Protect your skin while gardening

As the days get warmer and more people head outdoors to garden or do yard work, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology are reminding the public to take a few precautions. Although gardening can be an enjoyable activity for many, they say, 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, who works in private practice in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

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To prevent skin problems from gardening or yardwork, Dr. Kenkare recommends the following tips:  

Wear protective clothing

Everything from the plant’s sap to its thorns or spines can injure your skin. Moreover, touching certain plants can cause an allergic skin reaction. 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.

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. Keep in mind that 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. 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. 

Take precautions against pests

\Wear fragrance-free products, as overly fragrant products, especially perfumes and body sprays, can attract bugs. 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. 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. 

Read the labels on gardening products before using them

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 the garden. Make sure to clean the wound and change the bandage every day until the injury heals.

Shower and change into clean clothes immediately after gardening

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. 

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