Summer is "officially" almost here, but for many of us the season has already begun with long evenings spent by the lake, backyard barbecues and the welcome sound of an approaching ice cream truck. But with the luxuriously warm days comes something a little less pleasant… summer skin conditions or, as they are known to specialists, "summer dermatoses." We talked to New York City dermatologist Bobby Buka, MD, JD about summer specific skin conditions that we should all keep on our radar. Of course, the most common summer skin ailment is sunburn. It is important to stay protected, but there are quite a few other heat related skin issues that could jeopardize your summer fun. Here are five summer conditions you might not be thinking about, but should be.
Summer Issue: Yeast Infection
First up is the yeast infection, tinea versicolor. This disease is a “superficial yeast infection on the skin” says Buka. It is particularly prevalent in places that are humid all year round like the tropics, but in the summer can be seen across the globe. Buka says this condition presents itself as “tan scaly patches on your back, chest and neck”.
Cause: Tinea versicolor occurs when your skin is exposed to yeast. We pretty much have yeast living on our skin all year long. however in the summer months this yeast that is usually benign can get a bit out of hand. Buka says, “with more sweating comes more favorable conditions” for yeast growth.
Prevent and treat it : Prevent this yeast bonanza by staying clean. Buka says the best preventative measure is to rinse off after a particularly sweaty day. Hop into the shower ASAP after exercising in humid weather. Buka also recommends soap with pyrithione zinc, such as Noble Formula, that one can use in the shower to prevent yeast overgrowth. If tinea versicolor is a recurring issue talk to your doctor or dermatologist about more intense treatments.
Summer Issue: Poison Rash
Hiking and camping are perfect summer activities. However, contracting poison ivy or poison oak can really put a damper on a fabulous day in the great outdoors. The medical name for these issues is contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis refers to any condition that occurs when touching something leads to a rash or allergic reaction on the skin’s surface. Contact dermatitis can cause “itchiness and redness sometimes with some flaking” (of the skin), says Buka. More sever cases can cause blisters, hives or swelling.
Cause: Poison ivy is the most famous of the "contact dermatidities” (nope, that's not a typo!), but Buka says he sees a lot of other types of reactions to plant exposure. Surprisingly, flowers can cause some major summer skin issues. Some possible irritants are lavender, daffodils and alstroemeria flowers. “Chrysanthemums give a wicked contact dermatitis,” says Buka.
Prevent and treat it: The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to be hyper aware of your surrounds, particularly when camping. Get to know what poison ivy and poison oak look like. It is also important to be careful in your parks and backyard. Avoid walking through tall grasses and stick to the paths. Treat these contact issues with over the counter hydrocortisone, according to Buka. However, if the rash is more severe you may need a prescription strength steroid from your own dermatologist or doctor.
Summer Issue: Bug Bites
Bug bites! They are downright annoying but can also lead to some more serious health issues like Lyme disease or West Nile virus. Scratching a bug bite until it bleeds can also lead to infection. The summer months mean fewer clothes, more bugs and more bug bites. Bug bites can range in size from barely there specks to massive welts. “Bug bite size does not correlate to bug or bug size,” says Buka. The idea that “the size of the bite is determined by the bug is a myth”. This makes it difficult for Buka, and other dermatologists to determine the bug’s specific species.
Cause: Initially the “cause” of a bug bite seems pretty straightforward. However, Buka explains that the bug’s decision-making process is more complicated than just easy access to human blood. There are two major reasons why people get bitten by bugs, according to Buka: “Carbon dioxide production, and the lipid mix on the surface of the skin.” Buka explains that mosquitos find humans by determining where carbon dioxide is being produced. As humans, producing carbon dioxide is pretty much unavoidable (we can’t exactly stop breathing to prevent a mosquito bite). Each person’s lipid mixture is a bit more varied. Everyone has a different composition of lipids on the surface of the skin, says Buka. This mixture is made up of cholesterol, triglycerides, ceramides and other fats and certain lipid mixtures are more appealing to bugs. This is why it is common for some people to get bitten more than others.
Prevent and treat it: Unfortunately, your skin’s lipid mix is based on genetics. You can’t change your DNA, but there are some preventative measures that everyone can take to avoid summer bites. The CDC recommends using bug repellents that contain DEET, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. It is important, especially in the summer to sleep inside or in a screened in area (like a tent). If you have a bug bite that is unusually itchy or feels painful, contact your doctor or dermatologist.
Summer Issue: Folliculitis
Do you live in workout clothes or spandex? If you said yes, you could be at risk for developing folliculitis. It is particularly easy to contract this bacterial infection in the summer months. Bacteria, like yeast, love the warmth. They thrive in “warm, moist dark conditions,” says Buka. Essentially summer sweat is bacteria’s dream but it’s definitely not ours. Folliculitis tends to look like red bumps or pustules and is commonly found on shoulders, thighs and bottoms. Folliculitis can be itchy or burn.
Cause: Wearing tight clothes like spandex in warm weather causes folliculitis. “It is especially common in patients that are wearing tight clothes, if you are wearing spandex on the upper thighs and that compresses the hair follicle bacteria is more likely to grow there” Buka says. Folliculitis can also be contracted in hot tubs. It is important to be sure that every hot tub you spend time in is properly chlorinated.
Prevent and treat it: “If you are sweaty, if you’re doing some hot yoga and then you are going out to some humid conditions, rinse off” Buka says. It is important to change out of tight clothes after working out and try not to wear spandex all day in the summer months. Do your best to shower right after a work out. If you know you will be out for the whole day and it is very hot outside, bring a change of clothes. Buka suggests Hibiclens, an antibacterial cleanser that can prevent and treat folliculitis. If you notice something that looks like folliculitis contact your health practitioner, more severe cases require an oral antibacterial.
Summer Issue: Molluscum Virus
Molluscum, this virus is just as unpleasant as its name suggests. The molluscum virus is seen most often in children. While not particularly dangerous, mollusum is annoying. It causes “whitish translucent tan bumps anywhere on the body,” says Buka. These bumps can last for up to four years.
Cause: Molluscum thrives in under chlorinated water, which is why it occurs so often over the summer. The virus can be passed from skin-to-skin contact. Buka explained that “the reason why kids get it so commonly and adults don’t is because the immune system mounts a reaction to the virus. Eventually you can be exposed and not get the bump because your immune system knows how to fight it.” When kids are first exposed to it, the body attacks, and the attack leads to the bumps.
Prevent and treat it: Preventing molluscum can be tricky. No one wants to avoid pools all summer, let alone stop kids from jumping into a pool. Check with the pool owner to make sure that they are properly chlorinating it. It is also important to wash off as soon as you get out of the pool. Maintaining good hygiene is a way to prevent molluscum (as well as many other viruses.)
This article has been updated with additional information about pyrithione zinc soap.