Last summer, Sumita Goel* was struck with a bad attack of Malassezia, an inflammatory skin condition wherein she developed a red rash across her arms, back and neck. "I initially dismissed it as heat rash. But over the next six weeks the rash got filled with pus and became too painful," says Goel, 30. "Worried, I had to rush to a dermatologist."
What had worsened her condition was her reliance on off-the-shelf cosmetics and lotions. "The dermatologist insisted that I should stop using all creams and lotions. She asked me to wear loose cotton clothes that lower the growth of Malassezia yeast," says the Gurgaon-based film editor. Goel was prescribed weekly doses of the anti-fungal pill fluconazole, application of sertaconazole cream, and use of ketocoanzole shampoo. Since relapse is common, she was advised regular follow-ups. "The rash took some weeks to disappear," says Goel. "This year I plan to get an appointment at the first sign of sweat."
As summers get harsher, coupled with sudden showers, cases of patients suffering from skin ailments are on the rise, warn dermatologists. People must particularly watch out for ailments like rosacea - a sebaceous gland disorder that causes acne, fungal infection (which causes itching), red skin, prickly heat, skin darkening, pigmentation and cracked heels, among others. "Over the past two years I have witnessed a 10% rise in patients suffering from heat related ailments," says Dr Mohan Thomas, senior cosmetic surgeon at the Cosmetic Surgery, Mumbai.
Cold compresses, hydrocortisone and anti-histaminics help in soothing the skin. (Photo: Shutterstock)
After enjoying a riverside picnic, Dr Sujata Yardi, a 66-year-old physiotherapist from Bandra, noticed two dark patches on her upper back with a burning sensation. It turned out to be an acute sunburn. Yardi's dermatologist advised her to use a medicated sunscreen, wear a scarf and carry an umbrella. "Exposure to harmful UV rays, rising temperatures and increased pollution are the key factors behind the increase," says Apratim Goel, Cutis Skin Studio, Mumbai who diagnoses five such cases every day.
According to Dr Shehla Agarwal, director of Mehak Derma and Surgery Clinic, in New Delhi's tony Panchsheel Enclave, sweat causes keratin, a type of protein present in skin, to swell, block pores and aggravate acne. "The best way to deal with acne is to clean the skin thoroughly six to seven times a day and drink at least 10 glasses of water," she says.
Rosacea is a common, chronic, acne-like skin condition, found in adults. It is characterised by redness, particularly of the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin, along with burning sensation, bumps and small cysts on the face. "Sweat and dead skin are common outcomes of heat, which block the oil glands, becoming a major cause of bacteria growth," says Goel. "Patients must use soapfree cleansers and avoid astringents, toners and cosmetics," says Dr Sharmila Patil of Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
If rosacea is ignored, the blood vessels could dilate, resulting in lumpy skin on nose and cheeks. For fungal infections, common symptoms include itching, red patches on the skin and scaling, say dermatologists, caused due to excessive sweating in the groin, armpits, scalp and ears. Dr Goel suggests keeping body folds free of sweat, as a preventive measure. And although dermatitis or eczema is not predominantly a summer condition, a specific type called photo-dermatitis is seen now. Dr Thomas advises moisturising the skin to get rid of the dryness caused by the summer heat.
"Cold compresses help in soothing the skin. Also, hydrocortisone creams and anti-histaminics will help," he says. You need to exfoliate regularly, insists Dr Agarwal. "The skin cries out for moisture but the creams will not penetrate the skin unless you exfoliate it," she says.
As for sun tans, Dr Goel feels that it is not a disorder but the body's way of protecting itself. "In India, we tend to have a considerable amount of melanin in our skin, which rises to the top layer so that the sun's damaging rays can't penetrate deeper," he explains.
Freckles and melisma are also caused due to this protective mechanism. Although oral antioxidants, chemical peels and lasers are probable solutions, a normal tan tends to go away on its own in four to six weeks. Another summer skin ailment, miliaria occurs when the sweat gland ducts get plugged due to dead skin cells or bacteria such as Staphylococcus epidermidis that occurs on the skin.
The trapped sweat leads to irritation (prickling), itching and a rash of small blisters. Dr Goel says, "In Miliaria, the body needs to cool down, which can be done by taking cold showers or standing under a fan or in front of an air-conditioner. If untreated, it may result in large blisters and pus-filled pockets."
(* Name changed on request)