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Tips to Protect Your Skin in the Great Outdoors

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Dr. Tracy Donahue


Columbia St. Mary’s, a part of Ascension Wisconsin

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After hibernating indoors during the long winter months, most Wisconsinites are eager to get outside as soon as the days get longer and temperatures warm up.

As you start to get active outside, you should take precautions to prevent outdoor conditions. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Sunburn – Ultraviolet radiation – either from intermittent sunburn or low-dose sun exposure – can harm the DNA of skin cells and can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. To help prevent the condition, limit your time spent in the sun – especially between the hours of 10am and 2pm when the sun is most intense. You should also take care to apply sunscreen regularly (every 2 hours and even sooner when sweating or in the water), seek shade, and cover up with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses when spending time outside.
  • Phytophotodermatitis – This condition is caused when a chemical found in certain plants or citrus fruits is exposed to sunlight. This can lead to inflammation, blistering and a burning or itching sensation. It can also leave behind temporary darkening of the skin. The best way to prevent phytophotodermatitis is to avoid skin contact with plants known to cause the condition, such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, celery, parsley, figs and carrots. Also, be sure to wash your skin with soap and water before heading outdoors, and be careful when squeezing limes or lemons into food or drinks at sunny barbecues.
  • Poison Ivy – The hallmark symptom of this condition is red, swollen, itchy areas where skin has made contact with a poison ivy plant. Typically these symptoms begin as soon as a few hours to as late as a few days after contact. Once it starts, symptoms can continue up to two weeks. To help prevent poison ivy, wear clothing that covers your skin when you’re in areas where the plant is known to grow. It’s also helpful to learn how to identify the plant, which has a cluster of three leaves that are pointed at the tip and are often red or green in color. If you come in contact with a poison ivy plant, wash the oil off your skin with a generous amount of cold water immediately; however, avoid using soap because it can spread the oil. Take care to wash your exposed clothing.
  • Swimmer’s Itch – Also known as known as schistosome dermatitis, this condition is caused by the larvae of a type of flatworm that may come in contact with the skin while swimming or wading in fresh water. It is most common in shallow water and results in a red, itchy rash on skin not covered by bathing suits. To help prevent the condition, avoid swimming in areas with lots of birds or in bodies of water where large amounts of plants grow. It may also help to shower or towel off immediately after spending time in the water.
  • Lyme Disease – This condition is transferred to humans through bites from infected ticks. Symptoms of the disease can include fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash that often looks like an expanding bull’s eye. Early treatment is usually effective, however the best course of action is to take steps to prevent it. Wear protective clothing and apply insect repellent when spending time outdoors. Before going inside, always check your skin to make sure you aren’t carrying any ticks. The best way to remove a tick is to use a tweezers and aim for the head to pull it out, taking care not to break it off. You should remove the whole tick, leaving behind no pieces under your skin.

Your primary care physician or dermatologist can help you learn more about these conditions and help you take steps to prevent them. Talk to your health insurer to understand your coverage and find a provider near you.

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