Celebrate spring and beat the season’s skin sensitivities

Spring heralds a shift in the seasons with the promise of longer and warmer sunny days. This is great if you’re someone who loves the outdoors, but it might unfortunately bring unwanted skin problems.

Below are some examples of skin diseases that could be associated with this change in season:

  1. Sunburn

Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction where skin cells become red, swollen and painful when exposed to the sun. But the danger goes beyond the short-term discomfort. After the sunburn fades, lasting damage remains. Sunburn causes photo-aging and puts you at risk for developing skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and cutaneous melanoma.

  1. Polymorphic light eruption

Within hours or sun exposure lesions start to develop and usually last a few days. The lesions can be variable, hence the name polymorphic. Blisters and red papules may redevelop. It occurs mainly in the seasons of spring and early summer, especially in warmer climates.

  1. Phototoxic reactions

Phototoxicity presents as an exaggerated sunburn-like picture which is usually caused by medications, e.g. diuretics or certain antibiotics such as doxycycline. Cutaneous porphyrias is an example of inherited phototoxicity, where porphyrins in combination with sun exposure may cause injury to the skin.

  1. Photoallergic reactions

Photoallergic reactions are typically due to topical creams which cause an eczema-like rash e.g. some fragrances and topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

  1. Photoaggravated dermatoses

Photo-aggravated dermatoses is where patients have a pre-existing skin disease which is worsened with sun exposure. There are a number of photo-aggravated dermatoses including acne, eczema, lupus erythematosus.

  1. Contact dermatitis

Spending time outdoors might lead to exposure to pollens or grass, which may cause a rash. There are also plants which could cause a contact dermatitis e.g. African poison ivy. If exposed to poison ivy, you could rub alcohol or dishwasher soap on the area and then rinse thoroughly off with cool water. Also be sure to wash under your nails.

  1. Inherited photosensitivity

Xeroderma pigmentosum is an example of an inherited condition where the patient is unable to repair the DNA damage induced by sun exposure. These patients are more at risk of developing skin cancers at a younger age.

  1. Juvenile spring eruption

Juvenile spring eruption is a distinct rash which occurs on the sun exposed areas of the ears in boys and young men in early spring. It can be treated with topical steroids and sun protection, e.g. wide-brimmed hat.

  1. Insect bites

Mosquitoes, bees and other insects make their annual appearance in the summer months. Insect bites are for the most part not serious and can be treated at home with topical antihistamines or low-potency topical corticosteroids. But for those known to have a bee sting allergy or develop an infected insect bite, see medical care immediately.

Sun protection hacks:

  • Wear sunscreen

Apply broad spectrum with a high sun protection factor (SPF) in the mornings before leaving home. If you plan to spend the day outside, reapply every 2 hours and immediately after swimming or excessive exercise.

  • Sun protective clothing and hats

Wearing clothing is the most effective form of sun protection. Sun protective clothing is made with fabric that block UV-radiation from being absorb into the skin. A handy tip is to look for the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of clothing. A UPF above 30 is recommended to provide good protection. Wide-brimmed hats also provide a physical barrier for UV-radiation especially for sites of balding and face area.

  • Sun avoidance

The WHO recommends avoiding the midday sun. The sun’s UV rays are the strongest between the hours of 10am to 4pm and if possible. It’s safest to limit sun exposure during these hours.

References:

  1. https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/sunburn/
  2. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/poison-ivy/touch-plant
  3. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/sun-protection
  5. Bolognia, Jean L., et al. Dermatology. Elsevier Health Sciences, 4th edition, 2018.