Go to AAD Home
Donate For Public and Patients Store Search

Go to AAD Home

Gardening this spring? Dermatologists share tips to prevent skin problems

ROSEMONT, Ill. (April 9, 2019) — 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. “While most of these can be easily treated, some can be serious, resulting in Lyme disease, a fungal infection, tetanus or worse. That’s why it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

To prevent skin problems from gardening or yardwork, Dr. Kenkare recommends the following tips:  
  1. 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.
  2. Protect your skin from the sun. It’s easy to remember sun protection at the beach, but it’s important during other outdoor activities too — including gardening. To reduce your risk of sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging, including wrinkles and age spots, 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. If your garden doesn’t have shade, create your own by setting up an umbrella. Avoid gardening between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  3. 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. If you fear that you may have come into contact with these plants, immediately wash your hands, tools and clothing.
  4. 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. Be sure to examine your toes, hairline, groin and underarms, as ticks prefer warm, moist areas.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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 garden. Make sure to clean the wound and change the bandage every day until the injury heals.
  7. 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.  
“Although many skin problems caused by gardening can be prevented, adverse events can still occur,” Dr. Kenkare says. “If you have an injury or reaction that doesn’t heal or gets worse, see a board-certified dermatologist for help.”

These tips are demonstrated in “How to Prevent Skin Problems While Gardening,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the AAD website and YouTube channel each month.

Nicole Dobkin, (847) 240-1746, ndobkin@aad.org        

More Information
Poison ivy, oak and sumac
Tips to prevent and treat bug bites
How to treat a bee sting

About the AAD
Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 19,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).