Prickly heat, sweat rash, heat rash, sun allergy - whatever you like to call it, 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 of Aveeno soothing bath treatment, £11.99, 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 by 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.There are issues with talc as well - there is some research suggesting that exposure to very large quantities of it is carcinogenic. So I’d say, plump for this lovely fragrance and talc-free Neal’s Yard Organic Baby Powder, £9.50 instead
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.
Antihistamines for prickly heat
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 (in store only).
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.
Homeopathic remedies prickly heat
There are natural and homeopathic antihistamines as well, and at for Get The Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall, they’ve proven to be pretty effective. “I suffered from sun allergy, which is similar to prickly heat, in my teens and early twenties and took the homeopathic remedy Sol 30c which worked instantly.”
Pharmacist, homeopath and Organic Pharmacy founder Margo Marrone says she’s successfully treated thousands of people with Sol 30c for prickly heat as well as the homeopathic remedy Urtica 30c. “Take the day before and the day you are exposed to the sun,” she says. “It works so well. I have had customers who for the first time are able to go in the sun without hives. They both prevent and treat sunburn as well.”
Natural antihsitamines – nettle and quercitin
Uritca, explains Margo, comes from nettles, and taking a nettle supplement along with ‘natural antihistamine’ quercetin is a powerful remedy that also works for hayfever. For this you need to start a few weeks before hayfever or sun season. Victoria recommends The Organic Pharmacy Quercitin Vitamin C Complex, £22, which also contains nettle leaf.
For straight nettles try Nature's Way Nettle Leaf Capsules, £15.91 “In addition to being an antihistamine, nettle leaf extracts are powerful diuretics helping to eliminate the compounds that are responsible for the inflammation of the sweat glands," says Shabir Daya, pharmacist, and founder of online pharmacy Victoria Health.
And Hollywood cosmetic doctor Barbara Sturm swears, like many of her fellow German physicians, by calcium supplementation – another instant remedy that has worked for Victoria’s sun allergy, when she took 500mg a day. Dr Sturm included the mineral in her Sun Skin Supplement, £65. Marrone says that the dose needs to be sufficiently high: “stick to 500mg twice a day,” she says. Try Bio-Calcium D3 + K1 + K2 by Pharma Nord, £7.95 which has 500mg calcium per chewable tablet.
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, I personally ensure I always have a travel-sized bottle of Eau Thermale Avene’s Thermal Spring Water, £8.71, 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, Magicool Plus Prickly Heat, £13.99, 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 Anti-bacterial Sensitive Soap Bar, £4.99 for a pack of 4, 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 (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.
Steroid cream for prickly heat
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 Tan Accelerator, £25.20, and Decleor Neroli Bigarade Gradual Glow Lotion, £12.16, 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!
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