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Horrible Acne after swimming in ocean

I have visited the Bahamas multiple times now and everytime I go down there, my upper back and shoulders break out in absolutely horrible acne. Mostly it contains whiteheads and then a constant redness starting from the lower shoulder blades up to my neck line. It seems to happen a few days after I go swimming in the ocean but it is at least partially possible it could be due to the over sweating from the warm climate. I do however work out and sweat a lot in the states (with mild acne on the back area but mostly just redness without many whiteheads) and thus feel the only difference is the swimming in the ocean. It also seems to take about 4-5 days before my back gets really red and produces about 150~ whiteheads. I cant even begin to pop them all and they seem to go away around 2 days after I leave the Bahamas. They make my back pretty sore and generally makes the trips very uncomfortable. Does anyone have any idea what might be causing this and/or what can be done to prevent this (aside from not going into the ocean)?
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Avatar universal
I have the exact same problem! (29y, male). After swimming in the sea, whiteheads start appearing (only on my face in my case). They are very small and there are lots of them.

It is definitely linked to the seawater. If I don’t swim, nothing happens. I have been treated for acne in my youth with Roaccutane.

Did anyone find a solution for this yet? Help is much appreciated!
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Avatar universal
Hi, within the frustration of suffering from this form of acne (in my case only on the face), I'm also glad to see this is not something rare, and people having the same problem are sharing their experiences. Hope all our comments help to find a solution to this.
I'm a 31 year old male, and since I turned 30 I have developed a form of dermatitis reaction which makes my skin to flake and rush around my forehead, nose and around the chin. I used to suffer from acne all the way from my teens to my adulthood (but for the past 5-6 years my acne has been well under control and nearly cleared out).

Before I used to find seawater to be a relief for my skin conditions, however since last year I am experiencing the same reaction of hundreds of small whiteheads around my nose, lips and chin, which appears after around the second day of being in the sea and goes away after 3-4 days. Surprisingly my dermatitis reaction improves with the seawater, but it leaves me with the uncomfortable acne.
For the last couple of years I have been surfing and I spend a fair amount of time in the water each time, loving my surf but this 'side effect' acne is really frustrating me.
Thank you kindly in advance for your help.
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I have had this same problem for the past 6 years every time I swim in saltwater, hundreds of small breakouts/Whiteheads in the front of my chest, shoulders, both sides of neck and upper back. I have seen several dermatologists which indicate it is a reaction combined between dead skin cells, sweat, salt particles from the water and the heat. I did however notice SIGNIFICANT improvement the past two years, and I suggest anyone who has this problem gives it a try it is very simple , all I do is find a beach with a freshwater shower and after each dip in the ocean shower off the saltwater from my skin. This does seem to help a lot, I also noticed the lower the amount of time I spend in the water the fewer breakouts I have if none at all. I have tried all types of ointments/ creames, types of sunscreen in the past and the only things that really works is limit my overall time in the water and most importantly wash the seawater off ur skin after you take a dip. This year in FL I stayed in the water for 15 mins at a time, shower off every time afterwards and somewhat limited time spent in the sun( i usually like to lay out in the sun  about 1 hour at a time) and I made a huge difference, with only 1 or 2 scattered breakouts. Hope it helps someone out there, it works for me I thought I would share it.
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Avatar universal
I have the same problem in the summer and it really is upsetting because i love to swim in the sea:-(  I live in Malta and every summer it is the same.  It's definately the salt water here because if i don't swim for a few days then the spots go away.  There are lots of tiny whiteheads on my chin and my nose, forehead.
I don't want to have to stay out of the water all summer again :-(

Any suggestions would be appreciated please...
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Avatar universal


What is swimmer's itch?
Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites that infect some birds and mammals. These parasites are released from infected snails into fresh and salt water (such as lakes, ponds, and oceans). While the parasite's preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin causing an allergic reaction and rash. Swimmer's itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.
How does water become infested with the parasite?
The adult parasite lives in the blood of infected animals such as ducks, geese, gulls, swans, and certain mammals such as muskrats and raccoons. The parasites produce eggs that are passed in the feces of infected birds or mammals.
If the eggs land in or are washed into the water, the eggs hatch, releasing small, free-swimming microscopic larvae. These larvae swim in the water in search of a certain species of aquatic snail.
If the larvae find one of these snails, they infect the snail, multiply and undergo further development. Infected snails release a different type of microscopic larvae (or cercariae, hence the name cercarial dermatitis) into the water. This larval form then swims about searching for a suitable host (bird, muskrat) to continue the lifecycle. Although humans are not suitable hosts, the microscopic larvae burrow into the swimmer's skin, and may cause an allergic reaction and rash. Because these larvae cannot develop inside a human, they soon die.
What are the signs and symptoms of swimmer's itch?
Symptoms of swimmer's itch may include:

tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
small reddish pimples
small blisters
Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, you may experience tingling, burning, or itching of the skin. Small reddish pimples appear within twelve hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters. Scratching the areas may result in secondary bacterial infections. Itching may last up to a week or more, but will gradually go away.
Because swimmer's itch is caused by an allergic reaction to infection, the more often you swim or wade in contaminated water, the more likely you are to develop more serious symptoms. The greater the number of exposures to contaminated water, the more intense and immediate symptoms of swimmer's itch will be.
Be aware that swimmer's itch is not the only rash that may occur after swimming in fresh or salt water.
Do I need to see my health care provider for treatment?
Most cases of swimmer's itch do not require medical attention. If you have a rash, you may try the following for relief:

Use corticosteroid cream
Apply cool compresses to the affected areas
Bathe in Epsom salts or baking soda
Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
Apply baking soda paste to the rash (made by stirring water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency)
Use an anti-itch lotion
Though difficult, try not to scratch. Scratching may cause the rash to become infected. If itching is severe, your health care provider may suggest prescription-strength lotions or creams to lessen your symptoms.
Can swimmer's itch be spread from person-to-person?
Swimmer's itch is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.
Who is at risk for swimmer's itch?
Anyone who swims or wades in infested water may be at risk. Larvae are more likely to be present in shallow water by the shoreline. Children are most often affected because they tend to swim, wade, and play in the shallow water more than adults. Also, they are less likely to towel dry themselves when leaving the water.
Once an outbreak of swimmer's itch has occurred in water, will the water always be unsafe?
No. Many factors must be present for swimmer's itch to become a problem in water. Since these factors change (sometimes within a swim season), swimmer's itch will not always be a problem. However, there is no way to know how long water may be unsafe. Larvae generally survive for 24 hours once they are released from the snail. However, an infected snail will continue to produce cercariae throughout the remainder of its life. For future snails to become infected, migratory birds or mammals in the area must also be infected so the lifecycle can continue.
Is it safe to swim in my swimming pool?
Yes. As long as your swimming pool is well maintained and chlorinated, there is no risk of swimmer's itch. The appropriate snails must be present in order for swimmer's itch to occur.
What can be done to reduce the risk of swimmer's itch?
To reduce the likelihood of developing swimmer's itch

Do not swim in areas where swimmer's itch is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water.
Do not swim near or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.
Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water.
Do not attract birds (e.g., by feeding them) to areas where people are swimming.
Encourage health officials to post signs on shorelines where swimmer's itch is a current problem.
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Avatar universal
I have this same problem. Never used to happen when I was a kid - after not being in the ocean for 10 years I went to Hawaii and had a horrible break out all over my face, shoulders, back but it wasnt a regular breakout. I know what my zits look like after 32 years. This was a reaction. No doubt. Hundreds of whiteheads, really sore sensitive skin, swollen, very red. At the time this came out I had an itchy rash come and go on random parts of my body. Especially my torso or under my arms...the places that were most touched by clothing or warmest.

I didn't think much of it until I went to St. Lucia, Mexico, and Antigua all with the same reaction. This happens every single time I swim in the ocean and I have no idea why. Its so frustrating - the ocean is my favorite place to be! Antihistamine seems to defuel the whiteheads for awhile and it brings great comfort to the additional rashes. Mine lasts for about 4 days after I stop going into the ocean.

I started taking Omega Zen 3 supplement a few weeks ago. A vegan Omega 3- the same reaction started happening this week. The only two things that make me break out in this way with this sore, itchy skin.

Any help is GREATLY APPRECIATED!!! Thanks.
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Avatar universal
Hi all,

I have a  similar problem but on my face, not on my shoulder. Everytime I go to the sea (regardless it is Atlantic or Mediterranean) a terrible acne appears in my face with hundreds of whiteheads. It takes approximately 2 days to appear and 2 days to completely disappear if I give up swimming. Never experienced the same problem in the swimming pool nor in the beach if I don't swim. I have tried with and without protection, but no difference. I'm 35 years old male.

Thanks for your help.
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1334842 tn?1275676847
It is probable that a mix between the warm humidity and and exposure to sunlight uv rays are extracting the acne already present in your skin. A white head indicates the bacteria is being pulled out of the skin. It generally takes about 14 days for acne bacteria to be expelled by the skin, so at the point when the acne is presently visible it has been there previously in most cases. However increases in humidity , sweating and sunlight can expidite this process and pull out your acne at an increased rate. The reason it hurts is because there are so many of them in one area. I suggest when you plan to go you use a body wash with small particle scrub. The scrub also increases the rate acne bacteria is pulled from the skin. Also try wearing loose clothes instead of tight, especially at night, like a loose flowing night gown instead of tanks and halters, the sweat sits in them and adds to the bacterial spread of acne.
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Avatar universal
Does this same episode occur while open-water swimming in the pacific or atlantic ocean?

My concern would be:

1) temporary weakness in the immune system - especially if you are consuming larger amounts of alcohol, and suffering jet lag. - leading to temporary opportunistic infection by dermal flora

2) infection by microbes in the water

3) sun burn, leading to immunocompromised state and opportunistic infection of the dermis
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