With gardening and yard work activities in the air – and the resulting skin problems that can come with them - dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology remind the public to take a few precautions. Although gardening can be an enjoyable activity, it can take a turn for the worse if you injure yourself, come into contact with a poisonous plant or have an allergic reaction. “Adverse skin reactions from gardening are very common and may include bug bites and stings, plant-induced rashes, and cuts and infections,” says board-certified dermatologist Sonya Kenkare, MD, FAAD. “While most of these can be easily treated, some can be serious, resulting in Lyme disease, a fungal infection, tetanus or worse. That’s why it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
7 Tips For Spring
- Wear Protective Clothing
To protect your skin, wear pants, a shirt with long sleeves, socks, shoes that cover your feet such as running shoes, and thick gardening gloves. Everything from the plant’s sap to its thorns or spines can injure your skin, and touching certain plants can cause an allergic skin reaction.
- Protect Your Skin From The Sun
To reduce your risk of sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging - including wrinkles and age spots - protect your skin from the sun. Before going outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, and make sure to reapply every two hours. It’s easy to remember sun protection at the beach, but it’s important during other outdoor activities including gardening.
Since no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, whenever possible. If your garden doesn’t have shade, create your own by setting up an umbrella. Avoid gardening between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Look Out For Poison Ivy, Oak And Sumac
These plants cause a rash in about 85 percent of people who come into contact with their oil. To prevent a rash, learn how to recognize these plants, as each has its own characteristics. You may also want to consider using a skin care product called an ivy block barrier. This product, which contains bentoquatam, helps prevent the skin from absorbing the oil that causes the rash.
Make sure to apply the block 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply it after four hours. Keep in mind that the oil from these plants can also stick to your gardening tools or clothing and then transfer to your skin if you touch them. If you fear that you may have come into contact with these plants, immediately wash your hands, tools and clothing.
- Take Precautions Against Pests
If you find a bug on your skin, flick it off rather than kill it, as this can prevent the bug from biting or stinging. You can also use insect repellent; however, avoid products that contain both insect repellent and sunscreen. Wear fragrance-free products, as overly fragrant products, especially perfumes and body sprays, can attract bugs.
These products should be used separately, as sunscreen needs to be applied generously and often, whereas insect repellant should be used sparingly. In addition, check your entire body for ticks after gardening. Be sure to examine your toes, hairline, groin and underarms, as ticks prefer warm, moist areas.
- Before Using Gardening Products Read The Labels
Many products, such as insecticides and weed killers, can have adverse effects, ranging from a mild rash to severe burns, if used incorrectly. In rare cases, people have developed life-threatening injuries. Follow all precautions on the labels of these products.
- Treat Wounds Right Away
If you have a minor injury, such as a small cut or a puncture wound from a thorn, it can be tempting to ignore it and keep working. However, even a minor wound can become infected. Immediately treat the wound by washing it with soap and water and applying plain petroleum jelly. Then, cover the wound with a bandage and change into clean gloves before continuing to garden. Make sure to clean the wound and change the bandage every day until the injury heals.
- After Gardening Shower And Change Into Clean Clothes
Sap, pollen and other parts of plants can get on your clothes and body. To protect your skin, shower and put on clean clothes immediately after gardening. Make sure you wash your clothes before wearing them again. “Although many skin problems caused by gardening can be prevented, adverse events can still occur,” Dr. Kenkare says. “If you have an injury or reaction that doesn’t heal or gets worse, see a board-certified dermatologist for help.”
Dermatologists And Dogs
Skin disorders like atopic dermatitis and ringworm can affect every member of the family including dogs. Fortunately, the persistent itch and other troublesome symptoms of these skin conditions can be treated. Moreover, as researchers learn more about how certain treatments benefit pets, they’re gathering valuable knowledge that could benefit human patients. “Dermatologists, veterinarians and scientists can learn a lot from one another,” says board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Gardner, MD, FAAD, an assistant professor of dermatology at University of Washington in Seattle and a collaborating member at the UW Center for One Health Research. “When we work together and share our expertise, it can improve the health of humans and animals alike, as well as the health of the environment they share.”
The roots of the One Health movement, which aims to explore the links between humans, animals and the environment, extend back to the days when a single doctor cared for all members of a household, both human and animal. Although medicine grew more specialized over the years, the idea of collaboration across different medical and scientific disciplines has gained momentum over the past decade. “We humans don’t exist in a bubble,” Gardner says. “We’re all interconnected with our environment and the other species that share that environment, so it just makes sense that we can learn from them.”
The way diseases affect animals in their natural environment could provide valuable information that could be utilized to treat the same diseases when they occur in humans. This is especially true for animals that share a household environment with people, like domestic dogs. Researchers have put a lot of effort into developing systemic and immune-based treatments for canine atopic dermatitis, since the use of topical treatments is limited in patients with fur. Down the line, the results of this work could affect the way dermatologists treat atopic dermatitis in human patients.
Although the microscopic mites that live on the skin vary from species to species, they behave in similar ways, so studying mites in animals could be useful in treating mite-related human conditions, such as rosacea and hair loss. One Health research also can help shed light on which conditions can be transferred from animals to humans and vice versa and which ones can’t. “If your dog has a skin condition, you may unnecessarily avoid it because you’re afraid you could catch what it has, and this can interfere with the mutually beneficial human-animal bond,” Gardner says.
“By collaborating with our veterinary colleagues, however, dermatologists can help you understand what’s going on with your pet, whether it can affect you and how you can ensure the health of everyone in your household, both people and animals,” Gardner added. “When different specialists work together, the benefits are evident across all their fields. In learning from other physicians and scientists, dermatologists can build on their own expertise to provide the best possible treatment for their patients.”
Experiencing Dermatologic Conditions
Skin disease may not be at the top of your list when it comes to hurricane-related injuries, but as more frequent and intense flooding disasters have occurred in conjunction with progressively rising temperatures, both disaster victims and relief workers have experienced significant dermatologic problems. “In 2017, we experienced almost as many flooding events as we did throughout the previous 10 years,” says board-certified dermatologist Justin P. Bandino, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology and dermatopathology at San Antonio Military Medical Center. “The health implications for people exposed to floodwaters are staggering and include a wide variety of dermatologic issues, such as wound infections, contact dermatitis and even electrical injuries from downed power lines.”
Skin and soft tissue infections are some of the most common dermatologic complications that people can experience following a disastrous flooding event. These types of infections can occur when injured skin is exposed to contaminated floodwaters containing sewage, chemicals or pollutants. In particular, tsunamis and hurricanes can cause major disruptions in the soil, unearthing unusual infectious organisms. “In cases when malnourished patients have not had access to food and clean water, even a small, superficial cut that has been exposed to these infectious organisms can result in a potentially dangerous infection,” Bandino says.
Symptoms of infection include expanding redness, warmth, tenderness and discharge, as well as wounds that do not heal or seem to reappear a few months after showing initial improvement. “It’s important to carefully monitor all wounds and seek treatment immediately if you see any of these signs, as these infections can be serious or even fatal,” he says. Animals and insects also pose risks to victims of extreme flooding.
Bites from domesticated and non-domesticated animals and snakes increase as rising floodwaters force them to compete with humans for space, whereas insects like mosquitoes use stagnant floodwaters as breeding grounds, which can lead to outbreaks of disease like Zika or malaria. Floating fire ant colonies appeared in the streets of Houston following flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
To reduce the risk of a dermatologic disease following a flooding disaster, Bandino recommends developing a flood response and evacuation plan tailored to the risks in your area. In addition to mapping routes for escape, he suggests putting together a basic first-aid kit that includes supplies for cleaning, covering and treating minor wounds, as well as insect repellant that contains the active ingredients DEET, picaridin or pyrethrin. To help reduce the chance of malnourishment and dehydration, which increase the risk of infection, he also recommends putting together a basic survival kit that includes nonperishable food and water supplies.
“Tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and other emergency situations can aggravate existing dermatologic conditions such as eczema or psoriasis,” Bandino says. “When possible, take any medications for current skin conditions with you during an evacuation along with other basic first-aid supplies; this can greatly reduce the opportunity for a flare.” “If you experience skin problems after exposure to floodwaters, see a board-certified dermatologist,” Bandino adds. “Dermatologists have unique training and expertise to provide an efficient diagnosis and effective treatment for the serious conditions that may arise after a flooding disaster.”
Dermatologists Offer Skin Health Expertise
Getting accurate skin care advice from a trustworthy source is important. When it comes to the skin, no source is more trustworthy than a board-certified dermatologist. The American Academy of Dermatology is reminding the public that dermatologists are the recognized experts in skin health.
Board-certified dermatologists can diagnose more than 3,000 skin, hair and nail diseases including skin cancer, acne, eczema and psoriasis, and provide effective medical and surgical treatment. In addition to diagnosing and treating these and other serious skin conditions, board-certified dermatologists can safely perform cosmetic procedures to improve the skin’s appearance and provide advice to help people care for their skin at home.
And every day, dermatologists across the country are utilizing their expertise to make a difference in their patients’ lives. “It’s really critical to work directly with someone who understands your disease, has seen a lot of it and is staying up to date with new treatments,” says Susan Thornton, who has been living for 25 years with cutaneous lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the skin. “It’s been so important to have a strong relationship with my dermatologist - it has enabled us to manage the disease so I can live a productive life.”
“Dermatologists care for patients of all ages, from an infant with a birthmark to a child with eczema, from a young woman with acne to an older man with skin cancer,” says AAD President Henry W. Lim, MD, FAAD. “No matter what your skin concern may be, a board-certified dermatologist has the education, training and experience to provide you with the best possible medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment.”
A board-certified dermatologist must complete at least four additional years of education after earning a bachelor’s degree and medical degree. This consists of a one-year internship and three years of an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited dermatology residency. Once his or her education is complete, a dermatologist must take an exam to get board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
While many providers may claim to be dermatologists or offer dermatologic services, these individuals do not have this rigorous training and therefore cannot offer the same level of high-quality care as a board-certified dermatologist. Before seeking dermatologic treatment, patients should make sure their health care provider is certified by the ABD, the AOA or the Royal College. The public should be wary of certifications issued by other organizations. To find out whether a health care provider is board-certified, patients can check the doctor’s website or the websites of the recognized certifying bodies.
Patients also can look for “FAAD” after the dermatologist’s name; this stands for “Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.” To earn this designation, a dermatologist must be board-certified. “As the only physicians who are specifically trained to diagnose and treat skin, hair and nail conditions, board-certified dermatologists are uniquely qualified to be your trusted partner in maintaining the health of your skin,” Dr. Lim says. “If you have a question or concern about your skin, seek the expertise of a board-certified dermatologist.”
Spring gardening tips are demonstrated in “How to Prevent Skin Problems While Gardening,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.