Sunburns, bug bites and heat rash: How to stay protected this summer

BY Kelli Leigh

26th Jun 2023 Wellbeing

Sunburns, bug bites and heat rash: How to stay protected this summer

As much as we love summer, it does come with some downsides, including sunburn and bug bites. Experts share how to protect yourself this summer

Summer brings with it some of our favorite things: longer days, endless pool parties, vacations to far flung places and of course, warmer weather. But while the months of summer breeze by in a flash and leave us to wistfully wish the days would never end, summer brings with it its own set of skin challenges that if not treated, can take a serious toll on your epidermis.

We spoke with several experts to help you devise a plan to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from some of the most common skin ailments that occur during the summer months such as sunburns, heat rashes and bug bites. Read on for their best advice.

The affliction: Sunburns 

Sunburn - how to stay protect this summer

The cause: A sunburn happens when skin is subjected to prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays. While some sun exposure can deliver a healthy dose of vitamin D, most dermatologists recommend taking every precaution under the, ahem, sun, to prevent burning, which can cause lasting skin damage or worse, certain types of cancer. Prevention is especially paramount to small children, whose delicate skin is exceedingly more sensitive to the sun than that of adults. 

The prevention: Dr Mariano Busso, board-certified dermatologist based out of Miami and Beverly Hills, recommends wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen. “An SPF of at least 30 blocks 97 per cent of the sun's UVB rays,” Dr Busso says. For further protection, he suggests timing activities when the sun’s rays aren’t peak. “Try avoiding (going outside during) the hours between 10:00am–3:00pm when UV rays are the strongest. Protect yourself further by wearing clothes and hats.” 

"For further protection, Dr Brusso suggests timing activities when the sun’s rays aren’t peak"

This goes doubly for children, says Dr Noor Hanif Said, also a board-certified dermatologist and member of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom. 

“Kids' skin is particularly sensitive,” says Dr Noor. “For infants less than six months old, it's better to keep them out of the sun completely.” 

The treatment: Obviously, more serious burns will require immediate medical attention, but if you or your kids do end up with a sunburn, there are several things you can do at home to treat less severe burns

Aloe vera gel is a fantastic option for sunburn relief,” says Dr Noor. “Its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties can ease pain and reduce redness.” 

Dr Busso also recommends drinking plenty of water and subduing burns by taking cool showers. “Taking aspirin or ibuprofen and applying cortisone cream also can be helpful,” he says. 

The affliction: Heat rash 

Heat rash - how to stay protected this summer

The cause: According to Dr Busso, heat rashes occur when sweat is trapped under the skin, leading to blistering, red lumps and other related symptoms. Heat rash can be particularly uncomfortable and common with infants whose sweat glands haven’t properly developed yet. 

The prevention: While avoiding heat entirely during the summer may not be possible, Dr Noor recommends spending time in cool, air-conditioned areas during the hottest parts of the day. To further prevent instances of heat rash, Dr Busso advises against wearing tight clothing when sweating in favor of lightweight, breathable attire. 

The treatment: Sarah Roberts, skincare expert and founder of online beauty publication, A Beauty Edit, advises using good old-fashioned hydrocortisone cream to treat heat rashes. “It’s effective at reducing the inflammation and itching associated with uncomfortable skin ailments,” she says. “It's important to have this treatment on hand during summer to offer fast relief.” 

"Hydrocortisone cream is effective at reducing the inflammation and itching"

“But,” she cautions, “avoid using hydrocortisone cream for more than a week, and be sure to never use it on the face unless instructed to do so by a qualified doctor.” 

For something a little less potent than topical hydrocortisone, Dr Noor recommends anhydrous lanolin. “Anhydrous lanolin can also help to prevent duct blockage and stop new lesions from forming,” he says. 

The affliction: Bug bites 

Bug bites - how to stay protected this summer

The cause: The most common bites and stings that itch and cause discomfort in the summer months include those from mosquitoes, ticks, bed bugs, fleas, chiggers and mites.

The prevention: Bug sprays and common sense can often be the best way to prevent bug bites and Dr. Busso advises staying away from areas with still water. “That’s the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes and those bugs can be merciless,” he says. He also recommends using repellents that contain 20–30% DEET on both skin and clothing for maximum benefit.

But Abby Lehner, MSc, an entomologist better known as “Entomology Abby”, acknowledges that some people have concerns surrounding the safety of DEET’s use, particularly on children, pregnant, and lactating people. She suggests a natural repellent for people who want to avoid harsh chemicals. 

“DEET should not be applied more than once a day, whereas non-DEET repellents can typically be reapplied as needed,” she says. 

The treatment: Dr Busso notes that common insect bites will go away without treatment, but may not go without symptoms. An antihistamine can be taken to address the symptoms, he says, which can involve itching and pain. “You can take (oral) antihistamines to reduce swelling, itching and hives or topical, over-the-counter remedies like calamine lotion,” Dr Busso says. He notes that although many of the mosquito bite reactions are allergic in nature, a mosquito bite remover (like the Bug Bite Thing) can help shorten the reaction.

Dr Jake Woods, dermatologist and consultant at Gyalabs, advises the use of some essential oils to help lessen the sting of not only bug bites, but sunburns and heat rashes. “Lavender oil is known for its soothing properties and can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with sunburns, rashes, and insect bites,” he says. “It also has antimicrobial properties that can help prevent infections.”

"Lavender oil is known for its soothing properties and can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain"

David Price, Associate Certified Entomologist for Mosquito Joe urges those who get bitten or stung this summer to resist the urge to scratch. Instead, he advises washing the affected area gently with soap and water so as not to break the skin. Price also advises several at-home remedies for those who don’t want to apply a topical steroid. 

“Applying honey to the affected bites will reduce inflammation as it has properties for healing wounds,” he says. “A paste of baking soda and water to the affected area has (also) proven effective at reducing itching sensations.” 

One final thought: for residents in large metropolitan areas, your local city council may offer insect vector control, often free of charge. For those experiencing massive quantities of pests over the summer months, a simple phone call to discuss your options might be the most important call you make this summer. 

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