AHH, THE JOYS OF SUMMERTIME — sunbathing at the beach, picking fresh corn in the field or taking adaylong hike in the woods are the kinds of activities that many waitfor all winter.
But if you're not careful, the joys of summertimecan turn your skin into the pain of a lifetime at a moment's notice.
Taking care of the body's largest organ -- a 150-pound man's skin, if stretched out, would cover 20 square feet -- is obviously a year-round task.
But in the summer, when warm weather causes us to shed clothes and expose more of the skin to the elements, skin problems are more common.
"You have to be careful with your skin," said Westminster dermatologist Lawrence R. Feldman.
Being careful with theskin is mostly a matter of common sense, he and other doctors say.
One of the most important tips to remember, Feldman said, is to avoid exposing the skin to anything that will cause it to dry out, blister, burn or become crusty.
And that includes lazing around the pool searching for that perfect tan.
"There's no such thing as a healthy tan," Feldman said. "Any ultraviolet radiation burns the skin, and the darkening of the skin is merely the body's attempt to protect itself."
To protect the skin, wearing protective sunscreens at all times in the summer is agood idea. Sunscreens, which come in various sun protection factor (SPF) formulas, help keep water in the skin while keeping ultraviolet radiation out.
Feldman recommends an SPF rating of at least 15.
"Wear a sunscreen, a protective hat and avoidactivities in the peak hours -- from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- if you can," said dermatologist Ronald Goldner, who maintains practices in Westminster and Baltimore.
Understanding the vulnerability of the skinto damage is easier when you know what its function is.
The skin has three layers: the epidermis, about the width of a sheet of paper,acts as the protective covering for the rest of the skin; the dermis, about 40 times deeper than the epidermis, contains nerve endings and blood vessels; and the subcutaneous layer, the deepest layer, contains fat cells and blood vessels.
Most summertime skin ailments affect only the first or second layers and are caused by a variety of sources.
Sunburn -- which, Feldman said, is the same as burning yourskin with a match or open flame -- can be severe enough to warrant hospitalization, reconstructive surgery or even cause death in the rarest of cases.
Most sunburns, however, cause the epidermis to turn red and generally go away after a couple of days. Some sunburns can cause long-term redness, scars, fevers, chills or dizziness.
To treat sunburn, cool the skin with a cold-water compress or ice, then apply moisturizer to keep as much water in theskin as possible. In a severe case, see a doctor.
Heat rash, which has the feel of a burn, is treated similarly. The red, itchy feeling that occurs spottily on the skin is the result of the skin's inability to cool itself down. Toalleviate the problem, you should get out of the heat and into a cool, air-conditioned room. A cool compress can help as well.
In addition to burns, the skin can become inflamed, such as when it comes incontact with poison ivy. "Leaves of three, beware of thee," is a rule Feldman says is easy to remember. Poison ivy, which grows on vines and has thin red lines in its leaves, secretes a sticky resin, which causes the itchiness and rash on the skin.
If you can, rub the exposed area of skin with hot water and soap. Calamine lotion is anothersimple remedy. A commercial oatmeal bath like Aveno soothes and cools. In the most severe cases, Feldman recommends seeing a doctor.
Another common summertime skin problem is dry skin, caused when the outer layers of skin lose too much water. Feldman and Goldner said applying moisturizer daily will help seal the skin, keeping much-needed water in.
Watch out for other skin problems during the summer. Ticks, mites and lice are more common, and can cause infection and irritation to the skin. Jock itch and athlete's foot -- both caused by fungus -- are more common when exercise and perspiration levels increase.And viruses, like cold sores and shingles, can pop up during the warm weather.
SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS OF SUMMER SKIN CARE
* Cool compress, ice to control swelling
* Apply moisturizer,Noxzema, moisturizing body lotion
* Avoid further sun exposure
* Cool compress, ice to control swelling
* See doctor if blisters, sores persist
* Within 15 minutes, apply hot water and soap to remove resin
* If Step 1 doesn't work, apply calamine lotion or Aveno oatmeal bath
* If Step 2 doesn't work, see a doctorHEAT RASH
* Cool skin; get in front of fan or stay in an air conditioned room
* Apply moisturizer regularly
* Avoid sun exposureJOCK ITCH, ATHLETE'S FOOT
* Keep feet, groin as clean and dry as possible
* Use anti-fungal medication
* If persistent, see doctor
SOURCES: Carroll County dermatologists, "World Book Encyclopedia"