What Can Cause Itchy Skin in Summer — and How to Soothe It

What Can Cause Itchy Skin in Summer — and How to Soothe It

If you deal with itchy skin in the summer, you’re not alone.

And there’s a simple explanation for why you may find yourself scratching more as the weather heats up.

“Your skin is the most important barrier protecting your body from the outside world,” says Jennifer Haley, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director for Editor’s Pick.

“When the weather is warm and your skin is exposed, it’s more vulnerable to coming into contact with toxins and allergens,” she explains.

If itchy skin has you counting the day until fall, here are 7 possible causes — and tips for getting relief ASAP.

1. Bug Bites

For pesky insects like mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, bees, and wasps, summer is their time to shine.

Their bites and stings can leave red, itchy welts that last for days.

How to soothe it

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using an ice pack or an over-the-counter itch-relief medication to help soothe itchy bug bites.

If you experience a rash, hives, or any other worrisome symptoms after a bug bite, talk to your doctor.

How to prevent it

Avoid bug bites is by wearing long pants while hiking or working outside, Haley says.

Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes can also help to limit the amount of exposed skin for bugs to snack on.

“Using an appropriate repellent if in a highly infested area is also recommended,” Haley adds.

That’s especially important if you live in an area where serious tick-borne illnesses are prevalent, like the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S.

2. Poison Ivy (and Other Plant Rashes)

Close-up image of poison ivy leaves with berries.

“Gardening and hiking are common triggers for plant dermatitis such as poison ivy,” says Anna Chacon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with My Psoriasis Team.

While poison ivy, oak, and sumac are probably the most well-known culprits, the AAD cautions that various other backyard plants — including rose hips, hot peppers, and tulip bulbs — may also cause contact dermatitis.

How to soothe it

The FDA recommends treating minor plant rashes with wet compresses, cool water, an over-the-counter corticosteroid, or a skin protectant such as baking soda or colloidal oatmeal.

Resist the urge to scratch, as this can lead to infection.

If the rash becomes widespread, the itching gets worse instead of better, or you have a fever or other serious symptoms, talk to your doctor ASAP.

How to prevent it

The best way to prevent plant rashes is, of course, to avoid contact with the plant if possible.

“Being able to identify their leaves and appearance is critical in avoiding this potentially bothersome rash,” Chacon says.

If you’ve been in contact with poison ivy or other itch-inducing plants, wash your hands and any exposed areas with cool, soapy water when you come inside.

Throw your clothes in the laundry, and rinse the bottoms of your shoes to avoid tracking the plant oils into your house.

If your pet comes into contact with poison ivy, rinse with pet shampoo.

While furry friends typically aren’t sensitive to poison ivy, the oils can transfer from their fur to your hands, Chacon says.

3. Summer Allergies

Woman coughing and sneezing outdoors.

When it comes to seasonal allergies, spring and fall allergies tend to get all the itchy, sneezy hype.

But grass pollen allergies can flare up in summer, and a common symptom is — you guessed it — itchy skin.

How to soothe it

Over-the-counter allergy medications can help to reduce symptoms, but you may also want to speak to an allergist to help you find a long-term solution for managing your summer allergies.

How to prevent it

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an easy way to limit exposure to grass and other allergens is to keep your windows closed and limit time spent outdoors when pollen counts are high in your area.

(Check your local pollen forecast here.)

4. Dry Skin

Woman scratching her back over her shoulder

Yep, even if it’s so humid it feels like a sauna outside, you can still experience dry, itchy skin in summer.

According to the AAD, some of the most common causes of dry skin in summer are sun exposure, pool water, and air conditioning.

How to soothe it

Use a lightweight moisturizer to help relieve dryness — check out our list of the best body lotions for dry skin.

How to prevent it

To help prevent dry skin in the first place, the AAD recommends rinsing with fresh water after swimming in a pool and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen before going outdoors to help keep the sun from zapping your skin’s moisture.

5. Heat Rash

You may get this itchy rash — sometimes called “prickly heat” — when clogged sweat ducts trap perspiration under your skin.

Heat rash can appear as small blisters or red lumps and may cause a prickling or stinging sensation.

Humidity and excessive sweating are two of the most common causes of heat rash, and it often develops in areas where skin touches skin, like the torso or thighs.

How to soothe it

Over-the-counter anti-itch treatments like Calamine lotion can help, but heat rash may subside on its own after you rinse off or move to cooler air.

How to prevent it

“Wearing moisture-wicking clothing and avoiding friction, heat, and occlusion is the best way to avoid heat rash,” Haley says.

Try to limit your time outdoors during the hottest parts of the day.

“Look at the UV index daily and only go out when it is recommended — not at peak sun hours,” Chacon says.

And if you’re dripping with sweat after a summer workout, change out of your damp, clingy workout clothes ASAP and rinse off in a cool shower.

6. Sunburn

Close-up of a sunburn marks on a woman's back

Forgot to reapply your sunscreen? Sunburn is one of the most common causes of itchy skin in summer.

As your lobster skin heals (and peels), you may feel like your skin is crawling.

For some people, sunburn may even cause a deep, intense itching appropriately known as “hell’s itch.”

How to soothe it

Apply aloe vera and cold compresses to help soothe sunburned skin. And while the urge to scratch is strong, adopt a strict hands-off policy to avoid irritating your already-damaged skin.

How to prevent it

No surprises here — the best way to prevent an itchy sunburn is to avoid getting burned in the first place.

That means wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you’re spending time outdoors — even on cloudy days. Stay in the shade or wear sun protective clothing to limit your UV exposure.

7. Parasites

We realize this is probably the last thing you want to think about while you’re floating blissfully in the lake or ocean.

But if you’re feeling itchy after a swim, you may have come into contact with certain critters in the water.

There are two parasites in particular that can cause itchy skin after swimming:

  • Seabather’s eruption is an itchy rash caused by jellyfish larvae in the ocean. Because these stinging parasites can get trapped in your hair or swimsuit, the rash is often concentrated in areas of your body that were covered.
  • Swimmer’s itch is caused by an allergic reaction to tiny parasites from infected snails in lakes, ponds, or oceans. These parasites can burrow into your skin and cause small, itchy pimples or blisters. The good news (relatively speaking) is that they can’t survive in human skin, so the rash usually subsides on its own.

How to soothe it

Swimmer’s itch can usually be soothed with over-the-counter treatments like corticosteroid creams, baking soda, anti-itch lotion, or colloidal oatmeal baths.

Cool compresses may also help relieve itching. Avoid scratching, and talk to your doctor if itching is severe.

With seabather’s eruption, it’s important to remove your swimsuit before rinsing your skin, because rubbing or rinsing while wearing the contaminated suit can cause additional stings.

An ice pack or an over-the-counter antihistamine may help relieve your itchy skin. If the itching hasn’t subsided after a few days — or you experience pain, swelling, red streaks, or pus near the rash — talk to your doctor.

How to prevent it

To prevent swimmer’s itch, the CDC recommends reading the posted warning signs before swimming at the lake or beach (which is always a good idea anyway!).

Stay out of the water during outbreaks, and avoid marshy areas where snails are found.

Change out of your swimsuit and rinse off immediately after returning from the water, Chacon adds.