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Itching for summer: 7 seasonal skin conditions

We’ve (sort of) patiently waited through a lot of cold, wet and dark to get here, but summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. It’s time to get out and play, hike, splash and bask in the warmth of that orb in the sky that we only dream about the rest of the year. 

Temperatures aren’t the only thing on the rise during the summer months. Heat and sun also bring a spike in seasonal skin conditions that can range from itchy and annoying to painful and dangerous.

Don’t let summer get under your skin. Read more about the most common summer skin conditions and what you can do to stay safe and comfortable. 

1.    Acne Breakouts

 If you battle acne, summer can really turn up the heat on breakouts. But don’t just blame the sun. Seasonal breakouts are usually because of clogged pores due to increased oil production and sweating. And while you might think layering on the sunscreen and heavy moisturizers will keep your skin dewy and glowing, you’re just priming your skin for more breakouts. 

Prevention tactics:

  • Use a foaming cleanser to help hydrate your skin and prevent dryness.
  • Avoid heavy lotions or creams and reach for a lighter moisturizer or water-based sunscreen to prevent clogged pores.
  • Wash off the grime after exercising or other summer activities that work up a sweat. But keep the scrubbing to a minimum to avoid irritation and inflammation. Dermatologists recommend showering or washing no more than twice a day.

Hands off those pimples. Picking at acne blemishes can cause more inflammation, scars or infection. 

2.    Sun Burn

Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can penetrate to the deep layers of the skin and lead to skin damage over time. Whether from sunlight or artificial sources like tanning beds, repeated sunburns can increase your risk of premature aging of the skin, precancerous skin lesions and skin cancer, such as melanoma. Kids and teens who experience sunburns may be at risk of melanoma later in life. 

Some people are at higher risk for sunburn, including individuals who:

  • Have light skin, freckles, blue eyes, or red or blonde hair.
  • Frequently play sports or swim outdoors.
  • Partake in a lot of water sports, like fishing, paddleboarding or boating.
  • Work outdoors.
  • Tan regularly.

Prevention tactics:

  • Avoid suntanning and tanning beds. All UV rays are damaging.
  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen every day. Reapply every 90 minutes while outdoors and more often if you’re in the water or sweating.
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when UV rays are strongest.
  • Wear sun glasses that filter UV rays. It’s not only your skin that’s at risk of sun damage.
  • Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats.
  • See a dermatologist for annual skin cancer checks.

Feeling the burn? Learn about the dos and don’ts of healing a sunburn at home.

3.    Heat rash 

 Heat rash, or prickly heat, happens when sweat gets blocked in your pores and builds up under the skin. It’s particularly common in babies but can happen at any age – especially during hot and humid summer months. It’s most likely to crop up in places where skin tends to rub together, like armpits, elbows and the groin area.

Prevention tactics:

  • Wear loose, light-weight clothing and use light-weight bedding.
  • Use lightweight moisturizers vs. heavier creams or ointments.
  • Stay in the shade (or in air conditioning) when summer days are at their hottest.
  • Avoid staying in wet clothing, such as swimsuits.
  • Take a cool bath or shower or place a damp cloth or icepack (wrapped in a towel to prevent damage to the skin) on irritated skin for up to 20 minutes at a time.

Keep it real. Moisture-wicking clothing might seem like a great option for summer, but synthetic fibers can worsen heat rash symptoms. Clothing and bedding made from cotton are the best, and most comfortable, options. 

4.    Dry skin 

You might think winter is the season for dry skin, but it can also be a bummer in the summer.  Time spent under the sun, in chlorinated pools and amid air conditioning can leave you with dry, irritated skin. 

Prevention tactics:

  • Shower and shampoo after getting out of the pool.
  • Apply water-resistant sunscreen that offers broad spectrum, SPF 30+ protection before going outdoors.
  • Opt for lukewarm water over hot when bathing or showering.
  • Moisturize after every shower or bath, and after washing hands.
  • Limit time in air conditioning.

Read the label. Certain ingredients in skin care products can strip your skin of its natural oils, including alcohol, alpha-hydroxy acid, fragrance and retinoids.

5.    Swimmer’s itch 

Your summer dip could offer more than you bargained for. Swimmer’s itch is a rash that looks like pimples or blister that’s caused by a reaction to waterborne parasites that burrow into the skin when you swim or wade in warm, calm water. Gross, yes, but the good news is that the parasites can’t survive in people, even though their calling card can be itchy and uncomfortable. 

 A swimmer’s itch rash can appear within minutes or up to two days after being in contaminated water. It usually clears up within a few days, and the itch can be controlled with home treatment, such as topical hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines.

Prevention tactics:

  • Shower with clean water right after you leave the water and towel dry. If you can’t rinse off, rub skin vigorously with a towel.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in shallow areas near the shoreline or marshy areas where snails are found.
  • Watch for (and heed) posted signs that warn of swimmer’s itch contamination and avoid areas where the condition is a known problem. 
  • Use waterproof sunscreen. It adds a protective layer that may prevent parasites from penetrating the skin.

Don’t feed the birds. When ducks and geese congregate in search of a meal, it means more poop (and parasites) end up in the water. 

6.    Sun allergy

Who doesn’t love the sun? Well, a lot of people if it makes their skin sting or break out in an itchy, red rash. Sun allergies come in several forms, from mild reactions to painful blisters and illness. They can affect all skin types, although young women and people with fair skin are more prone to sun allergies. There may also be a hereditary connection.

Other factors that can trigger sun allergies include:

  • Contact with certain substances used in fragrances, cosmetics and some sunscreens.
  • Medications, such as antibiotics, antifungals, cholesterol-lowering drugs and birth control pills.
  • Having other skin conditions, such as dermatitis.

 Prevention tips:

  • Avoid sun exposure, especially between the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat and protective clothing when outdoors.
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on overcast days.
  • Be aware of (and avoid) known triggers.
  • Talk with a healthcare clinician if the medications you're taking make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Believe it or not. Sun exposure can sometimes be a good thing for sun allergies. When you gradually increase the time you spend outdoors, it can allow the skin to slowly adapt to sunlight and stop a sun allergy from developing.

7.    Poison ivy, oak and sumac rashes

Summer adventures can sometimes be a pain. Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac (sensing a pattern here?) are all common plants that grow in wooded or marshy areas across North America. And nearly 85 percent of the population are allergic to them.

The plants themselves aren’t the problem – it’s the oil they produce. Urushiol can cause an irritating, blistering and itchy skin rash that can last up to two weeks. 

Prevention tactics:

  • Wear long sleeves, pants, boots and gloves when working, playing or exploring where the plants exist.
  • Immediately rinse skin with warm, soapy water.
  • Wash everything that could have plant oil on it, including clothes, garden tools, golf clubs and your pet’s fur. Be sure to wear rubber gloves.
  • Apply isopropyl alcohol to exposed skin, gardening tools or other contaminated items to strip away oil.

Know the difference. Poison ivy and poison oak share a lot of similarities, but knowing which is which can save you a lot of grief. Learn more about the difference between poison ivy and poison oak.


Indigo takes the sting out of summer

Most summer skin conditions don’t require medical attention and can usually be treated at home. But if you need relief or help to identify what’s gotten under your skin, Indigo can help. Our Urgent Care clinicians will recommend treatment for your rash or other skin complaint, or refer you to a dermatologist, if needed.

We totally get it if a trip to the clinic rubs you the wrong way. You can still see one of our clinicians from the comfort of home, your campsite or wherever you are. Indigo Virtual Care makes it easy to get the care you need when you need it. Just like our convenient neighborhood locations, Indigo Virtual Care is here for you 8 am to 8 pm, every day. 

It’s a good idea to head to your nearest emergency department if your rash:

  • Covers your body.
  • Is accompanied by a high fever.
  • Appears suddenly and spreads rapidly.
  • Is a reaction to medication and causes breathing difficulties.
  • Blisters.
  • Affects the skin around your eyes, multiple areas in your mouth or your genitals.
  • Becomes increasingly painful.
  • Is itchy and has yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting, pain and warmth in the area of the rash, or a red streak coming from the rash.

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