hydration, and burn wound care.
Spiders and other creatures are often blamed for bites. Unless you saw the bug which bit you, or you have been exposed to mosquitoes or other bugs, proper diagnosis of eruption of lesions on the skin is important.
Assess the bite area. Is there just one bite or many? Are they in a pattern? Is there venom in the center, such as a bee stinger?
- If you have one or two bites, or something that generally looks like mosquito bites, follow these tips.
- As soon as you notice a bite, apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Hydrocortisone helps reduce the inflammation in the skin and calm down the skin’s antihistamine response. Continue applying hydrocortisone for several days while you see redness.
- Take a Benadryl or other antihistamine. The skin’s histamine response is responsible for the swelling and itching often associated with bug bites. This may be taken at bedtime as it can make you sleepy.
- If the bites are in a pattern, or seem to be spreading, seek advice from a dermatologist, urgent care center or other healthcare professional. Medical treatment will include proper diagnosis and treatment of your exact condition.
Cuts and Scrapes
Cuts and scrapes may not be a big deal, but in the summer, combined with the effects of the sun, side effects may follow.
- Clean the wound with soap and water or hydrogen peroxide to remove any debris.
- Apply Aquaphor, a Vaseline-like ointment which helps promote the healing of the skin. The ointment also occludes the skin from the air and helps reduce pain.
- Apply a bandage over the Aquaphor to further occlude the wound and promote healing.
- Shower as usual and pat dry the wounded area. Re-apply Aquaphor on damp skin.
- Do not pick the scabs (scarring and infections may result).
- Keep the area covered and out of the sun. A brown discoloration common in darker skin types may result from any trauma to the skin, and should be assessed by a health care professional.
Other Summer Tips:
Check the pH balance in your hot tub. If you notice a rash in areas exposed to hot tub water, incorrect pH may be the reason.
Notice unusual pigmentation on the skin that seems to appear overnight? Consider that it may be caused by lime juice or mango juice in combination with sun exposure. Spilled lime juice-containing drinks such as blended fruit juices, beer or tequila shots may be the culprit!
If you suspect that you have had exposure to poison oak, wash the area and the rest of your skin with copious amounts of soap to prevent the irreversible binding of the active substance (urushiol) to the skin. If you see streak-shaped areas of irritation and itching, consult with your dermatologist as soon as possible.