Help! I Keep Getting a Heat Rash on My Face — What Should I Do?

July 22, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
Help! I Keep Getting a Heat Rash on My Face — What Should I Do?

You can find me, my SPF 100 and a massive, shady umbrella on the beach nearly every weekend during the summer. But last year, an itchy, bumpy and red heat rash decided to cramp my summer style. Every single time I stepped foot in the sun, or heat for that matter, the rash would pop up on my nose, cheeks, forehead and chin. The worst part? I couldn’t figure out how to stop it from occurring or how to make it go away. And with the warmer weather in full force (how is it already July?!), I wanted to get more information on what I was experiencing and figure out what was really going on when the sunny skies and summer air interacted with my skin. Ahead, I consulted with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology to explain how a heat rash could be indicative of another skin condition, and how to help avoid these pesky occurrences. 

Can You Even Get a Heat Rash on Your Face? 

The sun and heat can trigger a rash, but there are a few other skin conditions that could be at play as well to consider: prickly heat rash, polymorphous light eruption, rosacea and, in rare cases, an auto-immune disease called lupus. (Note: If you aren’t sure what you may have, you should consult your doctor for a diagnosis and tips on how to manage any skin condition.) “Prickly heat is your typical heat rash that happens when you’re in a lot of sun, you’re sweating and your sweat glands get obstructed because of intense heat and sweating,” says Dr. Palep. “Then, because of the bacteria on our face, you begin to form pustules, almost like an acneiform rash.” Prickly heat rash presents as white pustules, crystalline bubbles on the skin or with itchiness and roughness. Contrastingly, someone with polymorphous light eruption, will identify with papular red bumps that look both dryer and larger in appearance. “Polymorphous light eruption is something I diagnose more often than prickly heat — with this one, the rash is on the face, the arms and the chest, too.” 

Both prickly heat rash and polymorphous light eruption can present on the face, but they typically also occur on other areas of the body at the same time. If your rash is restricted to just your face (hi, yes, me!), Dr. Palep says that you may be experiencing a rosacea flare-up. “If you’re experiencing the rash just on your face I would lean 90% toward a rosacea diagnosis,” she says. “Extreme heat is one of the most common causes for rosacea. Rosacea is an inflammatory condition, so once it’s triggered, removing yourself from the heat isn’t necessarily going to make it go away. ” This often presents across the nose, cheeks, chin or forehead and shows monomorphous red bumps. (Doctor’s note: If you’re experiencing a butterfly-like rash across the bridge of the nose, it could be a sign of an auto-immune disease called Lupus. Yet another reason you need to consult with your doctor. )

How to Avoid and Treat a Heat-Triggered Rash 

Depending on the diagnosis you get from your doctor, your course of action for both avoiding and treating the rash will differ. For example, someone with a prickly heat rash will likely benefit from simply getting out of the sun, cooling down and allowing the intense sweating to stop. While prickly heat is triggered by the heat, polymorphous light eruption is triggered mostly by sun exposure, so the best solution is to stay out of the sun altogether.  Next best is to wear protective clothing and to apply lots of sunscreen.

On the other hand, rosacea is triggered by both the heat and the sun. Unfortunately, given the inflammatory nature of the skin condition, simply removing yourself from the situation won’t make it go away. Dr. Palep explains that for patients with rosacea, like me, using sun protection (we like the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk SPF 100), wearing a hat and keeping cool (whether you’re at the beach or in the sun) are key. What’s more, adjusting your skin care routine — and even your makeup routine — could play a role in helping to manage flare-ups. Check with your doctor, but Dr. Palep advises that “People with rosacea need to realize you can’t be so fancy with skin care. If you’re using oils, serums, aloe and even certain cleansers, it can all be occlusive and have a negative effect.” She recommends using lightweight products that don’t have fragrances or other known skin-irritating ingredients.  We like the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser and the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Facial Moisturizer. In regards to makeup, Dr. Palep advises reaching for mineral powder makeup. “Mineral makeup sits on the surface, refracts the light and doesn’t dig into your pores or, from a cosmetic standpoint, highlight the roughness.” 

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