Don't scratch it! Expert's guide to beating itchy skin this summer
How to beat the summer itch! Expert reveals how to spot and treat skin irritations made worse in the heat – from eczema to dried sweat
- Itchy skin is often a symptom and not a cause, which can be made worse in heat
- Scratching stimulates serotonin, which provides relief but increases irritation
- From prickly heat eczema a skincare expert explains how to combat the itch
Itchy skin can strike at any time of year but the intense heat of the summer heatwave can make it worse than usual.
From heat rash to dried sweat, soaring temperatures can pose a range of problems for people with sensitive skin.
Speaking to FEMAIL, aesthetic expert Elizabeth Rimmer, founder of London Professional Aesthetics, explained how to identify what exactly is causing your pesky itch – and how to go about treating it.
The main piece of advice is to avoid scratching at all costs, no matter how tempting it might be.
Scratching stimulates the release of serotonin, which explains that ‘borderline blissful relief sensation’, Elizabeth explained.
However, scratching disrupts the skin barrier, increasing inflammation and potential for infection and ultimately stimulates that awful itch.
Celebrity aesthetic expert and founder of London Professional Aesthetics, Elizabeth Rimmer has compiled a guide to common itchy skin conditions and how to treat them. Stock image
Prickly Heat / Heat Rash
Itchy skin associated with prickly heat usually looks like a mild rash with small raised spots with or without swelling.
Elizabeth explains: ‘On lighter skins the spots may appear red, on darker skins, redness may be less obvious. It can feel prickly as well as itchy (hence the name!).
‘This affects adults and children on any part of the body. This rash usually results from excessive sweating and can show itself a few days after the heat. It can also result from a difficulty in cooling down (especially true for babies).’
How to treat it:
‘Keep Calm and Stay Cool’, says Elizabeth.
‘Try to keep cool. Stating the obvious but it’s important to do so. Keeping cool means wearing loose cotton clothing and keeping cool in bed – lose the duvet and avoid man made fabrics.
‘Make sure you drink plenty of water, keep your bath or shower water towards tepid – cool and pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it.
‘Try to avoid scratching – believe me I know it’s not easy – apply cold compresses or tap or pat the skin, whatever you need to do to avoid the urge to scratch.
‘If you’re struggling your pharmacist can help – they may suggest antihistamines, calamine lotion, emollients or even a mild steroid cream.
Itches caused by sweating
Dr Lauren and Dr Miriam, cosmetic doctors and co-founders of skin health clinic, Victor & Garth have identified sweating as a cause of itchy skin in summer.
There are two types of sweat from two different glands.
Common sweat is produced by the eccrine glands all over the skin and is mostly comprised of water while stress sweat is produced by apocrine glands at the hair roots under the arms and in the groin which is produced in response to extreme stress and also contains fat.
Where sweat can be problematic is that a build up of sweat throughout the day allows skin bacteria to flourish making the skin itchy, sore and in some cases quite smelly.
How to treat it:
Excessive sweating affects 5 per cent of people (also known as hyperhidrosis) and can occur even at rest, in a cool room. For those that suffer, it can cause and low confidence, embarrassment, and social anxiety.
While deodorants can be used to reduce bad odours, anti-perspirants can help reduce sweating itself but it’s really important to choose aluminum free option as it’s a healthier route to combatting sweat.
Another option is to seek treatment and Botox (Botulinum toxin) can be used really effectively to help with excess sweat to help reduce localised sweating on the scalp, under arms, palms and feet and overall help to mitigate itchy skin.
It may take up to a week to start seeing results, but these will last anywhere from 6-9 months. You would expect to see sweat levels reduce to an average person’s baseline, or in some cases, patients will experience up to 90 per cent dryness.
Another inevitable summer itch comes from mosquitos.
Usually almost impossible to detect until the deed is done, leaving you with a small flesh coloured or red welt which you scratch at your peril.
‘It’s true that some skins are more appealing than others,’ says Elizabeth. ‘But we can all fall victim on any body part.
‘Although you can find mosquitos anywhere, they like still water so be extra mindful when visiting lakes or other bodies of water.’
How to treat it:
‘If you can resist the urge to scratch, mosquito bites can settle quite quickly but that is easier said than done,’ Elisabeth says.
‘If you need a bit of help you can try antihistamine tablets or cream, or even a very mild steroid cream.’
But if you may prefer to avoid getting bitten in the first place then there are plenty of anti mosquito plug-ins, diffusers, candles and sprays you can purchase.
‘You can also apply mosquito repellent to your skin. there is a wide range of options on the market for you to choose from.’
In some cases mosquitos can carry disease, depending on where in the world you are.
In these instances you might need to seek medical attention so you can be prescribed prophylactic medications to reduce the risk of mosquito borne diseases.
Eczema is a chronic dry skin condition that you are more likely to suffer from if one or both of your parents or one of your siblings has it.
Eczema sufferers will have areas of dry, flaky irritated skin. Over time affected skin can be thicker or change colour.
During bad flares it is also possible to experience infection on top of eczema, as the skin is not doing its usual job of keeping bacteria out.
It can really vary in severity from very mild to very severe and anywhere in between. The symptoms can and do usually fluctuate.
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body but common areas are behind the knees, the creases of the elbows and backs of the hands.
Unfortunately, eczema symptoms can be aggrevated by heat.
How to treat it:
People suffering with eczema can benefit from a wide range of treatments depending on how their skin is and because this condition changes, it means that treatments will also change depending on the symptoms at that particular time.
The mainstay of treatment for Eczema is around hydration. The skin is less able to retain moisture so trying to add moisture back into the skin during and after washing is essential.
Other treatments that may be needed include, steroid creams and ointments, antibiotics in the event of infection and more.
From heat rash to dried sweat, soaring temperatures can pose a range of problems for people with sensitive skin. Stock image
Idiopathic Urticaria is the posh name for a common itchy rash. It basically means an allergic rash of unknown cause.
The rash will cause itchy hives or welts that will appear on a part of your body, go down and then reappear somewhere else.
Elizabeth says: ‘When it comes to allergy we really want to know the cause and being told “unknown cause” may feel like a “non diagnosis” but it’s just the way it is.
‘It usually lasts around six weeks or longer and you should seek medical advice. Never self diagnose anything that lasts longer than a couple of weeks.’
This type of rash can be triggered by a number of different factors including stress, infection and food.
How to treat it:
You may be asked by your doctor to take daily antihistamine tablets for a few weeks to normalise your histamine levels.
Itchy skin in pregnancy is a thing and Elizabeth says that it is important to update your midwife or doctor with any new symptom.
She explains: ‘Something like itching can seem innocuous but in rare cases it may be an important sign and you will likely need a blood test just to make sure all is well.
‘Itching in pregnancy can be all over the body and can feel really quite distressing. The most common reason this happens is simply down to the alteration in blood hormone levels.’
How to treat it:
All the usual itch management applies. Keep cool in loose cotton clothing (in bed at night also), drink plenty and keep your skin hydrated with emollients.
Try to avoid scratching – try cool compresses, patting, tapping and fans. Don’t be afraid to ask your medical team for advice on how to manage itching, she says.
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