Summer is a time for days at the beach, pool and park — don’t let itchy rashes or burned skin be a wet blanket on your fun. But before you run to the pharmacy for a standard over-the-counter remedy, give your home cabinets a gander. That’s right: A bottle of apple-cider vinegar or a gallon of milk packs surprising healing powers. Check out these natural remedies for six common summer skin problems. (Note: If any of these don’t appear to be working after 24 hours, or if your symptoms worsen, consult your doctor.)
Mild cases of this heat-induced rash tend to disappear on their own. In the meantime, to relieve the intense itch, try swabbing the area with a cotton ball soaked with equal parts apple-cider vinegar and water to kill the bacteria that causes the rash. For additional comfort and to prevent future breakouts, wear loose-fitting clothing, shower or bathe immediately after exercising, and dust your chest, thighs and other rash-prone areas with cornstarch baby powder.
For most bites or stings, Prevention magazine suggests rubbing peppermint essential oil into the center. This cools the bite and increases blood flow, bringing relief. Just be sure to wash your hands afterward. If you don’t have peppermint essential oil, try rubbing an ice cube or holding an ice pack on the area for a similar effect, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban from the TV show The Doctors. For mosquito bites, dabbing on rubbing alcohol or ammonia also helps, Shamban says. (If you don’t have access to either, a small dab of hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol also works.)
For tick bites, Shamban recommends making a paste for the bite with equal parts apple-cider vinegar and cornstarch. The vinegar tightens the skin, acts as an antiseptic and contains antibiotic properties to help prevent Lyme disease, Shamban says. However, if you notice a red bullseye-shaped rash forming, see your doctor right away.
Mix equal parts whole milk and cool water and apply gently to the sunburn with a washcloth to remove the sting, according to Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a Boston dermatologist.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests adding 1 tsp. (5mL) of a homemade mixture of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol to each ear to promote drying and prevent bacteria growth. Tilt your head to the side after each application to allow the drops to drain, then dry the outer part of the ear with a soft cloth or towel.
Renowned integrative-medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil says that rinsing affected areas with lots of cold water immediately after exposure, as well as washing with rubbing alcohol, can reduce the symptoms of poison ivy. Another easy remedy: making a thin paste from baking soda and water. “It’s good for a lot of itchy things,” says JoAnn Chambers-Emerson, a registered nurse and educator for the Florida Poison Information Center-Tampa.
If walking in sandals or flip-flops leaves your feet blistered, head for the medicine cabinet. Apply hemorrhoid cream to relieve itching and burning, and swab the area with an antiseptic mouthwash to accelerate drying, according to Prevention magazine. (Never try to pop a blister.) To protect your feet in the future, swipe them with a little antiperspirant or pat them with foot powder.
Valerie Kalfrin is a writer in the Tampa, Fla., area. Her work has appeared in The Tampa Tribune, Ladies’ Home Journal, Poynter.org and 83DegreesMagazine.com. She has previously contributed to Life & Beauty Weekly.