Hot and humid days can be uncomfortable enough, but add a skin rash into the mix of sweat and fatigue, and you’ll likely find yourself confused and concerned. Although they’re a nuisance, thankfully heat rashes are usually not a cause for alarm. It’s not uncommon for people to get a heat rash at least once in their life, but if you’re careful, you can help prevent them. Here’s everything you need to know about what causes skin rashes and how to get rid of them.
What is heat rash?
Your skin’s main role is to protect the inside of your body from the outside world, and one of its biggest roles is temperature control. A way that your skin controls your internal temperature is by sweating. “Heat rash occurs when the sweat ducts—where the sweat is released—become clogged, and the sweat can’t get to the surface of the skin,” says dermatologist Dr. Jill Waibel. “Instead of being released, it becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface, causing a mild inflammation rash.”
What causes heat rash?
Heat rash tends to occur after repeated episodes of sweating in a hot, humid environment. Unfortunately, certain people are more prone to heat rash than others, but the exact reason of this is unknown, according to Waibel. However, there are some theories as to why heat rash can occur. These include:
- Creases in the skin in areas like the neck, armpit or groin which can prevent sweat evaporation.
- Tight clothing.
- Bundling up in heavy clothes or sheets.
- Heavy creams, lotions, deodorants, etc. that can clog the sweat ducts.
What are the symptoms?
“The symptoms for a heat rash include red bumps on the skin and itchy and prickly rash,” says Waibel. Occasionally, these bumps can also be filled with pus. Heat rashes typically occur on the neck, shoulders or chest.
How can you prevent it?
What’s most important is keeping your body cool and not allowing sweat to become trapped. Some ways to prevent a heat rash include:
- Maintaining a comfortable room temperature with fans and/or air conditioning.
- Using a dehumidifier to help mitigate the humidity.
- Taking a cool bath or shower after exercise, and patting your body dry gently.
- Wearing loose, natural-fiber, light-colored clothing. “Dark colors will absorb more of the sun’s rays and heat your skin more than light-colored clothing,” says dermatologist David Lortscher, MD.
- Drinking water for overall hydration and body temperature regulation.
How can you treat your symptoms at home?
1. Witch Hazel
“Witch hazel is an astringent which helps dry out sweat clogs,” says dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz. “The evaporation causes cooling and reduces redness.”
2. Cool Compress
Anything to help keep the skin cool will help. “Cool compresses or baking soda in a cool bath will help with itchy, painful skin rashes,” says dermatologist Rhonda Klein, MD/MPH.
3. Ice Cubes
Again, keeping the skin cold is key. Schultz suggests running ice cubes over the affected area. “This stops itching and reduces inflammation,” he says.
4. OTC Cortisone Cream
You can use an over-the-counter cortisone cream to help alleviate the rash, but avoid using an ointment. Schultz recommends using the cream four times a day after a compress.
5. Oatmeal Bath
A soothing bath can help reduce your rash. “Bathing the skin in colloidal oatmeal provides relief for heat rash,” says Klein. “As a humectant, oatmeal moisturizes the skin and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Use tepid water as hot water will make the itch worse.”
When should you see a doctor?
Usually, a heat rash does not require a doctor and will go away on its own. “A heat rash will subside after time once sweat ducts are unclogged,” says Waibel. “The only time medical treatment is needed is when there is infection that has occurred due to the scratching of the rash.” You might also consider seeing a dermatologist if your rash lasts more than a few days or seems to be getting worse.