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Tips to protect your skin this summer

For many, summertime skincare begins and ends with sunblock. While protection from sunburns is important, there are a number of other seasonal threats that can wreak havoc on our skin. Catharine Arnold, MD, Internal Medicine and Rheumatology, Northeast Medical Group, Guilford, reviews these threats, offers tips for avoiding them and what to do if you need treatment.

"Skincare is important year-round, but the summer months bring unique issues that everyone should be aware of,” Dr. Arnold said. “From ticks to sunburn to poison ivy, we want to be sure that everyone is able to enjoy these warmer months while taking good care of their skin.”


Ticks, specifically deer ticks, are a summertime concern because they can transmit Lyme disease to humans. Ticks can attach to any part of the body. However, they prefer warm, dark areas like the groin and armpits. In most cases, the tick must be attached for at least 24 hours before the disease is transmitted. Most people are infected through the bites of immature ticks that are hard to see because of their size (less than 2 millimeters).

“The first thing people should consider when it comes to prevention is insect repellent, especially if it has DEET [diethylmetatoluamide],” Dr. Arnold said. “Wearing long pants also helps but can be impractical when it’s really hot. Ideally, you should take a shower after you’ve been in areas where ticks live, paying attention to wash those parts of the body that they’re attracted to.”

Dr. Arnold also suggests inspecting areas of the body where clothing ends like waistbands, the bottom hem of pants or shorts and sleeve cuffs. People are encouraged to contact their doctor if they find a bite mark on any part of the body. A tick bite may be identified by a flat red painless rash or the classic bullseye shape that gets bigger over time. While classic, that rash isn’t as common as many might think. Infectious disease specialists with Yale New Haven Health note that the rash only looks like a bullseye in about one out of 10 patients. The bite can be followed by joint or muscle pain, fever, chills, nausea, headache and facial weakness if it transmits Lyme disease.

Poisonous Plants

When the sap oil from poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac gets on the skin, it can cause a red rash that may include bumps or weeping blisters. Contrary to popular belief, fluids from these blisters are not contagious and do not spread the rash.

“We see a ton of this in the summer because you can get it so many different ways,” Dr. Arnold said. “Hiking, gardening or doing yard work can all bring you into contact with these plants. You should consider wearing long sleeves or pants in these situations, but also be mindful that the plant oils will stay on clothing and skin until washed. So don’t wipe your face with your arm or shirt if you may have had contact with any of these plants. You don’t want to make an infection worse by spreading it to unaffected areas.”

Over-the-counter products can help treat these rashes. Creams like calamine lotion and antihistamines like Benadryl® can relive the itching. Dr. Arnold recommends calling your doctor if the rash is severe or covers a large part of the body.

“We can prescribe prednisone [a corticosteroid medication] in those cases,” she said. “That is very effective when taken for 10 to 14 days.”


Any time spent in the sun without protective sunscreen increases the risk of skin-damaging sunburn. Depending on the severity of the burn, symptoms may include painfully warm and tender skin, headache, fever and nausea. Continued overexposure to the sun can also lead to an increased risk for skin cancer.

“The number-one way to avoid a sunburn is to use a sunblock with a high SPF [sun protection factor],” Dr. Arnold suggests. “I usually start with an SPF of 50 and make sure to reapply as directed on the bottle.”

Other methods for protecting the skin against sunburn include wearing a hat with a wide brim and UPF clothing. UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor, which rates how much of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the fabric.

Treatment for sunburns includes over-the-counter pain relievers and low-dose hydrocortisone creams. Sunburn sufferers should also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Dr. Arnold advises contacting a doctor if the sunburn:

  • is severe with blisters and covers a large portion of the body
  • includes a fever higher than 101 degrees, headache, dehydration, confusion, nausea or chills
  • causes extreme pain that lasts longer than 48 hours

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