Fresh as a daisy

Tips for dealing with summertime skin woes

Welcome summer and the health benefits it brings. It's that time of the year again, when rising temperatures and increased body heat make us less likely to enjoy fatty foods but opt for fresh vegetables and fruit that give our body a wide range of nutrients. And the warm, sunny season tempts us to increase outdoor activities.

But the bad news is that the season brings with it skin problems.

Even if they don't suffer from an allergic reaction, most people are more likely to develop heat rashes during summer time because they sweat buckets.

These tiny and itchy bumps, according to Assist Prof Pawinee Rerknimitr from King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital's Division of Dermatology, result from obstructions in the sweat glands. They are most commonly found in skin folds where the sweat accumulates and areas where clothes rub against the body _ particularly the neck, the chest and under the breasts.

"People sweat a lot. And accumulation of sweat and increased dead skin cells can make the sweat gland ducts become clogged and then bring on prickly heat. And the bumps cause intense itching when sweating," said Dr Pawinee.

The nasty bumps usually go away on their own in a couple of days. When the rash pops up, the dermatologist advised taking cool showers more often and staying in an air-conditioned environment to cope with the problem.

"If they flare up, try to avoid activities that increase sweat like exercising. We should wear loose-fitting garments made of light-weight fabrics as they make us feel comfortable and also allow the sweat to pass and help prevent the rashes," she said. If the condition persists and becomes worse, people may need professional help.

"If the rashes last longer than two or three weeks or develop increased redness and swelling in localised areas of the skin _ signs of infection _ see a doctor," she said.

According to Dr Vesarat Wessagowit from the Institute of Dermatology, obese people who have more folds of skin are at increased risk of developing rashes as the folds can act as hosts for bacteria and fungi, while the extra folds of skin often rub against themselves. As a result, it's very important for them to maintain good personal hygiene and keep the folds of skin as dry as possible.

Frequent cool showers, talcum powder and fans can help reduce moisture in the folds of skin, absorb excessive sweat and sometimes reduce the rash in the folds in obese people. And zinc oxide barrier cream can help reduce friction and skin irritation. To tackle the root of the problem, however, Dr Vesarat said shedding weight is the key.

"People with weight problems are especially prone to skin problems as well," said Dr Vesarat. "A healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and exercise should lead to weight loss. And once they manage to reach a healthy weight, most obesity-related skin conditions can be improved."

Choosing personal cleansing products and making reasonable use of them is of paramount importance. Dr Pawinee recommended using a synthetic detergent (syndet) or a mild soap to cleanse the body.

"Even surface active materials in soap have a good cleansing quality but they can at the same time make the skin dry. Synthetic cleansing materials in syndets have a pH value similar to the skin's natural pH. And syndet doesn't damage the skin's natural acid surface so that helps restore the moisture balance of the skin," she said. Overuse of soaps or other personal cleaning products can also damage the skin.

"People can bathe as often as they wish as cool water brings out heat from the body. Wash away dirt with water and use soap to cleanse the folds of skin including the armpits and groin. However, using too much soap can cause dry skin. And gently wash affected areas with water. Avoid washing them with soap," Dr Pawinee said.

When it comes to body and foot odours, most people believe that regular use of anti-bacterial soap can help take away the unpleasant smells. However, Dr Pawinee advised using anti-bacterial soap only when necessary.

People who wear socks and closed toe shoes all day and those who wear tight-fitting clothes are more likely to develop odour that can be caused by a fungal infection or athlete's foot. To get rid of the smell, she advised washing the feet with medicated soap and leaving it on for a couple of minutes before rinsing it off. By doing this, the smell should be banished in weeks. And then stop using the medicated soap.

"Many of us think that all bacteria are bad and we need to sanitise ourselves. In fact, some types of germs are good for us. Using medicated soap to cleanse the body regularly can kill the good germs that we can benefit from. Some good bacteria can help us defend against harmful bacteria so that we don't easily develop infections," she said, adding that to help remove unwanted odours naturally, people can use essential oil.

When harsh soaps rob the skin of its natural moisture barrier, making the outer layer itchy and increasing the chance of getting scratches and cuts, Dr Pawinee recommended applying a moisturiser to rough and dry skin. Jojoba oil and coconut oil extracts are good choices.

It's imperative for people to get enough water in summer, the dermatologist said, because dehydration and prolonged sun exposure can lead to dry skin.

"If people are physically active or need to stay in a hot and dry environment for a long period of time, they may need to drink more than the recommended amount of eight to 10 glasses a day. They need to drink before they get thirsty. So try to take regular sips of water throughout the day.

"People who like swimming outdoors should choose a good time to enjoy it. Stay out of the midday sun, from 10am-4pm, when the sunlight is strongest. The best time to enjoy swimming in summer is early morning or late afternoon when the sun's rays are less intense," she said.

About the author

Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok
Position: Life reporter