Living in a place where millions come to vacation each year most definitely has its benefits. Unfortunately, enjoying the year round sunshine does come at a cost. Whether it is protecting yourself and your children from the harmful rays of the sun, or surviving the almost constant onslaught from those pesky, biting, insects, how much do you know about the various sunscreens and insect repellents that are available? Are they effective? Are they safe?
Insect repellents come in many forms, including aerosols, sprays, lotions and sticks. Some are made from chemicals and some have natural ingredients.
Chemical repellents containing DEET are considered the best defense against biting insects. The amount of DEET in insect repellents varies from product to product, so it’s important to read the label of any product you use.
Studies show that products with higher amounts of DEET protect people longer. For example, products with amounts around 10% may repel pests for about 2 hours, while products with amounts of about 24% last an average of 5 hours. But studies also show that products with amounts of DEET greater than 30% don’t offer any extra protection.
The AAP recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months of age.
Use just enough repellent to cover your child’s clothing and exposed skin. Using more doesn’t make the repellent more effective. Never spray repellent directly onto your child’s face. Spray a little on your hands first, then rub it on to child’s face, sparing the mouth and eye areas. Remember, once you return indoors, be sure your child washes with soap and water to remove the repellent and wash the sprayed clothing before wearing again.
Another product has been shown to repel biting insects similar to DEET and that is Picaridin. Products containing Picaridin vary in strength and you should always read the labels for proper use. One may apply Picaridin repellent on clothes and exposed skin.
Some more natural products that are on the market such as oil of lemon, eucalyptus, and 2% soybean oil have shown some moderate repelling effect, however usually last under 2 hours per application.
Remember these insect repellents prevent bites from biting insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and biting flies but not stinging insects, which include bees, hornets, and wasps.
Despite what a product claims or what their label reads, not all products have the same level of protection. Wristbands soaked in chemical repellents, ultrasonic devices that emit sound waves designed to keep insects away and taking Garlic or Vitamin B1 by mouth have proven to be much less effective.
Insects are attracted to stagnant water, garbage, and flowerbeds. Insects are also more prevalent in the evening, beginning at sunset. Other ways you can protect yourself and your children from insect bites is to wear long pants, lightweight long sleeve shirts, socks and closed shoes when you know you will be outside during the evening hours. Avoid dressing your child in clothing with bright colors or flowery prints and don’t use scented soaps, perfumes, or hair sprays as these things may actually attract insects. Mosquito nets should always be used to protect your infants in strollers and baby carriers.
Sunlight consists of two types of rays — Ultraviolet A, or UVA and Ultraviolet B, UVB. Both types of rays can be very harmful to our skin and our overall health, with UVB rays being the primary cause of sunburn, premature aging, and potential skin cancer. The effectiveness of sunscreen is measured by its SPF rating. SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UVB exposure, when properly applied. If your skin would normally burn in 20 minutes without sunscreen, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 10 would allow you to stay in the sun for 200 minutes, or 10 times longer than without any protection. This is just a rough estimate as many factors go into determining how long your skin can tolerate exposure to UVB. Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
Another key component, often overlooked, is that to get the greatest benefit from sunscreen you have to apply it in the correct amounts. Did you know that most people apply only 20-25% of the recommended amount? For the average sized adult, each application should consist of 1oz, or a shot glass filled with sunscreen with a nickel sized dollop on the face alone. This amount should be adjusted accordingly for the size of person to which it is being applied. Please read the label on your preferred sunscreen bottle for application amounts. Unfortunately, this is not a “one and done” application either. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours if swimming or sweating.
To prevent sunburn, and the damaging effect from the suns rays, the AAP recommends that infants, under 6 months of age, avoid sun exposure as best as possible, and should be dressed in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. However, if adequate shade or covering is not possible, one can apply a small amount of sunscreen, at least SPF 30 with both UVA and UVB protection, to small areas on the baby, such as the face and back of hands.
For children 6 months and up, it is best to avoid direct sunlight during the peak hours of 10 AM – 4 PM. On both sunny AND cloudy days, a broad spectrum sunscreen, protecting against both UVA and UVB, should be applied to exposed areas. Hats with brims and sunglasses should also be worn.
Dr. Fisch is a pediatrician at Palm Beach Pediatrics. He was raised in Teaneck,NJ with his three brothers. As a child he played competitive baseball and soccer and participated in boy scouts, where he developed a love of the outdoors and camping. He received a Bachelors of Science from Columbia University in New York City before going to medical school at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia.