Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Don't scratch!

It is officially time to hate the next season. Spring is done here. Now, it's summer. Vicious insects sharpen their fangs. Frisky, hungry, irritated snakes lie in ambush. Poison ivy grows wantonly. Chiggers... well, they're everywhere. Then there's the sun...

Every document on the Web seems to say everything is easier to avoid than to treat. However, photojournalists are up to our eyeballs in all this nasty stuff -- particularly if someone dies from it. Here are some hints to make summer survivable:

Chiggers don't like sulfur. Buy some powdered sulfur and put it in an old sock. Before you go into high weeds, pat the sock against your legs as high as the grass grows. This should keep most of them off.

The particularly hungry chiggers can still be eliminated later (before you scratch until you are more blood than skin). I find a bath in bleach water or long swim in a chlorinated pool eliminates them. Another option is to cut off their air supply by painting over the chigger with nail polish (clear polish is the preferred choice).

Mosquitoes are best handled by spraying down with an insect repellent containing DEET before getting near their homes (wet areas). This has become even more important in America since West Nile Virus is on the scene.

Once bitten, Band-Aid makes an Itch Relief Gel Spritz, which works fairly well at calming the itch. However, old-fashioned Calamine or Caladryl (it's clear so you don't look diseased - you are, but you don't look it) lotions work well.

Poison plants
Poison plants are no fun either. I get poison ivy at least once each summer. I found an outstanding product last year called Tecnu. It's a clear gel with a photograph of a pine tree on the box (why they chose a pine tree for a poison ivy treatment is a mystery to me). It claimed to be able to inhibit poison ivy if applied before getting into contact with the plant as well as treating the symptoms once affected.

I've also used Ivarest by Blistex (unfortunately, it's pink). Then I give the bumps a few squirts of the Band-Aid spritz to tone down the itch.

Sunburns can seriously interfere with a photographer's ability to work. Heavy items hang off our shoulders, we need a full range of motion and we may need to lay on our stomach or back for a low angle shot.

Typically some water-related shoot causes the first burn of the year. The easiest way to avoid a burn is not to expose too much skin directly to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Since most of us understand this is impossible for our job, let's continue.

There are plenty of high SPF sunscreens on the market. Depending on the reflectivity of skin tone (this is the nice way to say it with large groups of multi-toned people), choose the best option for the amount of time and conditions the person will be in the sun. Use waterproof sunscreen if there is a chance of it washing off.

Although the tendency would be to use maximum strength SPF, get the appropriate level instead. PJs need to have some tan. It's good to have some base color to allow the body to handle those times when we aren't followed by a prop truck.

My worst burn ever was during a S.W.A.T. standoff in an apartment complex at the beginning of the summer. From 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. I baked on a cement driveway with no shade. The police said I would lose any ground I chose to retreat. At the time, I had a 200mm with a doubler, so proximity was important. In one day, I learned not to wear shorts even when called out of bed. At the end of the day, the guy killed himself, and I got no arrest photo.

Since someone will get burned, use Aloe Vera gel of some sort. I use the Solarcaine versions because it is medicated to reduce pain. The advantage of Aloe Vera (over chemical sprays) is the faster recovery speed and there seems to be less peeling.

Bull nettle
Bull nettle may only be a Texas problem, but I doubt it. Bull nettle (I have no idea what its actual name is, because there is no consensus on the Net) is the dark green plant with small purple or white flowers. It makes skin burn like fire once it touches skin. Typically these plants are the highest plants in a cow pasture (even the cows know better). When a person touches the plant, they get microscopic needles deposited into their skin and it feels like it must have some poison as well.

Although the effect wears off with time (and much pain), it's best to wet some dirt near the plant (typically a mineral-rich sandy soil) and make a mud pack. Put a medium-thick mud pack on the affected area. As the mud dries, it captures and removes the tiny needles. The trick is to keep the mud thick and pasty so it'll dry quickly. Do this as frequently as needed until the pain subsides.

I should address snakes and major wounds, but that needs to wait until some other day.

Enough for now,

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