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Tips to avoid and treat seven summer rashes

Since more people are spending their free time in open spaces outdoors seeking relief from the isolation and social distancing measures needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes this practice could lead to more people developing summer rashes.

In an Aug. 11, 2020 press release from the AAD, dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Kiracofe, who practices in Oak Park, Ill., spoke about simple steps people can take to avoid unwanted rashes and other skin issues while still enjoying the outdoors.

“If there are any benefits to this pandemic, it is being able to spend more time outdoors, which is great for our mental and physical health,” Dr. Kiracofe said in the release. “When spending time outdoors, especially during the summer, it is important to take proper precautions to avoid rashes such as heat rash and poison ivy, as well as sunburn, which can increase [patients’] risk for skin cancer.”

Dr. Kiracofe provided seven tips:

Heat rash: Blocked sweat glands can cause a heat rash with small, itchy bumps appearing on the skin. To help prevent a heat rash on hot days, wearing lightweight and loose-fitting clothes made of cotton is recommended, as is scheduling outdoor activities during the coolest parts of the day when possible. At home, fans and air conditioning, as well as taking cool showers, can be used to keep the skin cool.

Poisonous plants: Individuals should learn how to recognize poisonous plants, and then avoid them. If spending time in a wooded area or a place known to have poisonous plants, it is recommended to cover exposed skin with clothing. Any skin contact with these plants should immediately be rinsed with lukewarm, soapy water, and any clothing should be washed as soon as possible. Blisters should be left alone, and scratching should be avoided. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can be applied to affected areas for relief. Individuals should consult with a dermatologist if a rash is extensive or not relieved by these medications.

Sunburn: Sunburn is better prevented than treated, through a combination of: seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and application of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If sunburn does occur, a cold, damp towel can be applied to the area for 10 to 15 minutes a few times daily or baths or showers in cool water can be taken to relieve pain. Moisturizer or hydrocortisone cream can also be applied, though creams that contain petroleum, benzocaine or lidocaine, should be avoided because they can irritate sunburned skin.

Swimmer’s itch: An itchy rash that appears after wading or swimming in a lake or ocean may be swimmer’s itch. If someone does develop this rash, they should not go back in the water. Relieve the itch by applying a corticosteroid cream or cool compress or by soaking in a colloidal oatmeal bath.

Seabather’s eruption: This itchy rash develops in people who go in the Caribbean Sea and the waters off the coasts of Florida and Long Island, New York when newly hatched jellyfish or sea anemones are trapped between someone's skin and their swimsuit, fins or other gear. The best way to prevent this rash is by staying out of infested water. However, if someone thinks they have been exposed, they should remove their swimwear as soon as possible and rinse in fresh water, and the swimwear should be washed in hot water and dried. Cool compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream may help with itch. Taking an antihistamine may also work.

Bug bites: To prevent bug bites it is recommended to use insect repellent that contains 20 to 30% DEET and wear appropriate clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and closed shoes instead of sandals. To treat painful bites, such as a bee sting, the affected can take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For bites that itch, they can apply an ice pack or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Application of ice packs can also be used to reduce swelling.

Face-mask irritation: For individuals spending time outdoors around other people, it is important to maintain social distancing and wear a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. To help avoid irritation caused by wearing a face mask, masks should be snug, but comfortable and made out of breathable fabric, such as cotton. Masks should be washed after each use, and makeup use should be avoided if possible. Face washing should be limited to twice a day and after sweating, and moisturizer should be applied before and after a mask is worn, especially for individuals with dry or sensitive skin.

“Most common summer rashes should go away within a few days or weeks,” said Dr. Kiracofe. “However, if a rash or other skin problem lingers or worsens, [a patient should] see a board-certified dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment. During the pandemic, dermatology offices have taken extra precautions per state and local guidelines to ensure the health and safety of their patients, and many also offer virtual appointments.”

These tips are demonstrated in “How to Prevent and Treat Common Summer Rashes,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel, viewable here. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.

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