Heat rash or prickly heat is a name given to a generic group of skin diseases that mainly occur due to sun exposure. Many other names are used for heat rash including: sun allergy, sweat retention syndrome as well as miliaria rubra etc. In some cases, people tend to break out in a severe heat rash after spending time in the sun and particularly after using waterproof sunscreen products. Babies and young children as well as people with sensitive skin are particularly prone to sunscreen heat rash allergies.
Does this mean that one cannot enjoy the sun? Will the day at a beach become a distant dream for heat rash sufferers?
Find out what can be done to counter sunscreen heat rashes.
Types of Heat Rashes and why they occur
Heat rashes or miliaria can be broadly categorized into 4 types. All 4 types of skin rash from occur due to one reason: blocked or clogged seat pores.
- Reddish Miliaria Rubra– This rash is reddish or pinkish in color and arises in larger patches. It occurs when the sweat glands are blocked at a deeper level of the skin. Miliaria rubra causes intense itching and irritation. There may even be large bumps and welts surrounding the rash. Typically, areas where such heat rashes may arise include arms, legs, face, groin etc or mostly body parts where the sunscreen has been applied.
- Whitish yellow Miliaria Pustulosa– This whitish yellowish heat rash is a complication arising from above miliaria rubra; the sweat glands are further infected by bacteria leading to pus formation.
- Clear Miliaria Crystallina– This is a rash categorized by clear blisters which arise due to blocked sweat glands in the upper layer of the skin or the epidermis. Such heat rashes are generally not irritating and appear as sunburn blisters.
- Miliaria Profunda– This is the deepest level of sweat gland blockage and may lead to trapped sweat, extreme dry skin and even goose-bumps.
Who is at risk from sunscreen heat rashes?
As stated above, babies and people with very sensitive skin could develop any of the 4 types of heat rashes from sunscreen allergy. Additionally:
- Obese people are also at higher risks of developing heat rashes in the groin, around the thighs and below the breasts where the loose folds of skin cause friction and irritation. This is not always related to the use of sunscreen and may arise even when not using a sun block product.
- Often, people who use sun-lotions choose waterproof varieties, especially when they want to swim. Such waterproof sunscreens tend to sit tenaciously on the skin and prevent the free flow of sweat causing sunscreen heat rashes.
- Certain moisturizing skin creams including herbal gels also restrict the movement of sweat from the glands to the outer surface of skin leading to allergic rashes.
- People performing greater physical activity in hot weather are more likely to develop sun allergies of different types irrespective of whether they use sunblocks or not.
- People who have moved from very cold climates like to slather on sunscreen creams and lotions having more than 30+ SPF. They then spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the sunshine. They may be diligent in moisturizing their skin with SPF lotions but many of these develop redness and rashes on the skin at the end of the day. This is mainly attributed to an increased demand on their sweat mechanism for cooling the body and their sunscreens and moisturizers further clog their glands contributing to the heat rash allergies.
What can you do to avoid sunblock heat rashes?
Thankfully, one can enjoy the sun, without getting burnt by using the right sunscreen products that do not cause heat rash and related suncreen allergies.
- One can use organic sun screens which work rather well with the skin allowing it to breathe whilst providing UVA and UVB protection.
- Children must be given fragrance-free sunscreens to use, since many fragrant varieties cause sunscreen allergies on sensitive skin.
- People with a tendency to develop heat rashes must naturally try to limit their time in the sun. They can seek shade where possible or at least use a wide brimmed hat. One can also take cool showers frequently or use cool/ice packs on sun-kissed skin.
- One must avoid waterproof sunscreens as these are more likely to cause sunscreen heat rashes. Alcohol based water resistant sunblock products are best for people with tendency to sunscreen allergies and heat rashes. In these, the alcohol evaporates but the sunscreen remains on the skin thereby leaving little or no residue.
- Many doctors recommend after-sun products containing soothing elements like Aloe Vera, calendula etc, which help cool the skin down soothing inflammation and redness. It is best to steer clear of gel based and oil based varieties as these further clog the sweat glands.
- Avoid all kinds of moisturizers, including after-sun moisturizers, since they can clog the pores and further aggravate the sunscreen allergy heat rashes.
- Avoid soaps on irritated skin. Use non-irritating and soap free products to bathe and wash.
If, despite these precautions, sunblock heat rashes still occur, then you could use cortisone based creams or take antihistamine to reduce the itchiness. If the heat rash from sunscreen allergy shows no sign of reducing or turns into pus-filled Miliaria Pustulosa, see a dermatologist promptly.