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Summer Bummer: Skin Suffers

Infections, insects, sun, pool water -- they all wreak havoc on skin.
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WebMD Feature

Summer does have its itchy downside. If athlete's foot or jock itch don't plague you, chances are you're prey to mosquitoes, yellow jackets, fire ants, maybe poison ivy. Your skin also pays the price for those hours you spend in the sun and pool. Here are some survival tips from the experts:

 

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Fungal Infections

Athlete's foot and jock itch leave a patchy rash that itches like the devil. These are caused by a fungus called ringworm -- "opportunists," says Ron Shelton, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center and co-director of The New York Aesthetic Center in New York City.

"They're really prevalent in a dark, moist, and warm environment [like on the feet or the groin]," he tells WebMD. "If they find the right conditions, they thrive."

Rules of prevention:

  • Get out of any sweaty clothes as soon as you can.
  • Wear clothing that "breathes well," such as cotton.
  • Wear socks with sneakers, or change sneakers often.
  • Wear absorbent powder in those sweat-prone areas as a preventive measure.

But if infection has developed, see a doctor. Treating yourself with those over-the-counter creams and sprays presents a problem with these infections, says Shelton. "You might get rid of most of the infection -- yet not all of it, and not enough [of the infection] is left to show up on a lab test. So it's difficult for a physician to diagnose the problem accurately."

Heat Rash

Heat rash is caused by sweat glands that get blocked under clothing. Sweat accumulates under skin, which creates little, itchy, red or clear bumps. Talcum powder won't help, even though you may be inclined to use it. Cool compresses work best; try soaking a tea bag in water for your compress, Shelton suggests. Also, keep skin as cool and dry as possible.

Pool and Sun Problems

Chlorine wreaks havoc on hair and skin. Green hair after a pool party is a problem for some. Just make sure you rinse off thoroughly after swimming. Moisturizer for your skin is optional, says Shelton.

As for sun problems, redheads or blue-eyed blondes who burn easily are at highest risk of skin cancer. But even dark-skinned people can get skin cancer.

"Protect yourself" is the experts' mantra:

  • Always use a sun block with SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher -- even under your clothes. Loosely woven cloth such as cotton provides very little sun protection.
  • Stay out of the sun during the midday hours, when rays are strongest.
  • Reapply sunscreen often.

Poison Ivy

If you're allergic, you know how annoying poison ivy can be. The itching and oozing can last up to two weeks -- it just seems longer.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all work the same. Your nemesis is urushiol, the poisonous oil that adheres to your skin and causes the symptoms, says Kathy Burke, MD, PHD, a dermatologist at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City. The itching and rashes don't appear immediately; it typically takes between 5 to 21 days before you feel those effects.

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