Don’t get burned, bitten or bamboozled this summer; here are safety tips for dealing with the sun, insects and sales pitches

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Summer is finally here, and after one of the coldest Kentucky springs, who doesn’t want to be outside swimming, skiing, fishing, barbecuing or soaking up rays on the beach? While summer may bring much-anticipated fun in the sun, it’s important to take some  safety precautions to make sure you and your family are not getting too much of a good thing.

Sunscreen can protect you from cancer, but don’t spray it

The sun is bad for your skin, and exposure to its harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can increase your risk for skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the U.S., says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s critical to protect yourself and your children from sun damage because just one blistering sunburn in childhood more
than doubles the odds of developing skin cancer later in life, says the Mayo Clinic.

Fortunately, it’s never too late or too early to lessen your risk of sun damage by using sunscreen, and the Environmental Working Group has recently released its 2013 Guide to Sunscreens, which rates more than 1,400 sunscreens, lip balms, and SPF moisturizers and cosmetics for safety and effectiveness.

This year, EWG says 184 sunscreens, 25 percent of those on the market, met its criteria of offering adequate UV protection and posing few safety concerns. You can click here to view that product list, or here to check out the EWG findings for moisturizers, lip balm and makeup.

EWG also created a somewhat surprising list of things NOT to bring on vacation because they are unsafe or do not provide adequate UV protection:

  • Spray sunscreen: These sprays may pose serious inhalation risks, and they make it too easy to not apply enough sunscreen or to miss a spot.
  • High-SPF sunscreens: These products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, which can increase the risk of other kinds of skin damage, and EWG recommends that consumers avoid products labeled higher than SPF 50.
  • Oxybenzone: Used in half of sunscreen products, this chemical penetrates the skin and can adversely impact health in several ways; in the body, it acts like the female hormone estrogen and can cause allregic reactions.
  • Loose powder sunscreen: Tiny zinc particles in these products can also end up in your lungs when you breathe them in during application, which irritates the lungs.
  • Retinyl palmitate: Some sunscreens contain this chemical, which is a form of vitamin A, but when applied to sun-exposed skin, it may speed development of skin tumors and lesions.
  • Combined sunscreen/bug repellents: Studies show this combination leads to increased skin absorption of the repellent ingredients.
  • Sunscreen towelettes: Whether they really work is unknown.
  • Tanning oils: They are simply a bad idea
    and can ultimately lead to behavior that increases risk of developing skin cancer.

So, check the ingredients for your sunscreen, avoid high-SPF’s or sprays and make it a habit to wear sunscreen during sports or whenever you’re outside. Be sure to reapply often to ensure UV protection, particularly if you get wet or sweaty. Click here to read EWG’s “Nine Surprising Facts about Sunscreen.”

Hats and clothing: Choose the right kind

Children are more vulnerable to sun damage, so in addition to actual sunscreen, the best sun protections for them are a hat and shirt (which also protect adults). The CDC recommends avoiding straw hats that let sun through the holes, and to wear a hat with UV protection or a wide brim to shield the face, head, ear and neck. If you do chose to wear a baseball cap, protect your ears and neck with clothing, sunscreen (with at least SPF 15) or spend lots of time in shade.

Wear clothing to protect exposed skin. The CDC says loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best UV protection. Darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors, and a wet t-shirt offers much less UV protection that a dry one.

Sunburn treatment: People with fair skin or light-colored hair are more likely to be sunburned. If you get sunburned, remember that “The skin heals but is forever damaged,” writes University of Kentucky nursing Professor Mollie Aheshire. “The more frequent and more severe the burns, the more damage there is,” along with risk for cancer and premature aging. “If a sunburn is blistering and covers a large portion of your body; is
accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, confusion, nausea or chills;
or does not respond to at-home treatment within a few days . . . see a health-care provider.” Mild sunburns can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, cold compresses and moisturizing creams — aloe vera or
hydrocortisone lotions. “If blisters form, do not
break them,” Aheshire writes. “Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Treat peeling
skin gently. Stay out of the sun until redness and pain resolve.” (Read more)

Sunglasses: Not just to help you see now, but to keep you seeing longer

Besides being dangerous for your skin, UV rays are dangerous to your eyes and can cause vision disorders, premature aging of the eyes or even blindness. It is important to wear sunglasses to protect eyes from sun damage, although a new survey from the American Optometric Association shows that only 40 percent of consumers cite this protection as the primary reason for wearing sunglasses, says a Kentucky Optometric Association press release.

To help reduce the risks of harmful UV exposure on the eyes, children and adults should start wearing protective sunglasses as as early as possible, and parents should ensure that babies are protected by sunglasses too, says the release. When choosing sunglasses or protective contact lenses, make sure that they block more than 95 percent of UV-A and more than 99 percent of UV-B radiation, says the KOA, and sunglasses should have a frame that fits close to the eyes so the UV rays can’t sneak around the sides.

Insect repellent: Bugs can bug you, but don’t over-react to them

Although nothing can ruin a relaxing summer picnic faster than bugs, take precautions to ensure you’re using the right type of bug repellent– one that’s been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency — and that you’re using it wisely.

Not only are bugs annoying, they can also carry dangerous diseases, and for the safe and effective use bug repellents, always read the
product label before using the product, EPA says. It says to follow these bug-repellent safety tips:

  • Repellents should be applied only to exposed skin and/or clothing. Do not use them under clothing.
  • Store insect repellents safely out of the reach of children.
  • Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and be use sparingly around the ears.
  • When using sprays, spray on the hands first and then apply to the face, not directly to the face.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas and avoid spraying near food.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
  • Do not use any product on pets or other animals
  • Most insect repellents do not work on lice or fleas. 
  • Click here to search for a repellent that’s right for you.

Beware if you want to use a wearable repellent that’s not sticky and has to be continuously resprayed, such as Off!’s clip-on mosquito repellent. It works once the cloud of mosquito protection is built around the wearer, says Brighid Moret of The Washington Times, but it’s not a good option for an active or young child. The manufacturer warns on the label that a chemical on the product’s enclosed disk is harmful if swallowed, directly inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and young children should not wear it.

Whether you’re going on vacation or a “stay-cation,” these tips can help protect you and your family from the sun and bugs in order to safely make the most of your summer. Click here for more sun safety tips from EWG.

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