Expert tips to treat summer skin problems

Summer can mean long days, sunshine and vacation getaways.  But it can also mean bug bites, bee stings, and sunburn.

This time of year is crunch time for Dr. Fiona Zwald, who is with Dermatology Consultants of Atlanta, which is affiliated with Piedmont Atlanta.

"You know because the sun is out, and summer is here, and kids are out of school,” she says.

Dr. Zwald says you don’t really need to see a doctor for a lot of common summer skin problems.

Sunburn is one you’re best off avoiding by protecting your skin with sunscreen, and staying out of the sun during the heat of the day.

Some people, though, have a hard time with sunscreen because it can sting and cause skin reactions.

"You have your physical sunscreens, which are generally inert substances, and don't cause any reactions on the skin."

The physical sunscreens have ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which provide a protective barrier against the sun.

"Then you have your chemical sunscreens, which, in essence, is a combination of the physical sunscreen with some chemical sunscreens thrown in,” says Dr. Zwald.

Chemical sunscreens, with ingredients like avobenzone, offer better sun protection, Dr. Zwald says.

But they're more likely to irritate your skin, especially your face.

The fix: switch to a physical sunblock.

And what about chlorine in pool water, which can dry out your skin?

"So we recommend, for some patients, just using a cover on their face of Vaseline,” says Dr. Zwald.  “Especially if you are a lap swimmer."

When you get out of the water, Dr. Zwald says wash off your skin with a mild cleanser and apply moisturizer.

If you're outside and sweating in the heat,  you can develop a red, sometimes angry red rash known as folliculitis.

"And that is usually treated with a gentle, mild cleansing agent, a very mild steroid cream, and an topical antibiotic agent,” says Zwald.

Another summer skin hazard, bug bites and stings can also typically be treated at home with a hydrocortisone cream or ointment and an oral antihistamine like Benadryl.

If you stumble across poison ivy, Dr. Zwald says, gently clean the skin and apply -- again -- a hydrocortisone ointment.  Calamine lotion can also help with the itching.

And, if the skin reaction is pretty widespread, Zwald says you might want to ask your doctor for a short-course of an oral steroid to knock it down.

“Because it is really itchy for patients,” she says.

A few just-in-case items to pick up at your drugstore?  Grab a hydrocortisone ointment or cream and an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl.  You may want to also pick up some aloe vera gel and some calamine lotion to relieve itching.

And, while you’re there, grab some bug repellant.  Choose one with an active ingredient like DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.  Follow the directions and try to stay inside around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes tend to be most active, and most likely to bite.