Whether you’re in the woods wearing your hiking treads thin or on the patio working the Weber, itchy bumps and painful blisters don’t have to wreck your warm-weather plans—as long as you have a plan of attack for getting rid of your gnarly skin infection fast. Enter our guide to all things summer rash-related. Use it to identify and treat skin problems like poison ivy, heat rash, and chigger bites, and fend off future run-ins with redness.
But before you self-diagnose, remember this: While summer rashes can usually be cleared up with an over-the-counter cream, skin infections that come with a fever, headache, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain require a trip to the doc, warns Lewis Nelson, M.D., a New York City-based emergency medicine doctor and medical toxicologist.
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Heat Rash (a.k.a. Prickly Heat)
What it looks like: Small zit-like bumps on the back and chest, or deep, painful, acne-like breakouts in more severe cases.
How you get it: In hot, humid weather, excess sweating can clog pores, causing the breakouts.
Treat it: Use an anti-itch cream with a combo of camphor and menthol, like Sarna Original Lotion ($12, walgreens.com), calamine lotion, or 1% hydrocortisone cream to help relieve discomfort. Otherwise, you need to wait for the pores to open up on their own for the rash to go away.
See a doc if: You’re still itching after a week or if the rash doesn’t go away on its own. A physician may prescribe a stronger cortisone cream or an anti-acne medication to exfoliate skin and open pores.
Your best defense: Be mindful when you know you’re going to sweat. Skip heavy moisturizers; pick oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreen; and wear loose-fitting clothing instead of sweat-trapping spandex.
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What it looks like: Small, red, and very itchy bumps or blisters that may also burn.
How you get it: Swimmer’s itch is actually an allergic reaction to a parasite found in open water. It burrows into skin and causes an inflammatory reaction.
Treat it: Use anti-itch cream, 1% hydrocortisone cream, or an antihistamine to stop the itch. Colloidal oatmeal or baking soda baths can also soothe skin.
See a doc if: Symptoms don’t disappear after a week.
Your best defense: If you’ve been in infested water, towel off after swimming to decrease your chances of developing the itch.