Expert’s guide to tackling itchy skin this summer, complete with causes and treatments
Itchy skin can occur at any time of the year, but the intense heat of the summer heatwave can make it worse than usual.
From heat rash to dried sweat, rising temperatures can bring a range of problems for people with sensitive skin.
In conversation with FEMAIL, aesthetics expert Elizabeth Rimmer, founder of London Professional Aesthetics explained how to identify what exactly is causing your annoying itch — and how to treat it.
The number one piece of advice is to avoid scratching at all costs, no matter how tempting it may be.
Scratching stimulates the release of serotonin, which explains that “boundary feeling of blissful relief,” Elizabeth explained.
However, scratching disrupts the skin barrier, increasing inflammation and the risk of infection, and ultimately stimulating that awful itch.
Renowned aesthetics expert and founder of London Professional Aesthetics, Elizabeth Rimmer has put together a guide to common itchy skin conditions and how to treat them. Image from a photo agency
Prickly heat / heat rash
Itchy skin associated with burning heat usually looks like a mild rash with small raised areas, with or without swelling.
Elizabeth explains: “The patches can appear red on fair skin, but the redness can be less noticeable on darker skin. It can feel both tingly and itchy (hence the name!).
“This affects adults and children on all parts of the body. This rash usually results from excessive sweating and may show up a few days after the heat. It can also result from difficulty cooling down (especially in babies).’
How to treat it:
“Keep calm and keep your cool,” says Elizabeth.
“Try to keep your cool. State the obvious, but it’s important to do so. Staying cool means wearing loose cotton clothing and staying cool in bed – ditch the covers and avoid artificial fabrics.
“Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, keep your bath or shower rather lukewarm – cool down and pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it.
“Try to avoid scratching – believe me, I know it’s not easy – apply cold compresses or pat or pat the skin, whatever you have to do to avoid the urge to scratch.”
“If you’re having trouble, your pharmacist can help – they can suggest antihistamines, calamine lotions, emollients or even a mild steroid cream.
itching from sweating
dr Lauren and Dr. Miriam, cosmetic physicians and co-founders of the Skin Health Clinic, Victor & Garth, have identified sweating as the cause of itchy skin in the summer.
There are two types of sweat from two different glands.
Normal sweat is produced by the eccrine glands all over the skin and is mostly water, while stress sweat is produced by the apocrine glands at the hair roots under the arms and groin, which is produced in response to extreme exertion and also contains fat.
Where sweat can be problematic is that a buildup of sweat throughout the day allows skin bacteria to thrive, making skin itchy, sore, and in some cases quite smelly.
How to treat it:
Excessive sweating affects 5 percent of people (also known as hyperhidrosis) and can occur even while resting in a cool room. For those who suffer from it, it can lead to low self-confidence, embarrassment, and social anxiety.
While deodorants can be used to reduce bad odors, antiperspirants can help reduce sweating itself, but it’s really important to choose an aluminum-free option as it’s a healthier way to combat sweat.
Another option is to seek treatment and Botox (Botulinum toxin) can be used really effectively to help with excessive sweating, to reduce localized sweating on the scalp, under arms, palms and feet and overall to help reduce itching to relieve skin.
It can take up to a week to see the first results, but they last between 6 and 9 months. You would expect sweat levels to reduce to the average person’s baseline level, or in some cases patients will experience up to 90 percent dryness.
Another inevitable summer itch comes from mosquitoes.
Usually almost impossible to see until the deed is done, leaving you with a small flesh-colored or red welt that you scratch at your own risk.
“It’s true that some skins are more appealing than others,” says Elizabeth. “But we can all fall prey to any part of the body.
“Although mosquitoes are found everywhere, they like still water, so take extra care when visiting lakes or other bodies of water.”
How to treat it:
“If you can resist the urge to scratch, mosquito bites can go away pretty quickly, but that’s easier said than done,” Elisabeth says.
“If you need a little help, you can try antihistamine pills or cream, or even a very mild steroid cream.”
But if you prefer not to get bitten in the first place, then there are plenty of anti-mosquito plug-ins, diffusers, candles, and sprays you can buy.
“You can also put mosquito repellent on your skin. There is a wide variety of options on the market to choose from.’
In some cases, mosquitoes can transmit diseases, depending on where in the world you are.
In these cases, you may need to see a doctor for a prescription prophylactic drugs 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 have it.
Eczema sufferers have areas of dry, scaly, irritated skin. Over time, the affected skin may thicken or change color.
During bad flare-ups, it’s also possible to get an infection on top of eczema because the skin isn’t doing its usual job of keeping bacteria out.
It can really vary in severity from very mild to very severe and anywhere in between. Symptoms can and usually will vary.
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but common areas are behind the knees, the creases of the elbows, and the backs of the hands.
Unfortunately, eczema symptoms can be made worse by heat.
How to treat it:
People suffering from eczema can benefit from a wide range of treatments depending on their skin condition, and as that condition changes it means treatments also change depending on the symptoms at that particular point in time.
The mainstay of treating eczema is staying hydrated. Skin is less able to retain moisture, so it’s important to rehydrate skin during and after washing.
Other treatments that may be needed include steroid creams and ointments, antibiotics in case of infection, and more.
From heat rash to dried sweat, rising temperatures can bring a range of problems for people with sensitive skin. Image from a photo agency
Idiopathic urticaria is the fancy name for a common itchy skin rash. It basically means an allergic rash of unknown cause.
The rash causes itchy hives or welts that appear on one part of your body, go down, and then reappear elsewhere.
Elizabeth says: “When it comes to allergies we really want to know the cause and saying ‘unknown cause’ might feel like ‘non-diagnosis’ but that’s just the way it is.
“It usually lasts about six weeks or more and you should see a doctor. Never make a diagnosis yourself that lasts more than a few weeks.’
This type of rash can be triggered by a number of different factors, including stress, infection, and food.
How to treat it:
Your doctor may tell you to take antihistamine tablets daily for a few weeks to help normalize your histamine levels.
Itchy skin in pregnancy is one thing, and Elizabeth says it’s important to let your midwife or doctor know about any new symptoms.
She explains: “Something like itching can seem harmless, but on rare occasions it can be an important sign and you’ll likely need a blood test just to make sure everything’s okay.
“Itching during pregnancy can occur all over the body and feel very distressing. The most common reason for this is simply the change in hormone levels in the blood.”
How to treat it:
All usual itch management applies. Stay cool in loose cotton clothing (even in bed at night), drink plenty of fluids, and keep your skin hydrated with emollients.
Try to avoid scratching – try cool compresses, pats, pats, and fans. Don’t be afraid to ask your medical team for advice on how to manage the itch, she says.