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It appears that warm weather is finally here to stay. This is a great time to be outside in our area, but there are precautions that you and your family members should follow to avoid sunburn and exposure to poison ivy and other plants that cause skin rashes, as well as bug bites (especially ticks). In the May column we discussed ticks and tick bites; here are some tips for avoiding the other problems.
Prevention of sunburn and tanning recommendations
With awareness of skin cancers related to chronic sun exposure (e.g., melanomas) having been raised, you rarely find any product claiming to be a suntan lotion anymore. Instead, products considered to be suntan lotions are usually sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of less than 15. These “tanning” sunscreens, which typically have an SPF 4 to SPF 8, do not provide enough sun protection, especially for children. Additionally, some dark tanning oils do not contain any sunscreen ingredients and may even include a tanning accelerator.
There are differences between sun blocks and sunscreens. Sunscreen works chemically by filtering the sun’s rays, whereas sun block works as a physical screen, reflecting the sun’s rays. Both sunscreens and sun blocks offer good protection against the sun, though sun blocks may be undesirable cosmetically as most of these are opaque.
Recommended characteristics of a sunscreen
Has an SPF of at least 15 to 30. An SPF over 30 usually does not add much extra protections. Using a high-SPF sunscreen might provide more protection for children, however, if sunscreen is applied as directed.
Offers protection against UVA rays and UVB rays
Is water resistant. Even if you aren’t going swimming, you or your child will likely be sweating, so a water-resistant sunscreen might provide better protection than a regular sunscreen.
Is hypoallergenic and fragrance free, especially if you or your child has sensitive skin
Is in a form that is easy to use on your child, whether that means it is a stick, gel, lotion, spray, or continuous spray
Wear clothing with an SPF factor, and choose long sleeves when possible.
Avoid the sun during peak burning hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wear a hat with a brim wide enough to protect the face.
Use a beach umbrella—not cool but helpful.
Be aware that water and snow can reflect the sun’s rays, increasing the risk of burning while on the water and when snow skiing.
Exposure to poison ivy and other rash-causing plants
Learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, so you can avoid them when you see them (see e.g. http://www.poison-ivy.org/identify-poison-ivy-poison-oak).
Wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, socks and fully enclosed footwear when walking in poison ivy-infested areas. This will help protect you from poison ivy, and also shield you from mosquitoes and other biting insects.
Apply a barrier cream, such as Ivy Block or Stokoguard. While no vaccine or medicine has been shown to prevent reactions to poison ivy, barrier creams that contain bentoquatam seem to be effective in slowing the absorption of urushiol, the irritant factor, into the skin.
Be aware that you can be exposed to poison ivy oil carried on pets.
Urushiol resin can remain active for a long time—years if kept dry—so handle potentially exposed objects with care.
Wash or dispose of clothes, tools, or other objects which may have come in contact with poison ivy. Use hot, soapy water and let the clothing or object dry outside for several days.