Ever noticed how professional landscapers seem oblivious to the seasons? It can be 90 degrees with 100% humidity and they’re wearing pants, boots, and long-sleeve T-shirts. But they’re the smart ones.
They’re still suffering, right alongside the rest of us, but they’re also well-protected from the litany of skin problems that can crop up from yardwork and gardening, some of them very serious, most of them more common than you’re thinking. But they’re also preventable. Here are some precautions to keep you out of trouble.
Wearing more than the absolute minimum for yardwork in the high heat of summer seems counterintuitive, I know, but when you’re working with plants, everything from the plant’s sap to its thorns can injure your skin. Heard of phytophotodermatitis? It’s a painful, blistering rash that occurs when plant sap gets on the skin and it’s exposed to sunlight. That’s all it takes.
So, whether you’re doing a little pruning in the garden or some more intensive brush clearing, make sure everything but your face is covered. That means: gloves, long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
Don’t touch your face.
Keep a clean washcloth in a pocket, too. It’ll come in handy when you’ll want to wipe sweat off your face. Don’t use the backside of a glove or a shirt sleeve because they’ve been in contact with lots of things you’re trying to keep off your skin.
Keep the bugs off.
The oversaturated summers we’ve been having as of late have made our yards and gardens especially conducive to gnats, mosquitoes, and lots of other bugs. So, once you’re outside, spray yourself head-to-toe with an insect repellent that contains DEET. And try to avoid your gardening and yardwork at dawn and dusk. That’s when bugs are the most active.
We’re also seeing unprecedented levels of Lyme disease here in the northeast. After you get undressed, check yourself thoroughly for ticks—ideally, in front of a tall mirror. Pay particular attention to your scalp, armpits, groin, and in between your fingers and toes. Those are common hiding spots.
Avoid the sun when it’s strongest.
The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM. If you can, stay inside then. But if there’s no way around it, slather on a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher before heading out. Then be sure to reapply it every couple of hours. And try to stick to the shade as much as possible. That’ll not only reduce your risk of skin cancer but also heat stroke and heat rash.
Treat a cut right away.
It’s tempting to pull a thorn out and keep working. But even that little puncture can become infected. So, stop what you’re doing and head inside. Wash the cut with soap and water. Dry it off, then apply an antibiotic ointment and cover it with a Band-Aid or bandage. Until the cut heals, clean it and keep it covered every day.
Much as some of this may seem like overkill, all it takes is a drop of sap, a single thorn, or a nasty bug bite to force you to admire the great outdoors through a window for the rest of the summer. In that light, what’s a couple extra minutes of preparations and a little awareness?