Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Humidity Hard on Skin
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears weekly on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
Dear Dr. Gerhart: During the summer my skin always breaks out more. Even if I shower two times per day, I still get pimples on my face and back. What can I do to prevent this?
Dear Reader: Summer in Wisconsin can be quite humid. Each person's skin responds to this humidity differently. There are different types of "bumps" that can develop including:
Heat rash: These are small, red, non-painful bumps on the skin that result after being in the sun. They usually go away within hours to days without treatment.
Allergic reaction: These range from small red bumps to larger patches of redness and can be flat or raised. They are usually itchy or burning, and can be treated with an anti-allergy pill such as Benadryl. The itch can be decreased by products such as calamine lotion or aloe vera or by anti-itch creams such as hydrocortisone.
Acne: This sounds like what you have. Each acne bump can be different. People may have blackheads, whiteheads or cysts - or a combination of these.
Acne results as a combination of over-production of oil or skin cells that then get clumped together and stuck on the skin. Skin pores and hair follicles then become inflamed, and bacteria are drawn to that site, causing further inflammation and infection. This then results in red bumps, and sometimes pus-filled pores or pockets.
Depending on the type and severity of your acne, your physician can prescribe different treatments. Treatment also can be targeted to the causes of acne - in other words, keeping the skin clean, treating the skin buildup and decreasing inflammation and infection.
While much of the cause of acne can be genetic and environmentally based, there are things you can do this summer to help decrease your likelihood of getting humidity-induced or sweat-induced acne.
Get the sweat off of you. Wear breathable shirts and dress for the climate. Non-restrictive clothing - especially types that wick away sweat - are essential. Athletic gear is much more "tech-savvy" these days. If you are still exercising in an old cotton T-shirt, consider shopping for a "performance fabric" for both shirt and shorts. This will help to reduce clogged pores and remove the sweat that can induce body acne.
Be sure to take cool showers. When stepping out of the shower, try to keep the room less humid to prevent you from starting a post-shower sweat. Use a ceiling fan, floor fan or open a window if it is less humid outside.
Stay hydrated and eat well. The skin is the largest organ in your body. Nourish it well to keep it healthy. Many patients truly notice that what they put in their bodies can affect the skin on their face.
Have a good skin regimen. A skin-care routine for people with acne should have at least three parts: cleaning, prevention and spot treatment.
We usually suggest using a mild, non-scented soap, and a mild light moisturizer. Some brands are Cetaphil, Eucerin and Aveeno. Then, use either over-the-counter or prescription-strength medications. Salacylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are two over-the-counter meds that work well to help break up the dead skin cells that are clogging the pores. These are usually used as spot treatments, but can also help with prevention.
The next step up is a prescription, which often is an antibiotic to kill the pus-forming bacteria that contribute to acne. This is usually used in either a topical (cream) or in a pill form. This is usually used every day to help prevent acne.
For more ideas, contact your primary care doctor for a skin exam to determine a personalized approach to treat the type and severity of your acne.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 07/11/2013