Longer days, barbecues in the garden, solo sunbathing at home (not in parks!) - there are so many things we love about the warm weather once it finally arrives.
But the inevitable heat rash, or prickly heat, (cue burning, stinging, itching - you get the drift) really isn't one of them.
So, in a bid to keep our limbs rash-free this summer, we enlisted the best dermatologists in the business, Dr Stefanie Williams and Dr. Justine Kluk, to fill us in on how to stop the unsightly (and oh-so-itchy) bumps from ruining your cool.
What Is Heat Rash?
Before we get to the good bit, it pays to know exactly what you're treating.
There's 'sweat rash' (prickly heat) and 'sun allergy' (PLE aka polymorphic light eruption), both have similar symptoms and are often confused, so here's what you need to know to be able to tell the difference.
'Prickly heat, otherwise known as Miliaria, occurs when sweat ducts get obstructed, sweat leaks then into the skin and the skin gets inflamed around that tiny leakage. A prickly rash appears with red, very itchy little bumps (papules)', explains Dr Stefanie Williams.
'The sweat ducts can be blocked by an overgrowth of bacteria which normally live on our skin, which leads to a ‘sticky’ by-product blocking up the sweat ducts and trapping sweat under the skin. Up to 30% of people may develop this under certain trigger conditions, which is naturally most common in hot, humid climates', Dr Williams clarifies.
Although the effect they have on skin can look similar, PLE on the other hand is an allergy to the sun.
'PLE is a common form of a reaction to UV light that often occurs in young women in spring and summer. The name ‘polymorphic’ refers to the fact that the rash can appear in many different shapes or forms, although in one person it usually looks the same every time it appears', says Dr Williams .
The difference? The location of the ever attractive rash.
Dr Williams explains, 'They can look quite similar, but while heat rash occurs mostly in occluded skin areas prone to sweating, PLE occurs on skin that has been exposed to the sun recently (but traditionally might be covered with clothing, so isn’t ‘used’ to the sun).'
Your skin is at risk of UV exposure anywhere, and what with the sunshine being nothing short of divine recently (thank you, weather gods) it's never been more important to protect your limbs.
How To Prevent Heat Rash
Because prevention is always better than cure, right?
1. Choose The Right SPF
The obvious way to keep heat rash at arms length is to slather on the SPF religiously, but Dr. Justine Kluk mentions that it has to include both UVA as well as standard UVB protection to be worth your while in reducing the risks of breaking out in red bumps.
'Look for the UVA symbol or the words 'broad spectrum' on the label,' she advises.
2. Take A Course Of Oral Steroids
'For those whose holiday is ruined by prickly heat every year, taking a 5-7 day course of oral steroids starting a couple of days before you are due to travel may prevent a severe attack,' says Dr. Kluk.
However, as with all medication, Dr. Kluk stresses the importance of discussing this with a Consultant Dermatologist or GP experienced in heat rash and skin conditions.
3. Train Your Skin
'For PLE, prevention is an important measure. This can be attempted by slowly getting your skin used to the sun at the beginning of the sunny season or prior to a sunny holiday', explains Dr Williams.
'But, of course, common sense should apply, so that the skin isn’t exposed long enough to burn', advises Dr Kluk.
4. Cover Up
As well as applying a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, Dr. Kluk recommends investing in densely woven sun protection clothing, which can reduce the risk of heat rash even further.
And before you dismiss the idea completely for fear of turning into a pool of sweat, it isn't just any old clothing. It has the ability to obstruct, absorb and reflect the UV radiation that leads to irritation and most fabrics are super-light. Try The Upside and Ward Whillas for wearable options.
5. Avoid Sweating As Much As Possible
We're not talking about applying layers and layers of deodorant. Sounds almost impossible but staying cool is the aim of the game.
'Prevention of sweat/heat rash includes avoiding sweating as much as possible. Even for only a few hours per day (e.g. an air-conditioned office) is helpful. Also, a cool shower during a hot day might help.
'Avoid over-dressing, occlusive clothes and friction/rubbing from clothes. Furthermore, you should avoid any irritation of the skin (e.g. excessive soap etc.) and avoid using rich, greasy moisturisers and heavy sunscreens', advises Dr Williams.
How To Treat Heat Rash
1. Take A Daily Antihistamine
That's right, those little white tablets aren't just good for alleviating the symptoms of hay fever.
'Taken daily, an antihistamine may help to reduce the itch associated with the rash,' she advises.
Cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine are less likely to make you feel drowsy, but remember to take them as your GP, a pharmacist or the leaflet describes.
2. Swap Out Your Shower Gel
While there's nothing more luxe than a beautifully scented shower gel that lathers up a dream, you might want to swap it out for something kinder if you're battling heat rash.
Dr. Kluk recommends a gentle, emollient-based body wash as not to irritate the skin further.
3. Apply A Steroid Cream
'For very itchy, raised, red or swollen areas, a steroid cream may be prescribed to relieve discomfort until the rash has settled', says Dr. Kluk.
According to the NHS, topical steroids also come in the form of lotions, gels, mousses and ointments and are available in a variety of different potencies depending on the condition of your skin. Hyrdocortisone and Eumovate can be bought over the counter, but stronger topical steroids are only available on prescription from a GP or dermatologist.
4. Switch Up Your Body Lotion
That piña colada-scented body lotion may be a brilliant addition to your summer bodycare routine, but it might not be doing your heat rash any good.
'Avoid putting anything on the skin that may irritate it further, such as perfume or heavily fragranced skincare products,' adds Dr. Kluk. 'Instead, apply a soothing moisturiser containing menthol or aloe vera to calm the skin,' she adds. 'To cool the skin down even more so, pop it in the fridge for half an hour beforehand.'
It's important not to lather on the thickest creams in your skincare arsenal either.
'Avoid heavy, greasy moisturisers, but stick to lightweight emollients or aloe vera lotion/gel. Anti-itch emollients such as Dermol lotion may also be useful to ease the itchiness', explains Dr Williams.
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5. Stay In The Shade
Ok, this one's obvious, but when the lure of lying flat out on the grass with a tin of Gordon's Gin & Tonic in hand gets too much, remember, it'll only exacerbate your heat rash - not good.
'Seek the shade or stay out of the sun wherever possible for a few days to allow heat rash to settle,' says Dr. Kluk.