Skin Deep

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Outdoor activities in the summer can be particularly hard on the skin.  Here are the most common sources of summer skin problems and how to avoid them or treat the damage they cause.

 

Sun

 

The sun is good for us. It lifts our spirits and it helps us manufacture essential Vitamin D which we all need for good bone health. In children, Vitamin D prevents rickets, a bone deforming illness and new research suggests that exposure to sunshine reduces the risks of contracting Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis in later life.

The downside is that sun damage, including burning and peeling, set you up for skin cancer. In general, the more UV radiation from the sun a person is exposed to, the higher their risk of skin cancer.  People with fair skin are at highest risk but black- and brown- skinned people should also take great care not to overdo it.  People under 20 are very susceptible.  We usually get most of our lifetime’s sun exposure as children and teenagers, and many skin cancers result from sun damage acquired during our early years.

You know all this already – just make sure you do it. Keep covered up with light, long clothes. Wear a hat. Stay out of the noonday sun. Cover up children. Use an SPF15+ UVA/UVB sunscreen. Don’t stay in direct sun for too long; sit in the shade. Don’t let yourself burn. Introduce the sun gradually, adding a few more minutes each day. Avoid using sun beds or tanning lamps. Check your skin regularly and report any unusual changes, such as irregularly shaped moles, to your doctor without delay.

Damp Skin
Summer heat means sweating, so watch out for problems caused by damp skin.  These include athlete’s foot, ringworm, jock itch, foot odor and other ailments caused by bacteria and fungi.

After bathing or swimming, it’s important to dry yourself thoroughly, including your feet. Get out of sweaty clothing as quickly as possible and try to shower after sweating. Wash feet carefully everyday; wear socks made of absorbent material and air out all shoes.  Sprinkle a little baking soda into footwear to absorb moisture.  Wear loose pants and cotton underwear to keep the groin dry and prevent bacterial infections. 

Sweaty feet? Apply gel or spray antiperspirants. Air out your feet by going barefoot in safe areas or by wearing open sandals.

Bug Bites
To escape insect bites, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and avoid being outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Use mosquito netting on baby strollers and playpens when they are outdoors. Dump all standing water around your home where mosquitoes can hatch.

To repel bugs naturally, mix lemon juice with water and rub it on your skin.  Or, to keep mosquitoes out of a set area, add a few drops of lemon juice to the wax of a burning candle.  You can also use commercial bug sprays and lanterns.

Relief

The best we’ve found is Tea Tree Oil. It comes in a handy blemish stick from the organic medicine section in the supermarket. Or hold ice on the affected area for 10 minutes.  Don’t scratch.  For multiple bites, try taking a bath with 1/2 cup of baking soda added to the water.

Poisonous Ivy

Contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac produces a reaction within 12 to 72 hours.  Symptoms are caused by urushiol, an oily toxic irritant present on the leaves of these three plants.  Urushiol produces a reaction in 50% to 75% of people exposed.  Exposure can occur by direct contact with the plant or by secondary contact through clothing that has touched the plant, sports equipment, etc.  Symptoms include swelling, a rash, blisters and severe itching. Blisters dry, scab over and ooze within a few days.  The reaction usually takes about 10 days to run its course.

Prevention
The best way – don’t touch the plants. Educate yourself on the forms of poison ivy and poison oak in your area. Your local State Parks website should have them. Urushiol can remain active for months away from the plants that produce it, so carefully wash all gear that comes into contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.

Relief

If you do touch poison ivy, wash immediately with soap and water.  If you wash the area right away, you may get up to 100% of the urushiol off your skin.  If you delay as little as 10 minutes, only 50% of the irritant can be removed and after 30 minutes only 10% will wash off.

As with insect bites, try bathing with baking soda.  There are also a number of over-the-counter medicines available. 

For itching:

  • Antihistamines are available as topical (cream, lotion, or spray) or oral. Both are problematic: topical varieties can cause other rashes and oral kinds can cause drowsiness.
  • Topical anesthetics work to numb itchy skin.  Try menthol, benzocaine or pramoxine.

 

For rash:

  • Hydrocortisone creams or sprays may reduce the inflammation, swelling and itching of poison ivy rashes.
  • Lotions containing calamine, zinc acetate and alcohol help dry the blistered rash and may speed healing.

 

For particularly bad cases, prescription medicines exist, so see your doctor.