When the blistering days of summer roll out, so do a host of skin problems. Sunburn, itchy blisters, rashes and bug bites are among the most common hazards lurking in the great outdoors.
Especially in South Texas, the summer sun can do a number on skin already dried out from air conditioning or chlorinated swimming pools. Staying hydrated and keeping moisturizer on hand can help. Sunscreen is a vital part of your defensive arsenal, too.
“We see a variety of presentations of sun damage, from mild to severe, in all skin types, no matter your ethnic background,” said Adaobi Nwaneshiudu, a dermatologist at UT Health San Antonio. “Conditions like lupus and rosacea can flare with sun exposure. Certain medications, from antibiotics to ibuprofen, can make you more sun-sensitive.”
And while burns are bad, even lower-level exposure over years can increase the risk of skin cancer – especially melanoma – down the line.
“Recently, some supplement pills like Heliocare have come out to help rev up your skin’s antioxidant properties,” Nwaneshiudu added, “but the jury is still out on their longer efficacy.”
Her recommendations: Wear protective clothing (including clothes and hats made with fabric that blocks ultraviolet radiation), and don’t skimp on the sunscreen.
Sunscreens with ray-blockers such as zinc oxide, or chemical blockers that absorb UV light, can help. Remember, the sun protection factor, or SPF, on a product is measured under ideal lab conditions.
“Nobody uses them that way,” Nwaneshiudu said. “The actual protection level will almost always be considerably lower.”
So choose a high SPF, and apply and reapply it according to the label.
Poison oak and poison ivy thrive in the heat and drought of the South Texas summer.
“I see a lot of poison ivy this time of year,” said dermatologist Paula Vogel.
“The plant resin, called urushiol, gets on your skin or tools or often on your pet’s fur, and can spread. So it’s really important to figure out where you got it. Since a rash can take hours to show up, if you think you’ve been exposed, rubbing alcohol can help remove the toxic resin from your skin.”
She added, “There are also products you can find in the drugstore like Tecnu wash and Zanfel, that you can use to wash the resin off clothes or tools or even your dog.”
When you wash your hands, don’t forget to scrub under your fingernails.
If blisters are extreme, or the resin spreads to your face, have a doctor take a look. Otherwise, Vogel recommends soothing treatments such as Aveeno colloidal oatmeal baths or compresses as the rash runs its course. Over-the-counter antihistamines can also help with itching from either toxic plants or summer bug bites.
When it comes to bugs, Texas has more than its share of summer biting critters.
“There are some spider bites, black widow and recluse, that leave very significant findings on the skin and should be treated, but for the most part we can’t say which insect caused a bite – they’re mostly ‘general arthropod assault,”’ Nwaneshiudu said.
There are remedies for bites from bugs.
“The toxin can cause the release of histamines, so oral antihistamines may help, along with skin-soothing treatments,” said Vogel, who added it’s important to prevent infection.
“Treating the underlying inflammation is the most important thing, so topical steroids, or oral if the inflammation is really severe, can begin the healing. And plain Vaseline has some good properties that can help the healing, too,” Vogel said.
If bites are unusually swollen, itchy or painful, have a doctor look at them.
To limit exposure, don’t sleep in the open air if you can help it and wear protective clothing and insect repellent; officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend formulas with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon or eucalyptus.