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  • Rajani Katta MD

Skin Care Tips for Spring Break Trips

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Vacations are always hotly anticipated. And while returning from vacation can be hard, it's even harder when you pick up a side effect from your trip. As many people head out for spring break trips this month, I wanted to highlight some of the unwanted vacation side effects that I've seen in patients, friends, and family.

For those heading to the beach, here are some unwanted side effects to look out for:

Don't forgot to apply sunblock to your feet if you'll be out in the sun.

1. Sunburned feet. Or ears or neck. Most people recognize how important it is to protect your skin from the sun. But when you're out of your usual routine, it can be hard to remember all the areas that need protection. A few years ago, I had a patient who was wearing sandals on vacation. She was wearing a hat, and had applied sunblock to her face and hands, but had forgotten about her exposed feet in sandals. The result? Sunburned feet. Along the same lines, I've had friends head to spring break training with that special baseball cap--the one that does nothing to protect their ears. After sitting in the stands for hours every day, they've returned with sunburns on the tips of their ears.

2. Sunburns, even in people who wear sunblock. This is one of my frequent pieces of sun advice: it's important to use sun protection, not just sunblock. That means being careful about your sun exposure, and using hats, sunglasses, and clothing. This post has more sun protection tips.

3. Margarita dermatitis. One of my friends was at a beach restaurant in Mexico, sipping her margarita and squeezing lime wedges. Some of the lime juice fell on her hands, and that's where she later developed blisters. That's known as margarita dermatitis, and it's due to the combination of lime juice and sunlight. Here's a video segment about this funny-sounding (but real) condition.

While pure henna is unlikely to cause skin reactions, black henna temporary tattoos can cause serious allergic skin reactions.

4. Black henna reactions. I used to see this in patients who returned with black temporary tattoos from Thailand or Mexico. And then I started seeing it in patients who'd had temporary tattoos done in Florida. What are black henna temporary tattoos? These are different than henna tattoos. Henna has been used for centuries in India for decorative, temporary tattoos. These are red orange in color, and are unlikely to cause any reactions at all.

Black henna, on the other hands, starts with pure henna but then mixes in a hair dye chemical. (That chemical is known as para-phenylenediamine, or PPDA for short, and is used in most hair dyes sold in the US.) Studies have shown that the concentration of PPDA in some temporary tattoos can be very high, and therefore more likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Pure henna tattoos are lovely, and safe. But please, please avoid black henna temporary tattoos.

Use the right kind of insect repellent, and reapply as directed.

5. Bug bites. I think everybody's now heard about the Zika virus, but there are a number of other insect-borne illnesses.Don't underestimate the importance of using bug spray, and reapplying as directed. If you're heading out on an 8-hour tropical hike, buy the right type of insect repellent, and know how long it lasts.

I don't know what insect bit me, but the bite in the photo above was the most intensely itchy bug bite I have ever had. (Courtesy of a Costa Rica insect)

6. Worms in your feet. This is pretty unlikely, but I have to mention it, because it's so cringe-inducing. And because I've treated patients with it.

The general rule of thumb is, if you're traveling to certain areas, such as Puerto Rico or a number of other tropical locations, don't go barefoot on a beach where dogs have done their business. Dog feces can sometimes be infected with certain worms, and those worms can burrow into your feet. This is known as cutaneous larva migrans. One of my patients picked up a case of CLM after her Puerto Rico beach vacation.

If you're heading out for a ski vacation, watch out for these potential vacation side effects:

If you'll be skiing for a full 8-hour day, make sure you reapply sunblock.

1. The ski goggle sign. It's a beautiful crisp, sunny day. You remember to apply sunblock in the morning before you head out. And then you proceed to ski for 8 hours.

Sunlight reflects off of snow, which makes sunblock important. It can certainly be hard to remember sunblock when it's so cold outside--and it can be even harder to remember to reapply sunblock over the course of the day. But that's when I'm likely to see the ski goggle sign: your eyes have been protected by your ski goggles, but you've got a sunburn on the rest of your face.

2. A flare of eczema. For people with eczema, or for those who are prone to eczema, winter destination trips can include a number of possible eczema triggers. Extremes of temperature often trigger an eczema flare. The cold air outside can damage the skin on your face and hands. And when you return to your hotel room, and turn up the thermostat, that heat will pull moisture out of the air and out of your skin. And while long hot showers after a cold day outside can feel great, they can also do some real damage to your skin barrier.

3. Which brings me to my next side effect: allergic reactions to hotel skin care products. Many of us like trying out the different soaps and hair care products in hotels. BUT...the added fragrance and other preservatives in these products can trigger an allergic reaction. And since these reactions usually take 2 to 3 days before they appear, you may be home before your skin starts to itch. If you have a history of eczema, or sensitive skin, you're better off packing your own skin care products.

The bottom line: Whether it's sun or ski, take a few extra skin precautions to make sure you don't return with any of these unwanted vacation side effects.

*If you'd like future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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