Protecting a young child’s delicate skin is a year-round responsibility for parents, but it’s especially important in the summer months, when so much skin is uncovered and vulnerable to a host of warm-weather rash inducers. “There are definitely some types of skin rashes that we see a lot more of in the summer months, like sunburn and insect bites and stings,” says Dr. Kelly McClean, a dermatologist for adults and children at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor.
Below, McClean and Dr. Brandie Metz (assistant clinical professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine) recommend ways to prevent and treat the most common summer rashes:
Prevent it: Proper sun protection techniques are important not just because they’ll keep your little one from getting a red, painful burn, says McClean. “We know that ultraviolet radiation increases the risk for skin cancers later in life, and it can also accelerate photoaging of the skin.”
The first line of defense should be covering up: Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade as much as possible and wear sunglasses to protect the eyes. Kids need a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. The best time to slather it on is before you leave the house. “Once you get to the pool or beach, kids are excited about getting into the water or playing in the sand, and they’re less likely to stand still,” says McClean.
Even if your child always tans and never burns, that’s no excuse not to take sun protection seriously, adds McClean. “Parents have this misconception that a tan is safe, but what a tan means is that the skin has been damaged by the sun as well.” And if you’re cutting back on sunscreen because you’re concerned about vitamin D deficiencies, think again, says Metz. “Using sunscreen isn’t going to lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Most people reach their maximum production of vitamin D after only about five minutes in the sun,” she says.
Treat it: To treat sunburn, use cool compresses to bring down the temperature of the skin, or have your child take a cool bath. Avoid products with an anesthetic, “basically anything that ends in ‘caine,’ because that will just further irritate the skin,” says Metz. Any blistering burn requires a doctor’s attention.
Prevent it: The most effective insect repellants contain the chemical DEET — but be sure the products you use on kids contain no more than 10 percent. “The best approach is to spray the repellant on the clothing rather than on skin,” says Metz. Stay away from products that combine DEET and sunscreen. “Sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently, and DEET does not,” she says. But when you use products that contain both, “you end up putting on too much insect repellant or not enough sunscreen.”
Treat it: Treat itchy bug bites with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
Prevent it: You know that old saying, “Leaves of three, leave them be?” Turns out not all plants that cause an itchy rash have three leaves, says Metz. “Poison sumac can have seven or more leaves, so you really need to learn to recognize all the poisonous plants.”
The best prevention is to wear long pants and long sleeves during hikes. Also be aware that your child doesn’t have to touch the plant directly to come in contact with the plant oils. “If your pets run around in the woods, they can have the oil on their fur and kids can get it by touching the pet,” says McClean. But it’s a myth that rash can spread from person to person: Once the oil from the plant has been washed off the skin, you’re no longer contagious.
Treat it: For rashes from poison ivy and other similar plants, Metz usually recommends OTC hydrocortisone cream as well as an oral antihistamine.
Prevent it: First-time moms often make the mistake of bundling up newborns too much in the warmer months. “Sweat ducts get clogged up and red bumps appear, especially in the skin folds,” says McClean.
To prevent heat rash, make sure you dress your baby in layers so you can easily remove unneeded clothing.
Treat it: The rash usually disappears soon after you cool down the skin by removing excess clothing and blankets. “Never put a cream or ointment on a heat rash,” says Metz, “because that will just further clog the pores and make the rash worse.”