Thanks to high temperatures and days spent near water, summer is the time of year that we show off our skin the most. It keeps you cool, but it comes at a risk—for burns, bug bites, and skin rashes from poisonous plants. At the middle and end of summer, it’s good to check in to make sure you’re properly caring for and protecting your skin.
How to perform a skin check
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends performing a skin self-exam to check for skin cancer or any other abnormalities. Follow these five steps:
- Examine your body in a full-length mirror.
- Look at underarms, forearms, and palms.
- Look at your legs, between toes, and on the soles of your feet.
- Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp.
- Use a hand mirror to check your back and buttocks.
It’s a good idea to know what your skin looks like when there aren’t any issues. If you see a spot that’s different from others, that has changed somehow, or that itches or bleeds, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
For issues that don’t require an office visit, here’s what doctors say you should do to prevent (and, if needed, to treat) common warm-weather skin problems.
It’s no secret that leaving your skin unprotected from the sun can lead to skin cancer. The AAD estimates that roughly 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer daily. With so many summer days spent outside basking in the sun, it’s important to take extra care to avoid sunburn.
The first step is using a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays each and every time you go outside, says Zain Husain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey. Exposure to UVA waves can cause long-term damage, including skin cancer, while exposure to UVB leads to short-term damage like sunburn.
On top of sunscreen, Dr. Husain recommends wearing large-brimmed hats, UV protective clothing, and UV resistant sunglasses to shield your skin and eyes from harmful radiation. Additionally, Dr. Husain suggests taking supplements like Heliocare to protect against the damage caused by UV radiation and free radicals.
If you do get burned, read more here about how to treat it (and what a healthcare provider can and can’t do to help).
You’ve been spending hours outdoors, in nature. And, unfortunately, getting that close with wildlife can mean bug bites.
Bug spray should be your first line of defense against mosquitoes and ticks—and not just any homemade concoction. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a formula that contains either DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus extract, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. You can use this guide from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the best kind for each outdoor situation you encounter.
If you do get a mosquito bite, monitor it for any unusual signs, such as hives, a large area of swelling and redness, and/or a low fever. You could develop an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite or a variety of viruses including Zika and West Nile Virus. If you notice anything unusual, see your primary care provider.
Ticks are another big outdoor insect problem. The CDC reported 47,743 cases of tick-related illnesses in 2018. State and local health departments reported a total of 33,666 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease the same year. The best way to protect yourself against ticks and tickborne diseases is again with bug spray, but also by consistently checking your skin after being outdoors. It is especially important to check your skin after you have been in tick-ridden areas such as forests, parks, and other grassy areas.
For more information on what to watch for after getting a tick bite, read here.
Roughly 50 million Americans a year experience an allergic reaction to poison oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac, according to the American Skin Association.
To avoid being one of those itchy Americans, learn what these plants look like. Familiarize yourself with the distinctive leaves for each. To further prevent exposure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends wearing long pants tucked into socks when in wooded areas that are likely to have poison vines and washing your skin immediately after any possible exposure.
If you are unable to prevent exposure, you can skip the doctor and try a cold compress or over-the-counter topical corticosteroids, like hydrocortisone cream. If your rash worsens or becomes itchy, visit your primary care provider or dermatologist for a prescription oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone. And if the rash spreads to more the 25% of your body, spreads to areas such as your eyes, mouth or genital areas, and/or you have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, seek medical treatment.