A hot summer’s day beside the ocean or lakeside can leave you feeling many wonderful things. That lovely sun-kissed feeling. The joy of salt-tousled hair. The deepest of sleep that seems only ever to follow a day spent entirely outdoors.
Needless to say, breaking out in an itchy rash certainly isn’t the takeaway you’d hope for!
Unfortunately, the microscopic organisms that are found in salt and fresh water can make itchy rashes after swimming more common than you might think. Throughout this post, we’re here to explore everything you need to know about:
- The most common causes and symptoms of itchy skin after swimming
- How best to prevent an itchy rash this summer
- Natural treatment options for combating rash symptoms
Keep reading to learn more about how to ensure itchy rashes don’t spoil your beach-trip this summer.
Common Causes of An Itchy Rash After Swimming
Here are some common causes and associated symptoms of rashes following ocean swimming or freshwater dips.
If your severe symptoms persist or become life threatening, we urge you to contact your dermatologist or doctor for urgent medical attention.
Otherwise known as Cercarial Dermatitis, this common parasitic infection is caused by exposure to Schistosomes – tiny, microscopic parasites carried by freshwater snails. These parasites burrow into human skin and eventually die, triggering an irritable allergic reaction. It is possible to catch Swimmer’s Rash from both salt water and freshwater, though freshwater is more common. Key symptoms include:
- An itchy, bumpy rash that appears red on lighter skin tones and purple or brown on darker skin tones.
- The rash typically develops on exposed body parts that are not covered by a bathing suit, such as limbs, shoulders, and neck.
- This infection lasts up to a week and usually disappears without medical attention.
Linked specifically to salt water, Seabather’s Eruption is caused when the larvae of tiny thimble jellyfish or sea lice get trapped between a person’s skin and their bathing suit, wet suit, or surfboard, releasing poisonous toxins. Key symptoms include:
- A burning rash across body parts covered in clothes, made worse with rubbing and itching.
- While you might notice a prickly or stinging sensation in the ocean, it may not be until several hours after swimming that a more fully-blown sea lice rash appears.
- In the case of a severe rash, larvae toxin may also spark systematic symptoms such as developing a fever, chills, nausea, or a headache.
Diving Suit Dermatitis & Bikini Bottom Folliculitis
Beyond contaminated water, spending long, leisurely hours in your damp diving suit or bikini bottoms could also aggravate your sensitive skin.
- Diving Suit Dermatitis is a bumpy, red rash caused by the build-up of bacteria in poorly maintained diving suits.
- Bikini Bottom Folliculitis, on the other hand, is caused by wearing wet bikini bottoms for extended periods. This rash is characterized by round, itchy bumps or pimples at the base of your hair follicles that tend to show up between 1-2 days after exposure.
How Can I Prevent These Rashes?
Choose Your Swim Spot Carefully
Protecting yourself against itchy skin may be as simple as finding safer spots to swim.
For example, the risk of developing Swimmer’s Itch is higher in shallow water or warm water, where freshwater snails are more likely to thrive. So avoid contact with contaminated lakes, ponds, and other more stagnant water bodies.
When ocean swimming, it is helpful to know that Seabather’s Eruption commonly occurs in waters off the southeast coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. In Florida, lifeguards sometimes raise purple flags to warn swimmers about the presence of these thimble jellyfish, so keep an eye out for those.
Creating a protective barrier layer over the areas where you have historically reacted is a good first step. This will seal and protect your most delicate areas. Our founder Jennifer’s son, Tristan, reacts every time he goes in the ocean. She applies a good barrier balm to seal to protect the area behind Tristan’s knees and it works like a charm. She finds something with a high zinc percentage (6%+) and a waterproof formula with oils and wax and absolutely zero added water can work very well to prevent Tristan’s skin from flaring. You can try a mineral based sunblock, but those didn’t work well enough for Tristan, he was using them and still reacting. The only product that has worked well for them over the years to prevent a reaction is this Zinc Jelly from Key’s.
As we’ve mentioned above, many typical rashes that emerge after swimming are linked to contaminated water.
While it might be tempting to let yourself ‘drip-dry’ slowly in the sunshine, before jumping back onto your deck chair, try taking off your bathing suit as soon as possible and diving into a fresh water shower immediately to wash off the ocean salt and other nasty critters. To dry, pat your body gently with a towel to prevent irritation from rubbing.
Be sure to also avoid sitting in damp bathing suits for long periods and switch out your swimming costumes regularly. Wash your suits rigorously in hot water and throw them straight into the dryer afterward to kill any persistent bacteria. Hold off slipping into your diving suit again until it is thoroughly clean and dry.
In severe cases, you may also wish to get rid of your larvae-infested bathing suit to avoid further infection.
Treating Skin Rash After the Beach
Despite the best efforts and preventative methods, swimmer’s rashes are still common. So if you do notice yourself breaking out in itchy flares after swimming in the ocean, don’t panic!
There are many effective treatment options for disease control. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe steroid cream or antihistamines to help combat the allergic reaction at the heart of Swimmer’s Itch.
Cool compresses and calamine lotion may also help to ease inflammation and prevent spreading.
One of the most troublesome side effects of rashes is intense itchiness, keeping you awake at night with constant scratching, and increasing the risk of infection due to a weakened skin barrier.
To strengthen your skin and improve your chances of a quick recovery, it is essential to help restore your skin’s optimum hydration levels, soothing inflammation, and soreness.
Hot Skin Soother
If your rash is red, burning, or angry, we recommend gently massaging the Emily Skin Soothers for Red Eczema Rashes – “Hot Skin Soother” into the affected area. Free from colorants, artificial fragrances, preservatives, and chemicals, this buttery balm has been specially created to relieve irritation produced by larvae.
Organic Manuka Skin Soothing Cream
For deep moisturizing, we suggest you try the Organic Manuka Skin Soothing Cream. This oil-based balm is safe for even the most sensitive skin and has zero added preservatives or fragrances. The active ingredient of manuka oil is more potent than tea tree oil when battling bacteria and fungus, which is especially helpful when combating Diving Suit Dermatitis or Bikini Bottom Folliculitis.
Soothe your Swimmer’s Rash Today
Follow these tips and guidance to help you identify your rash and restore healthy skin today.