From sunburn to razor burn, how to prevent summer skin care disasters
All you need to know about taking care of your skin during the summer is to wear SPF 30 sunscreen or higher every day, right? That's a good start, but your skin will need more TLC than that. There's razor burn, blisters and heat rash, to name a few.
“Sun, heat and humidity cause many skin conditions to flare up,” says Joseph L. Jorizzo, M.D., professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Also, common medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diuretics can make you more sensitive to sunlight so you may burn more easily.”
This fungus thrives in hot, moist conditions (like your sweaty shoes) and it’s easy to pick up from the pool deck, locker room or hotel bathroom floor if you go barefoot. The telltale signs are itchiness, peeling, redness or flaking skin anywhere on your foot or between the toes. Don’t ignore it: “The fungus starts in the skin and can spread to the nails, so be proactive about treating it,” says Dr. Jorizzo. Apply an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-fungal cream containing terbinafine, such as Lamisil, daily. Pay special attention to the areas between your toes. It may take several weeks to see improvement. If the fungus does affect your toenails (they’ll look thick and yellowish), your doctor can prescribe topical and oral medications to clear it up.
Bumps on the back of your arms
Keratosis pilaris is the term for those patches of firm white or red bumps that appear on the backs of your arms, thighs and buttocks. They’re due to a buildup of keratin that plugs the hair follicle, though it’s not known why it happens. It can be difficult to treat, though it sometimes clears up on its own. “It’s not a medical condition or cause for worry, but many women think it’s unsightly,” says Jorizzo. To improve the appearance of these bumps, apply an OTC lotion containing lactic acid, such as AmLactin, twice a day to help break down the keratin. You can also ask your doctor about prescription medications, such as retinoids, that may help.
Acne or rosacea flare ups
Hot, sweaty days can make both acne and rosacea worse. Be kind to your skin: Use a non-abrasive face wash that doesn’t contain alcohol. For individual pimples, use a topical OTC treatment containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Choose sunscreen that contains physical blockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that are less irritating for sensitive skin.
In addition to using gentle cleansers, you'll have to see your doctor for rosacea flares. “There aren’t good OTC options,” says Jorizzo. “But we do have very effective prescription topical products such as azelaic acid for controlling inflammation.”
It's sandal time and everyone wants smooth heels, but they usually need some work after the cold. “In the wintertime, shoes and socks hold in moisture,” says Patricia Farris, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans. “But in the summer, your feet are exposed to the drying effects of the elements.” Going barefoot, wearing flip-flops and walking on the beach all contributes to a build-up of dry skin. A few times a week, buff your heels with a pumice stone or foot file after showers and then slather on a thick heel cream twice a day that contains urea or lactic acid (such as AmLactin), to help the skin hold in moisture.
A blister forms in response to friction, such as bare skin rubbing against new sandals or flip-flops you're wearing for the first time. Avoid the temptation to 'pop' your blister and pick off the top layer of skin that serves to protect against infection, says Dr. Farris. Cover it with a Band-Aid as it heals; the blister should go down on its own in a day or two. If the blister breaks open, apply on a little antibiotic cream such as polysporin ointment before putting on a fresh Band-Aid.
Overstayed your welcome on the beach and got burned? First, take Motrin or Aleve to reduce pain and inflammation and then soak in a soothing, cool bath containing baking soda or colloidal oatmeal, such as Aveeno. You can also apply cool compresses a few times a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Until the burn heals, stay out of the sun and don’t apply petroleum-based creams, which trap heat. If you get blisters, see your dermatologist immediately to reduce the risk of scarring, says Farris.
Razor burn and ingrown hairs
Razor burn—a bumpy red rash—occurs when you shave the wrong way. “Shaving against hair growth gives you a closer shave but the blunt-tipped end of hairs can grow back into the skin rather than up and out,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York City. Stop shaving for a day or two to let the rash heal. If it’s really uncomfortable, dab on an OTC one-percent hydrocortisone cream. Prevent future irritation by shaving only after showers when skin and hair are hydrated. Use shaving cream or gel so your razor glides easily, shave in the direction of hair growth (for example, from your knees downward), and moisturize afterwards. For the sensitive bikini line area, switch to depilatories or waxing. If you get an ingrown hair (a hard, tender bump) on your legs or bikini line—which can become painful and infected—see your doctor for removal.
Often called prickly heat, a heat rash develops when perspiration gets trapped in the sweat glands, leading to red itchy spots on the chest and in skin folds. Stay cool and dry so it won’t feel worse and apply a little OTC one-percent hydrocortisone cream, says Dr. Zeichner.
Tinea versicolor, a red scaly rash caused by yeast (which everyone has on her skin), is usually caused by skin rubbing against skin, such as under breasts or behind knees. It can discolor skin. “It can grow out of control on some people, especially in warm, humid climates,” says Zeichner. Use a selenium sulfide shampoo, such as Selsun Blue, as a body wash to reduce yeast levels. To prevent future rashes, dust on cornstarch or talcum powder, such as Zeasorb, to control moisture.
While most minor summer skin problems can be treated at home with natural remedies and OTC treatments, you should see a dermatologist if a condition worsens rapidly, such as a bump turning extremely red or painful overnight (those are signs of infection). Also see your doctor if a skin condition doesn’t improve after a week of treating it at home.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.