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Sense and Sensitivity
The prickly heat rash product survival kit
June 22nd 2017 / 1 comment
Heat rash is as stubborn as they come - but can any beauty heroes really help you to ditch the itch? Judy Johnson rounds up the best products for prickly heat hell
Prickly heat, sweat rash, heat rash - whatever you like to call it (I’m keeping it clean), it’s the ultimate holiday nightmare. As soon as that itchy red rash appears, it’s hard to enjoy your well-earned relaxing break in the sun because you’re far too busy feeling like your skin is crawling and wondering whether perhaps if you cry enough the local doctor might give you something to knock you out until it’s all over. Sound familiar?
Preventing prickly heat is of course the name of the game, and you can find out more about how to stop heat rash in my previous column here. But if it’s too late and those red bumps have appeared, or perhaps you’re packing for your beach getaway and like all sensible sensitive folk you want to be prepared, here’s my - and your - recommendations of the products which might just help soothe your skin back to health…
Oat bath soaks
Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting recommends bathing itchy, inflamed skin in a colloidal oat bath, but using real oats is not always practical when travelling and these little sachets from Skin Shop, £1.95, are perfect for just that. Oats contain an active plant extract which soothes irritation and inflammation, making them an ideal remedy for itchy, red skin. Bathe before bed for a better night’s sleep.
Because prickly heat, also known as sweat rash, is caused by blocked sweat ducts which allow sweat to leak into the skin and creates inflammation, keeping skin dry and cool is paramount if you want to prevent or treat the rash. This is where a powder is ideal, but though you’ll see shelves upon shelves of a powder called Snake Brand Prickly Heat Cooling Powder in Thailand and beyond, it’s not a smart solution for sensitive skin, as Twelve Beauty founder and cosmetologist Pedro Catala tells me.
"Judging the composition, it should work as talc and kaolin are great ingredients to absorb excess sebum and impurities. However, I’d be very concerned not only because of the perfume but the camphor and the menthol. Both can trigger a nasty skin allergy as they are full of allergens, possibly worse than the perfume."
Given that I’m allergic to perfume and believe it has no place in skincare, powder or otherwise, that’s one I’m happy not to try even if the online reviews suggest it helps. But Pedro recommends opting for a rice starch or bamboo powder, such as this natural option from Une Nuit a Bali, €35 which contains rice powder, extra ylang-ylang essential oil and jasmine absolute. You can buy online (they deliver to Europe) or find the brand at Liberty’s. Dr Hauschka also has a body powder that could work if you’re not too sensitive to essential oils, £22.50.
Calamine lotion or cream
I recommend Care Calamine and Aqueous Cream, £2, for any and every rash going, and when it comes to sun related irritations nothing beats it. Soothing calamine together with moisturising aqueous cream reduces redness, inflammation and itchiness in one. I am never without it at home or away and highly recommend you always have a tube if you’re heading for sunnier climes.
Without a doubt, if you develop a prickly heat rash you will need more than just topical treatments to keep you from ripping your skin to shreds. Thank goodness for antihistamines. Do check with your doctor or pharmacist first, naturally, but I wouldn’t be without a stash of my personal favourites: Boots Allergy Relief tablets, £5.89. A pharmacist recommended them to me when I had a recent allergic reaction as my Piriton tablets were barely helping, and taking them was the most relief I’d felt in weeks. My doctor also prescribes fexofenadine specifically for before, during and after beach holidays which has helped ward off heat rash many times - chat to your GP and see which is the best option for you.
Cold, fresh water is an instant relief from the pain and discomfort of a prickly heat itch; and though it may seem frivolous to spend money on water sprays rather than head for the tap, it’s a necessary luxury if you’re on the move. If you’re after simply water, Boots has its own Hot Weather Refreshing Spray for Sensitive Skin, £3.99 (aka, water in a can), and I personally ensure I always have a travel-sized bottle of Eau Thermale Avene’s Thermal Spring Water, £8.50, packed with the rest of my holiday toiletries, because it's rich in silica and minerals which I'm convinced does more than plain water - this French brand knows its stuff when it comes to sensitive skin.
For a more medicated approach, Magical Plus Prickly Heat, £8, is worth trying; as well as being wonderfully cold, it contains skin-soothing allantoin and anti-inflammatory gromwell, plus it’s fragrance-free.
This is a recommendation from you, the readers of this column - I have had countless comments on my previous article endorsing Dettol’s antibacterial soap for helping to prevent prickly heat. You can read Dr Stefanie Williams’ comments on this in my previous article here, but it’s fair to say it’s worth a try - so long as you’re not too sensitive. Even the most ‘sensitive’ option in the range contains fragrance, so usually I would steer clear - plus, washing your body with such a harsh soap seems counter-intuitive if your skin is already suffering. I tried it during a particularly hot and humid holiday in 2017 (I bought in bulk from Amazon here) and found it helped a little, though it's hard to pinpoint this product specifically since I was going for the full anti-prickly heat kit listed here.
However, if it works for you then by all means keep it up - just please make sure you look after your skin with calamine and a non-comedogenic cream after all that scrubbing.
As with most skin reactions and rashes, steroid creams are the inevitable final attempt to get skin back to normality - whenever I’ve suffered with a heat rash I’ve always ended up at the GP surgery to get a prescription for Betnovate, Fucibet or similar (your doctor will know which is best). It still takes time, and they can thin your skin if used for too long, so don’t overdo it; but it’s worth taking an over-the-counter version such as hydrocortisone cream with you on your travels because you might be able to catch it before it spreads.
Pre-sun tanning products
Many prickly heat sufferers assure me that pre-tanning accelerator creams, oils and supplements can help to ward off the rash, but given that they are aimed at building up your melanin levels (the pigment that gives your skin its colour) in order to prepare your skin for the sun’s rays, I’m not convinced this would work for heat rash, which is caused by the build-up of sweat and blocked pores. However, they could indeed work well for those suffering from PLE (see more about the sun allergy condition here). Elemis, Imedeen and Decleor are worth checking out.
It goes without saying that creams, soaps and tablets can only do so much - what you need is to stay cool and out of the heat. Loose, cotton clothing, a sun hat and a parasol need to be your best friends in the hot weather; no sun block or cream can compete with that.
What are your prevention tips and remedies for prickly heat? Let me know in the comments!