Common Summertime Rashes: How to avoid and treat them

Poison ivy and poison oak, heat rashes and sunburn, swimmer’s itch, and bug bites.

Many people love hiking, camping, and swimming in the summer, but too much fun in the sun – or woods – can lead to itchy rashes and painful bug bites.

Between mosquitoes, biting black flies, spiders, and ticks, you may be tempted to cover up from head to toe or simply stay indoors. If you prefer the beach or a lake, you may come home and discover rashes caused by excessive sun and swimmer’s itch.

Some summertime rashes go away in a day or two with the aid of over-the-counter treatments, but some may need to be treated by a dermatologist. You don’t have to let the bugs win or the sun make you sick.

Follow a few preventative sun and skincare tips to avoid and treat common summer rashes while still enjoying the outdoors.


You should wear sunscreen year-round, but it goes without saying if you’re planning a trip to the beach, pool, or lake. It’s better to prevent sunburn than deal with days of red, hot skin that can blister or make you feel ill.

  • Always wear a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA rays.
  • Try to apply sunscreen before you put on your swimsuit or clothes and remember to cover your hands, neck, feet, forehead, skin folds, and areas around your swimsuit.
  • If you’re active, use a sunscreen that’s waterproof and sweatproof, and we recommend for everyone that you reapply every two hours.
  • Wear SPF clothing, sunglasses, a broad-brimmed hat, or sit under an umbrella or shade tent.
  • Apply aloe vera gel and after-sun lotion to help soothe red skin and prevent peeling.
  • In case of sunburn, apply a cold, damp washcloth for 10-15 minutes a few times daily.
  • Take baths or showers in cool water to relieve pain and stay out of the sun.
  • Apply moisturizer or hydrocortisone cream as needed. Avoid creams that contain petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine, which can irritate your skin.
  • If your skin starts to blister or you feel sick or vomit, seek medical advice.

Heat rashes

A heat rash can be painful and itchy. You may notice tiny, raised bumps or red, irritated patches of skin. It usually occurs when you get overheated and your sweat glands become blocked due to excessive sweating. Heat rashes are more common in hot, humid climates.

  • Wear lightweight, moisture-wicking, or loose-fitting clothes made of cotton.
  • Remember to stay hydrated with water or sports drinks and take breaks during activities.
  • Try to exercise, mow the lawn, or do outdoor activities during the coolest parts of the day when possible.
  • At home, keep your skin cool using fans and air conditioning.
  • Take cool showers then let your skin air-dry instead of toweling off. You can add some Epsom salt or oatmeal to a cool bath or make a paste with oatmeal and water to help reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Apply aloe vera gel, calamine lotion, or cool compresses to soothe itchy, irritated skin.
  • Use antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream as needed to relieve itching.
  • Don’t scratch your rash to prevent more irritation or possible infection.

There are many causes of hives, including stress, allergens, extreme weather, excessive sun, and environmental triggers. It may take some detective work, or a trip to the doctor, to figure out the true cause of your hives.

Poison ivy and poison oak rashes

If you’re hiking or camping in the woods, always be on the lookout for poisonous plants. You might want to do a quick internet search so you can identify poison ivy, oak, and sumac, and wild parsnip out in the wild.

Signs of an allergic reaction include itchy skin, a rash with red, swollen lines or blisters, redness and small bumps, hives, swelling, large blisters, and pain.

  • For poison ivy, remember the motto: Leaves of three, leave them be.
  • Learn how to recognize these plants and avoid them.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, socks, and boots when hiking or in the woods.
  • Pay attention at campgrounds and avoid setting up your equipment or walking your dog in close proximity to suspect plants.
  • If you do come into contact with a poisonous plant, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. Try to do it within 15 minutes of exposure to the oil.
  • Remove and wash all clothes, shoes, or gear that might have come into contact with the plants. The oils from poison ivy, oak, and sumac can linger on objects for long periods.
  • Normally, a rash will appear over time rather than immediately after coming in contact with the oil. Typically, it can take 12-21 days after contact for a rash to develop. If you’ve had a previous allergic skin reaction, the rash may appear within 12-72 hours.
  • If you get a rash, leave blisters alone and avoid scratching the affected area.
  • Take short, lukewarm baths in colloidal oatmeal preparation.
  • Apply calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or cool compresses for relief.
  • You can take an oral antihistamine, but do not apply it to the skin.
  • Seek medical attention or call your dermatologist if the rash covers a large portion of your body, spreads, or is not relieved by OTC medicine. Also monitor symptoms such as trouble breathing, severe swelling, or itchiness, and discomfort that does not go away.

Swimmer’s itch

Perhaps you live on a lake, enjoy river tubing trips with friends, or you can’t keep the kids from wading in creeks. Swimmer’s itch is a rash that typically develops after wading or swimming in a lake, pond, or coastal waterways.

Swimmer’s itch is a temporary, itchy rash caused by worm-like parasites that burrow into your skin. High levels of E Coli bacteria in water can also cause skin infections and rashes, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and general malaise.

  • Pay attention to all warnings and advisories regarding swimming in lakes or rivers.
  • Speak with other visitors, local health officials, or park representatives about the water quality or any advisories.
  • Avoid areas with lots of weed growth and wading in shallow areas near shore. There may be more larvae near the shore.
  • If you develop a rash, do not go back into the water.
  • Immediately take a bath and wash your swimsuit or other clothes. However, showering will not remove larvae that have burrowed under your skin.
  • Symptoms of a swimmer’s itch include mild irritation, itchy, red rash, or a tingling sensation. Look for small red spots, which can grow into larger red rashes within a few hours.
  • A rash typically develops within 12 hours of exposure, with symptoms lasting 2 to 5 days and up to two weeks.
  • Resist the urge to scratch the rash as it can cause severe pain and swelling or infection.
  • Use a corticosteroid cream or cool compress to relieve the itch.
  • Soak in a colloidal oatmeal bath or take shallow, lukewarm baths with 3 tablespoons of baking soda in the water.
  • Apply plain calamine lotion and take antihistamines as needed, and avoid scratching.
  • Various over-the-counter products Fels-Naptha laundry soap, Swimmers Itch Guard, and anti-itch creams may prevent or reduce symptoms.

Bug bites

If there is anything that takes the fun out of summer, it’s pesky bugs and the bites they leave behind. Even worse, it can be hard to identify which bug is to blame. Some of the most problematic summertime bugs include mosquitoes, biting black flies, bees and wasps, spiders, and ticks. Most bug bites are harmless and clear up in a few days. But some can spread dangerous diseases like Zika virus, West Nile, dengue, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and malaria.

  • Make sure you’re prepared if you plan to be outdoors or go camping.
  • Use insect repellent that contains 20 to 30% DEET. Apply and reapply as needed, especially at dusk or if you’re headed into the woods.
  • Cover as much of your body as possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks, and closed shoes instead of sandals. Protect your pets as well.
  • Put up a screened-in porch or gazebo, use tiki torches, and citronella plants, or torch fuel to repel bugs, especially mosquitoes.
  • Walk in the center of trails and avoid tall grass, underbrush, and dense woods.
  • Treat clothing and gear with 0.5 percent permethrin.
  • Take a shower or bath within two hours of being outdoors.
  • Check your skin closely after you’ve been outdoors and look for any new or unusual spots or feel for bugs such as ticks, especially under arms, behind ears and knees, and in your hair.
  • Avoid places with standing water, often a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • For painful bites such as a bee sting, take over-the-counter pain relievers and leave the area alone.
  • For bites that itch, use an ice pack or anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone.
  • If you get a tick bite, make sure the entire head and body are removed. Clean the bite site with soap and water. Watch for a red spot or rash around the bite site, pain, and swelling, flu-like symptoms, or signs of an allergic reaction. Contact a doctor if you are worried about possible Lyme disease, have multiple tick bites, or are worried you did not get it fully removed.
  • Use OTC topical analgesics like Benadryl to provide cooling relief for most outdoor rashes and bites.
  • Apply an ice pack to the bug bite to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Avoid scratching the affected area.
  • Call your doctor if the bug bite gets worse, looks infected, or you have lingering flu-like symptoms or signs of an allergic reaction.

For more tips, you can watch this video, “How to Prevent and Treat Common Summer Rashes,” posted on the AAD website and YouTube channel. Most common summer rashes are simply annoying and go away within a few days or weeks. But if a rash or skin issue lingers, looks infected, or gets worse, you should contact your dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Don’t let bugs, the sun, or poisonous plants derail your vacation. Be smart and proactive so you can enjoy the outdoors and bask in the long, warm days of summer. If left unchecked, a bug bite could turn into a serious illness.

Contact APDerm today if you are concerned about summer rashes, stress rashes, or other chronic skin conditions. Our team can diagnose your skin issues and help create an effective treatment plan.