Some Do Not Like It Hot
Every time I take a shortcut, it backfires. Every. Single. Time. So I should’ve known better when I decided back in midsummer to skip covering my entire being in assorted gels, serums, creams, lotions, and oils from head to toe after my daily shower and again at bedtime – a ritual I’ve done religiously since I was three years old. My body is my temple. And my temple is dry as the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth.
But it’s so hot! The weather by me in the New York City area has averaged 1000 degrees since the beginning of July. The humidity’s hovered at 1110%. And the air quality’s been like inhaling a sewer.
Which probably accounts for why my face – oily in the summer, normal-ish the rest of the year -- itches, too. All summer long, my eyebrows, eyes, and nose have driven me crazy.
All of which is to say that the moment I step outside – always a mistake – I start itching and sweating like some kind of deranged farm animal. It’s horrible. Even my hair sweats and itches. So I figured, What’s the point of putting on all those pricey potions? They’re only going to mix with my sweat, drip off my body, and make everything even more disgusting. (I did apply SPF everywhere; I’m super-fair and burn in two seconds.)
But! On one recent morning I awoke to find my face and body blotchy, red, inflamed, scraped raw, and torn up all over. There was blood on my white cotton sateen sheets. My bedroom and I resembled a crime scene. At first I thought my cat Lilly had attacked me in my sleep because I hadn’t left her enough Temptations. But then I looked at my freshly pockmarked hands and saw my nails had my DNA in dried blood and other grisly articles underneath them. (I later apologized to Lilly for EVER accusing her, begged her forgiveness, and bought her 10 new bags of Temptations. She was okay with that.)
I called the good Dr. Tina Alster for help. She’d know what to do. She’s like the Mother Teresa of skin.
“This is all on you,” she said.
Mother Teresa just judged me.
“It’s all your fault,” she added (for that extra-caring emphasis). “Chances are it is eczema or dermatitis. The trigger can be a genetic predisposition to having sensitive skin. And it doesn’t appear spontaneously. It’s from stress, which leads to inflammation in the body, skin being the largest organ. Nerves are excited and cause you to itch.”
To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, “I can wade stress – whole pools of it. I’m used to that.” Poor Emily Dickinson. We share the same birthday. We have so much in common. Neither of us ever liked leaving the house much.
“Or you can come into contact with an allergen or irritant like poison ivy,” Dr. Alster continued. “Or you’ve got a dog and the dog gets into it and you inadvertently get it on yourskin. Or it can be other things that only some people are allergic to – fragrances, bergamot, oils in perfumed body lotions or detergents or fabric softeners.”
“What about pollution?” I asked.
“Pollution can also cause dehydration and dryness,” Dr. Alster said. “Bad air plays a role in skin, again, because of inflammation. If your skin is naturally dry, it will obviously be more itchy and inflamed and irritated. If you’re prone to sensitivity – ”
“And I am nothing if not sensitive … ”
“It will make it worse. Avoid exposure to those situations and clean the skin with a gentle soap and water, and moisturize afterward.”
“But how can my skin be dry in one thousand degrees of heat and humidity?”
“Even if you think you don’t, you need moisture,” she explained. “You need to moisturize. Meanwhile, apply a cortisone cream. Take an oral antihistamine like Benadryl. And don’t ever put stuff like Caladryl on the skin – never use that.”
“And why did I scratch myself into oblivion at night?”
“You’re more quiescent at night. You’re not moving around so you notice your skin more.”
“Short of bug bites, I never thought summer could make you itch like this.”
“Big mistake. The bottom line is that when it’s humid out, those areas that itch, it’s a lot more important to still moisturize. You can’t get moisturized by the heat outside -- it leads to irritation and inflammation It can actually dehydrate your skin more because sweating makes you drier and it irritates. Sweat is not a moisturizer!”
Sweat is not a moisturizer. My new mantra. “I thought dry skin was strictly a winter thing,” I said.
“We see it more in colder months because the air and your skin are dryer,” Dr. Alster said. “But summer can be just as bad.”
I’ll say. Wow. This was a huge lesson in summer skin survival. Dr. Alster suggested lots of remedies and within ONE shower, I was back to calm-itude. (The sheets, they’re another story.)
As summer winds down, it’ll still be hot and humid for a while. Here are Dr. Alster’s musts to prevent you resembling poor dead Andrea Cornish from The Night Of:
- Stay away from gel cleansers and bar soaps. Use opaque or white cleansers like Dove. Fragranced cleansers are bad. The more basic the better. You want no anti-aging things in it.
- Same goes for facial cleansers; creamy and soothing, not lathery and stripping.
These are the best products from face to feet that both Dr. Alster and I recommend. None are greasy or weird, even the thickest body creams. All are light yet nourishing and incredibly effective, instantly. Start using them now. You’ll need them all the way through the holidays and beyond. (P.S.: I found a few fragranced and gel products that are More Lovely-worthy and will not freak your skin out. At all.)