Dermal Issues in Thermal Conditions

Shan YUAN, Chair of Dermatology, Dermatologist

When the summer sun is high in the sky, the first concern most people have – after locating the nearest ice cream vendor – is what effect the sun is having on their skin. I want to address a couple of common summer skin issues as summer activities kick into high gear.

The Truth about Sunscreen

Recent health articles have been fairly ambivalent about the helpfulness of sunscreen. Some say it’s a must while others say it’s toxic. Allow me to set the record straight. Sunscreen is absolutely good for you. You don’t want to directly expose your skin to UV radiation any more than you have to. This is especially true for kids, who already have delicate skin.

That being said, the chemicals that contribute to Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ratings do, in fact, clog skin pores and have been known to cause some irritation. A common practice among dermatologists is to apply face cream or body cream before applying sunscreen. Cream provides a protective between your skin and the sunscreen. If you have a face cream that already has an SPF rating, you’ll want to put something under that to protect your skin. You could consider using a vitalizer or some sort of topical “essence” oil/cream. If you do apply sunscreen (or an SPF-containing product) directly on your skin, it’s not the end of the world. Just make sure you cleanse your skin thoroughly after you come back indoors.

A word about SPF ratings:

Know that products that have SPF ratings higher than 30 are not worth the money. Higher SPF ratings don’t offer substantially more protection than SPF 30 products. Additionally, increasing SPF just means there’s more potential for your pores to be clogged. And, honestly, SPF 30 is really only necessary if you’re going to lie for extended periods of time on the beach or if you’re in a desert. Everyday sun exposure only warrants an SPF rating of 8 to 15.

Some people suffer from photoallergic dermatitis. These people are allergic to UV rays. Sometimes, the allergic reaction is exacerbated by certain foods. The most common conditions I’ve seen involve mangoes, celery, canola (Chinese you2 cai4, 油菜), and assorted wild greens (Chinese ye3 cai4, 野菜). If you have a serious case of food-induced photoallergic dermatitis, limit how much you eat of the foods that make your condition worse. This probably goes without saying.

Athlete’s Foot

Some people may be surprised to know that a common summertime skin ailment is athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection and is fairly contagious from a variety of sources – from public pools, to public toilets, to trying on shoes at a store. (Note: If you’re going to try on shoes, wear disposable socks or nylons.)

Some people who get athlete’s foot are genetically predisposed to contract it more easily. Others get athlete’s foot because their feet have a higher arch and their toes naturally clamp more tightly together, all of which promotes fungal growth in the crevices of the foot.

The way to treat athlete’s foot is to try to keep your feet dry and away from places where fungi would easily grow (wet, warm places frequented by a lot of different feet).

Hair Removal Precautions

Many people get back into the habit of regular hair removal during the summer. Here at the BJU Dermatology clinic, we get a surge of laser hair removal requests as well. Just a few words for those of you who engage in do-it-yourself hair removal: If you’re going to wax, apply baby powder immediately afterward to prevent bacterial infection while your pores are relatively vulnerable.

Be careful when relying on private beauty salons for hair removal. There are a lot of non-standard, unsanitary hair removal practices. At BJU, we promise that the procedures are safe and coordinated with a lot of different considerations, techniques, and equipment (i.e., multiplex compound therapy). Do not trust salons if they promise permanent total hair removal.  A few hairs will always grow back. Perhaps the new hair will be much smaller, thinner, softer, and grayer, but remember some very strong hairs will always grow back within a couple of years.

Allow me to dispel another myth. Those of you who shave can continue shaving with impunity. Contrary to popular belief, hair does NOT grow back thicker after you shave. Shaving simply removes the natural pointed tips of hairs and makes them flat tips, sort of like what happens when you cut your nails.

Tried-and-true Make-up

Summer gives many women the excuse to experiment with new brands of make-up. Speaking as a dermatologist, this is a bad idea. Use one brand of make-up and let your skin get used to it. It’s ok to use certain products from a different brand, but overall, your make-up should mostly belong to the same brand.

If you want to change brands, don’t switch out all your make-up products at once. A lot of women who do this develop allergic reactions, and the worst part is that they can’t tell which product caused the reaction. Switch out one product at a time, starting from the base and then moving outward. For example, you might continue using the same make-up regimen but experiment with a different foundation. If that works for you, you could then try a different powder after a few weeks. If that works for you, then try a different blush, etc. Change brands slowly and one product at a time. You should never change products if your skin is experiencing an allergic reaction to the new products.

Summer is the perfect opportunity for us to get spruced up and go outdoors. Just remember to protect your skin.