Preventing summer sunburn, bites and rashes

Posted 6/5/19

Because summer is approaching, it is a good time to review ways of preventing sunburn, tick and insect bites, and allergic reactions to plant exposures. If you’re one to enjoy the outdoors, …

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Preventing summer sunburn, bites and rashes


Because summer is approaching, it is a good time to review ways of preventing sunburn, tick and insect bites, and allergic reactions to plant exposures. If you’re one to enjoy the outdoors, make it a priority to pay attention to skin care.

Suntan and sunblock preparations

We know much about the effects of chronic sun exposure and skin cancers, resulting in a wide variety of sun-tanning lotions that claim to protect your skin. The differences between these products and their potential protection can be confusing.

Sunscreens work as a chemical sunscreen by filtering the sun’s rays, whereas sunblock works as a physical sunscreen by reflecting the sun rays. Both sunscreens and sunblocks offer good protection, though sunblocks may be undesirable cosmetically as most of these are opaque.

Tanning sunscreens usually have a SPF of four to eight and do not provide adequate sun protection, especially for children. Additionally, there are some dark tanning oils that do not contain any sunscreen ingredients and may even include tanning accelerators.

Recommended characteristics of an effective sunscreen

  • Has an SPF of at least 15 to 30. SPF over 30 usually does not add much extra protection. Using a product with SPF over 30 is usually used for infants and young children, if applied as directed.
  • Offers protection against UVA and UVB rays, both thought to be the wavelengths involved with skin-cell damage and potentially cancer causing.
  • Is water resistant. This form should be used even if you are not swimming because sweating can dilute the protection of the sunscreen or block.
  • Is hypoallergenic and fragrance free. This is important if you have sensitive skin. Also fragrances attract flying insects that might bite or sting you.
  • Use the form of sunblock or sunscreen (spray, lotion, gel, etc.) that is easy to apply, especially for children.

Other protections from sunburn

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts when possible.
  • Avoid the sun during the peak burning hours, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Both water and snow can reflect sun rays, increasing the risk of burning whether at the beach or skiing.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim that can shield the face and the back of the neck.
  • Use a beach umbrella: not always cool, but helpful.

Avoiding bug bites, especially ticks

Deer ticks and Lyme disease

This spring promises to produce a bumper crop of nymphs. These nymphs cause most cases of Lyme/tick-borne infections, and they represent the greatest threat because of their near microscopic size. Once an infected tick attaches to a person, it takes a minimum of 24 hours before it can infect the host.

Agents for repelling and killing ticks

Of all the various insect repellents available, DEET has been the most effective at repelling ticks and other flying insects like mosquitoes. If you are planning to use this on kids, first consult with your family physician as to whether the sprays or wipes with DEET are appropriate.

DEET may work at repelling ticks, but experts recommend that if you are in an area with high tick populations you should also wear tick-repellent clothing treated with permethrin, which kills ticks after only five to 30 seconds of contact. You can buy commercially treated permethrin clothing that lasts up to 70 washings. If you treat your own clothing, it will last up to five washings. Do not spray permethrin directly on your skin.

Other tick prevention procedures

Wearing light-colors garments makes it easier to spot a tick crawling on you.

Ticks latch easier onto courser weaves, such as canvas material. Wear smoother, tightly woven fabrics instead.

Always check yourself, children and pets each day after coming inside. Use tick prevention medication recommended by your vet.

Tips for avoiding exposure to rash-causing plants

Learn what poison ivy, sumac or, oak looks like. Avoidance is always the best. Call your local garden or farm store or cooperative extension if you are unsure.

Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and fully enclosed footware when walking in infested areas.

You might want to consider using a barrier cream as a prevention such as Ivy Block or Stokoguard. Creams that contain bentoquatam seem to be the most effective in slowing the absorption of the oil from poison ivy/oak/sumac (Urushiol)

Your pet coming in from the outside can bring in these oils on their fur.

Urushiol can remain potent for a long period of time – even years, if kept dry. If you know that a shovel or hand instrument has brushed poison ivy plants, wash them with warm soapy water. Clothing should also be washed out and dried outside for several days.

Gloves are always helpful if working in flowerbeds and fence rows.

About 15% of the population do not react to exposure to these types of plants.

If you have come in contact, wash exposed areas with soap and water as soon as possible.


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