During the warmer months, most of us spend more time exposed to the elements—and to a variety of summer-related troublemakers. “Warmer temperatures, prolonged sun and heat exposure, the increased prevalence of insects, and the proliferation of poisonous plants each pose unique health threats,” says Amber Tully, M.D., a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic.

So, take a few smart summer skin-protection steps. With the proper precautions, you can enjoy the great outdoors to its fullest. And if any of the following do pop up, our expert advice will have you covered.

Bites and Stings

Both stinging insects—bees, hornets, yellow­jackets, wasps, and, in some parts of the country, fire ants—and insects and arachnids that bite, notably mosquitoes and ticks, are more common during warm weather. But the strategies for dealing with them can vary from pest to pest.

Insect stings usually cause temporary itching, pain, redness, and swelling. Most stings cause only mild discomfort (except in people who are allergic—they require immediate treatment).

Mosquitoes and ticks, however, may spread infectious diseases through their bite. Mosquitoes, for example, can carry diseases such as dengue, West Nile virus, Zika, and yellow fever, and ticks can spread a number of illnesses, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the rare but potentially deadly Powassan virus.

Protect yourself: Insect repellents won’t deter bees or other stinging creatures, so minimize the risk by not aggravating them—which means no swatting at them or disturbing hives or nests.

For mosquitoes and ticks, insect repellents are your best defense. Consumer Reports found in its testing that repellents with 15 to 30 percent deet, 20 percent picaridin, or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus generally performed well.

To shield summer skin, it’s also smart to wear long sleeves, pants, socks, and closed shoes in areas where mosquitoes and ticks are often found.

Mosquitoes tend to breed in wet, swampy places and swarm around lakes, ponds, and rivers, and are most likely to bite near dawn and dusk. Ticks are most common in wooded areas, high grass, and leaf piles.

Because ticks need to attach to your skin to bite, once you’re back inside after being outside in a place where ticks might live, shower or bathe and do a careful skin check. If you spot a tick, remove it with tweezers and be careful to get the entire body out.

Treat it: A cold compress can soothe bites or stings, and over-the-counter topicals such as hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can ease summer skin itchiness.

If an insect sting leaves you very uncomfortable, Tully suggests an OTC oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic) to ease itching and swelling. However, swelling in your mouth or difficulty breathing or swallowing after a sting could be a sign of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-­threatening allergic reaction.

“Seek emergency medical treatment immediately and take any OTC antihistamine medicine if you have it,” Tully says. Those who know they’re allergic to stings should routinely carry an epinephrine auto-injector such as EpiPen or Adrenaclick for immediate treatment.

If you are concerned about Zika or other mosquito-borne (or tick-borne) illnesses, stay alert for fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, and headache. Let your doctor know promptly whether any of these occur so that he can evaluate you.


The sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate the skin, causing pain, redness, and swelling—and skin damage that’s directly linked to the development of skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an estimated one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer during his or her lifetime.

Protect yourself: Your summer skin protection plan should include sunscreen, protective clothing, and avoidance of UV rays. Consumer Reports recommends using a sunscreen labeled with an SPF of at least 40 that contains chemical active ingredients such as avobenzone (instead of “natural” or mineral active ingredients such as zinc oxide).

And use enough. It takes a full ounce (imagine a shot glass full) to cover your entire body at the beach. For maximum summer skin protection, add a hat with a wide brim all around (a cap leaves the back of your neck exposed) and clothing that will shield you from the sun—such as items made of darker, thicker fabrics with a dense weave.

“Try looking through the fabric,” suggests Jessica Krant, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. “If you can see the sun, the sun can see your skin.”

Try to avoid UV exposure between 10 a.m and 4 p.m.—when the sun’s intensity is at its peak.

Treat it: “Your immediate goal after a sunburn should be to soothe and cool the skin,” Krant says. She suggests applying a cream such as Noxzema or its generic versions, a lotion that contains aloe, or cold yogurt to burned skin and taking an OTC anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic), to inhibit inflammation. If needed, continue strategies for several days.

And if your burn is complicated by blistering, chills, fever, and/or nausea, call your doctor.

Heat Rash

Heat rash—small red dots that may be raised and itchy—occurs when sweat ducts become temporarily blocked. Instead of evaporating, sweat remains under the skin.

This is quite common in infants and small children whose sweat glands aren’t fully developed, but adults can experience it as well—often in skin folds where moisture is easily trapped.

Protect yourself: Heat is the main cause of heat rash, but humidity—which makes it more difficult for sweat to evaporate—plays a role, too. On hot, humid days, limit activities that cause you to sweat heavily and wear loose, lightweight clothing.

Treat it: This condition will usually quickly begin to resolve once you get out of the heat and your body temperature falls. You can speed up the process by taking a cool shower or bath and putting on loose, light clothing. For any itching, an OTC hydrocortisone cream will help.

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

These plants contain the oil urushiol, and contact with this substance causes a red, itchy rash in the approximately 85 percent of people exposed to it.  

Protect yourself: In woodsy areas where these plants grow, cover up with long pants, tall socks, and long sleeves.

“The oils can stay on your clothing, so if you think you may have been exposed, remove your clothes and wash them and your body immediately to get rid of the oil,” Tully says. Scrub under your fingernails, too.

Treat it: Scratching will only increase inflammation and itching. Calamine lotion and an OTC steroid cream such as hydrocortisone can ease the itch, and the latter can reduce swelling.

If you have significant swelling or blistering along with a rash, your doctor can prescribe a more potent topical, oral, or injectable steroid.

Swimmer's Itch

These itchy, burning, and tingling red bumps—which can blister—are often caused by an allergic reaction to larvae from tiny trematode parasites that may live in fresh and salt water and burrow into your skin while you’re swimming. The larvae die off quickly, but the resulting itch can last more than a week.

Protect yourself: Stay out of water where you know others have recently become infected. In general, avoid wading in shallow water; any larvae may be more prevalent near the shoreline. After swimming, change out of your wet bathing suit and dry your skin off as soon as possible.

Treat it: To soothe redness and relieve discomfort, apply a cool compress, a paste of baking soda and water, or an OTC hydrocortisone cream. Because scratching can cause the rash to become infected, see your doctor if your itching is severe and not helped by the strategies above.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the August 2017 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.