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Managing itchy skin during summer heat

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Does the skin feel itchy and irritated under the burning sun? This is common, especially for people with eczema or similar skin diseases. Skin is our body's natural barrier; when damaged, it becomes dry-the dryness leads to increased sensitivity to environmental triggers, causing itchiness and irritation.

A hot and humid summer is harsh on our skin. During this time, we sweat profusely. This leads to the gradual accumulation of many minerals on our skin, exacerbating damage. The commonest manifestations of such damage are itchiness and irritation, compounded by excess heat, which eventually clogs the sweat glands.

The symptoms may worsen in skin disease patients, e.g., eczema. Itching could be quite frequent and severe, leading to bumps and blisters. There is also an increased risk of fungal or bacterial infection.

There are ways by which we can protect our skin from this menace. Doctors recommend two strategies- staying away from the heat and minimising sweating. This can be achieved by reducing outdoor activities during summer, leaving home only when necessary or when the heat is less. If possible, air conditioning should be installed at home. An air purifier is also an option. This will protect the indoor air from allergens and protect the skin. Drinking enough water is critical, not only for summer but at all times, to keep a normal body temperature.

A proper bath removes sweat, dirt, and germs from the skin. For patients with dry skin due to skin disease, a daily bath of a maximum of 10 minutes duration and using lukewarm water is suggested. During summer, once-a-day baths are recommended for everyone. The bath water should be clean and warm. Harsh soaps and antibacterial or deodorant body washes are deemed irritating. Instead, a mild body wash or cleanser, as labelled, should be utilised.

Once the bath is over, a gentle pat down with a clean towel is the best option instead of rushing to dry the skin. After that, a moisturiser must be applied to trap the moisture from the bath into the skin. Products containing ceramides and lipids are good for the skin barrier. Generally, there is a 5-minute window to do this.

Going outside is unavoidable, but we can take precautions. Cotton clothes and wide-brimmed hats are the recommendations. Anything made of wool, nylon, rough linen or stiff fabric irritates the skin. Clothes should be loose-fitting to allow air circulation. Extra clothes may need to be carried depending on the expected duration of the outside stay. The purpose is to change as soon as the ones we wear are wet from sweat.

Sunscreens offer great protection from heat when going out. Many brands are available. Avoid the chemical ones if you have sensitive skin. A better option is a physical, water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF-30 or above.

Things like menthol can help relieve itching. Ice packs and wet clothes applied for 5-10 minutes have the same effect. Wet wrap therapy is already popular, which entails soaking and rubbing a copious amount of moisturiser on the affected area and then wrapping a clean cloth soaked in water.

We should be cautious about our choice of skincare products. Some may contain ingredients unsuitable for our skin, worsening the symptoms of heat irritation and itching symptoms. Generally, anything with artificial colours or fragrances may be a bit harsh for people with dry, sensitive skin.

One final thing: many of us are enthusiastic about exercise from a healthy lifestyle perspective. However, exercise can generate a lot of sweat. Therefore, it is better to try exercising early in the morning or after sunset, wear loose garments while exercising, and take a shower following the exercise.

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