Skin hacks: insect bites, sunburn & heat rash

If we spend our time in the summer sun responsibly, with a good mineral sunscreen applied liberally all over (focussing on the face and neck), it can work wonders on our skin. But while some spend their summers looking fresh-faced and radiant, with a clearer complexion and a healthy glow, others aren’t quite so lucky. Heat rash, sunburn, insect bites and an uncomfortable layer of sweat can have us wishing wistfully for winter. Before you start doing a rain dance in a desperate bid to escape the heat, try these tried and trusted tips from Liz and her Wellbeing Team to calm heat rash, soothe insect bites and cool sunburn.

Heat rash treatments

Heat rash or ‘prickly heat’ is triggered in hot weather when our sweat glands get blocked, resulting in prickly red spots on our skin. Although not dangerous or contagious, it’s itchy and uncomfortable. It will go down of its own accord over a few days, but if you want to speed-treat heat rash, follow these tips:

  • Try to prevent the skin from getting sweatier as this irritates the rash further. Wear loose fitting clothing made with natural fibres, such as cotton, silk and bamboo that are kinder to sore skin.
  • Avoid using perfumed cleansers on broken skin – the extra sting isn’t worth it! Even natural essential oils can exacerbate the stinging.
  • However tempting, do not scratch your heat rash, as this will make it worse and could lead to infection. Instead, wrap an ice pack (or frozen peas if they’re all you have to hand) in a towel and press gently on the irritated area to cool it and lessen the itch.

Bug bites

How many of us have enjoyed an evening outside with friends, only to discover later that while one of us is covered in itchy, angry red bites, the other has escaped without so much as a nibble from a mosquito or midge? New research suggests this may be down to our skin microbes. We each have a unique combination of bacteria on our skin – often as a result of our genetics – and research has suggested that mozzies like microbes more than others… Keeping certain fragrant plants and herbs, such as mint, lemon and clove, in the vicinity helps to repel pesky insects. Discover more natural insect repellents here. If you’ve done all you can to keep the bugs at bay and you’ve still been munched on, try our tips to stop the bites itching.

  • As with heat rash, a cold compress or ice cubes can help to alleviate insect bite swelling.
  • If the itching is unbearable, ask a pharmacist for hydrocortisone cream to help calm it down.
  • Try your very hardest to avoid bursting the blister or scratching the top off if the bite scabs over, as doing so could increase the risk of infection.
  • If the insect leaves the sting in, remove it by scraping sideways using the hard edge of a credit card. Squeezing the bite with your fingers or pinching it with tweezers could actually spread the venom.
  • To numb the skin and break out of the itch-scratch-itch cycle, try dabbing some teething gel (with local anaesthetic) or topical anaesthetic cream on the bite.
  • Mix a dot of Vaseline or purified lanolin with powdered bromelain and papain and apply this to the bite to calm swelling and ease itching.

How to cool sunburn

While spending 20 minutes unprotected in the sun each day is one of the most effective ways of topping up on much-needed vitamin D, over-exposure to the sun or heading out unprotected between 11am-3pm can cause sunburn. No matter how lovely we think a bronzed glow looks, it’s so important to remember that tanned skin is still damaged skin and increases our risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing in future. It’s vitally important to give skin some delicate TLC when we’ve overstayed our welcome in the sun – but avoiding sunburn in the first place is the only way to prevent skin from harm.

  • Cover up with non-see-through clothing in the sun, as the fabric will block harmful UV rays from reaching the skin.
  • Use a mineral sunscreen: these sit on the skin and use minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to create a physical barrier that scatters UV rays away, rather than synthetic chemicals that absorb rays into the skin. These are also more environmentally friendly, as certain chemicals in conventional sunscreens can have a catastrophic effect on marine life – even bleaching coral reefs. Find out some of our favourite ocean-friendly mineral sunscreens here.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming, even if your sunscreen claims to be waterproof…
  • Use a pure aloe vera gel (or snap off an aloe vera leaf if you’re somewhere tropical) to rehydrate and soothe the skin as much as possible when you’re tanned or sunburned.
  • Drink plenty of fluid to avoid further d Try adding fruity ice cubes to drinks or make some of our healthy ice lollies to help fluids keep topped up.
  • Keep burnt skin fully covered until it has recovered. Don’t be tempted to ‘top up’ your tan with further sun damage, instead, try a fake tan! Banish thoughts of carrot-coloured legs, or fingers dipped in a packet of cheesy Wotsits – self-tanners, bronzers and tinted moisturisers have come a long way in recent years.

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