Warmer sunny weather and longer days in nature mean much more exciting outdoor activities and replacing the coats with short-sleeved clothes. This also means being even more exposed to the sun and biting insects which tend to swarm in the warmer weather.
In order to protect yourself from the ultraviolet light from the sun and some diseases spread by the bite from the insect, you should use sunscreen with bug spray. This combination will effectively decrease the risk of skin cancer and diseases like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease.
The most common active ingredient in bug repellent is DEET, and it is used to reduce the risk of spreading the diseases like West Nile virus, which can be caused by an insect bite. When combining sunscreen with DEET, the treated skin absorbs the bug repellent more than 3 times faster than when it is used alone.
How to Choose a Safe Sunscreen with Bug Spray
Sunburn and bug bites are the biggest problems when going outside in warmer weather, so you must consider protecting your skin. Sunscreens and insect repellents may contain some chemicals that are not safe for your health.
On the market, there are some recent products that contain a combination of sunscreen with bug spray. Although this combination can save time and space, in some situations, they might also increase some risks.
There is a bit controversy about using sunscreens because it will limit the ability to absorb the sun’s rays, which will cause a decrease in Vitamin D production. You may not know but vitamin D is actual not a vitamin or a nutrient, it is a hormone that your body produce when we receive direct sunlight. See our must-read piece on how to choose the top insect repellent for your needs.
Vitamin D its important for your body, or else you may suffer from some diseases like hypertension, depression, heart disease, autism or some other neurological disorders. So it is recommended to have at least 20 minutes of direct sunlight every day, without sunscreens, in order to increase the level of vitamin D and to store some in our fat cells for the winter.
The FDA has approved the use of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two natural ingredients, for sun protection. They are found in the safest sunscreens with insect repellents and have the ability to block almost the entire spectrum of the sun’s rays without irritation.
Fortunately, there is also a safe option for keeping bugs away. There are some botanical oils and extracts that are effective as DEET. One research has shown that using cinnamon oil, citronella, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil, and repellents that contain a plant-derived compound the job better than DEET.
The Dangers of using a Sunscreen with Bug Repellent
Many sunscreens with insect repellents on the market contain chemical preservatives like Parabens, alcohols, petroleum, harsh solvents, and chemicals that have been attributed to causing cancer.
One common ingredient is the pesticide called DEET. DEET is an ingredient that can lead to conditions such as brain cell death, and it’s strictly prohibited to be used on children. Other side effects are similar to pesticide exposure symptoms, such as muscle and joint pain, memory loss, shortness of breath, frequent headaches, and fatigue.
While standard 20% DEET needs 30 minutes to absorb into the skin, the DEET used in sunscreen penetrates the skin in just 5 minutes, even if the sunscreen contains half as much DEET as the standard solution. This means that sunscreen with DEET is absorbed 3.4 times faster than the standard DEET of 20%.
Although the experts recommend testing skin absorption of sunscreens and chemicals like DEET individually, most producers test these ingredients in combination.So if you have a chance to buy a sunscreen that does not contain DEET or has more natural ingredients, don’t miss out on the opportunity.
Most sunscreens producers add fragrances to give some pleasant and lovely scents to the products. These chemically-derived fragrances are petroleum-based and can cause some health issues like eczema, allergies, asthma or neurological damage. And even more toxic are spray sunscreens, because of the fact that they contain some extra chemicals in order to make than liquid and much easy to dispense.
Some diseases related to tumors and cancers are linked to usage of retinyl palmitate, which is a form of Vitamin A and is often added to sunscreens with bug spray. It is a little controversial because it also makes your skin photosensitive, attracting more light from the sun. This may seem good for those who want to work on their tan safely, but side effects do include burning, irritation, and redness.
However, at the end of the day, it is up to you whether you will decide to use these sunscreens with insect repellents.
Which One to use First: Sunscreen or Bug Repellent
A single product that contains a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent sounds like a good idea, but it is better to use two different products instead of one.However, the experts recommend using them separately because combining two products sometimes might be problematic: the bug repellent may decrease the sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation, while some ingredients in the sunscreen may increase the toxicity of the repellent.
Some sunscreens can lose efficacy when used with DEET, which is the most effective bug repellent. This combination may reduce the sun protection factor more than 30 percent. But even more alarming is that sunscreens will enhance the absorption of DEET into your skin, potentially increasing toxicity.
For this reason, it’s a better option to use these products separately. First, you should liberally apply your sunscreen to all exposed parts. Sunscreens should be applied thoroughly to the entire body and frequently, at least every two to three hours in order to offset perspiration and humidity. Sunscreens need to have a broad spectrum that will protect against UVA and UVB radiations, with at least SPF of 20.
After applying the sunscreen, wait for 15-20 minutes until it’s absorbed well, and then apply the bug repellent.
On the other hand, bug repellents should not be applied that frequently. It is recommended to use it every five to six hours, depending on the concentration. You should also avoid using the bug repellents on your face. Check this video for more details.
DIY Sunscreens with Bug Repellent
If you want to protect yourself from the chemicals that conventional sunscreens with insect repellent contain, you could make some homemade sunscreen with all natural ingredients. This DIY lotions and creams are light and spread very easy. Most sunscreens block all the UV rays from the sun, and that may lead to a deficiency of vitamin D. After all, we all need a little exposure to the sun, so we can get enough vitamin D and reduce the risk of many cancers.
For this simple and quick process, you will need the following ingredients. It’s also recommended always to wear a face mask while working with an ingredient like zinc oxide, so you don’t breathe the powder.
What you’ll need is:
- 1 oz of beeswax
- 25 pounds or ½ cup Butter (you might use shea butter, or a combination of mango butter, cocoa butter, and shea butter)
- 25 pounds or ½ cup of Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 5 tbs, of some extra liquid oil (neem oil, sesame oil, olive oil, almond, wheat germ, raspberry seed, cold pressed carrot seed or any other oil you have on disposal)
- Essential oils (for bug repellent option you might choose between some citrus essential oils or Cedar, Wood, Citronella, Peppermint, Lavender etc)
- Few drops of Vitamin-E Oil
- ½ tbs turmeric (optional)
- 1 small pinch xanthan gum(optional)
- 3 tbs of Non nano Zinc Oxide Powder (for about 30 SPF sunscreen)
Important notes on ingredients:
- Neem oil and essential oils are used in bug repellents. Neem oil has a distinctive and unpleasant smell, so you can replace it with Citronella, peppermint or some of the essential oils mentioned before.
- Xanthan gum is good because stabilize the emulsion (which means that keeps the water from separating) and keeps the zinc oxide powder suspended in the cream.
- Beeswax is another important ingredient. It emulsifies and blends all the ingredients into a smooth cream texture. It comes in yellow and waxy flakes that you can easily measure and melt. Unlike to the other waxes that contain a blend of Cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate, the beeswax is a 100% natural.
The method is very simple, and it contains a few steps:
- Measure the beeswax, coconut oil, and zinc oxide, and place them into a large glass cup.
- Melt the ingredients in a double boiler. If you do not have one, just place the cup with the ingredients in a pot with a few inches of simmering water.
- On a low heat, let the beeswax, coconut oil and butter melt, and occasionally stir them with a wooden stick or spoon.
- When all the ingredients are well melted, add the oils, the turmeric, and the xanthan gum, and blend it together. It is recommended to use a wooden blender instead of a regular blender because it might cause a big mess in your working space.
- After everything is melted and blended together, remove the pot from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then, add the essential oils and blend again with a wooden blender until the cream is well combined.
- Lastly, pour the sunscreen with bug repellent into a jar or container of your choice and store it in a dry place.
In case the cream is too thin, just add more beeswax or butter; if it’s too thick, you can add more oils or substitute 1 tbs. of shea butter with liquid oil.
When the weather is warmer and you need a stronger SPF to protect your skin, you might double the dose of zinc oxide, but it may thicken the cream so you will need to add some extra oil. This sunscreen is water resistant, but it’s not waterproof so for better results, apply it frequently.
It is very important to stay safe while you are outdoors on warmer days. While hiking or camping, you are exposed to sun and insects, so you should use sunscreen with bug repellent, but in the lowest concentration. Most of you might probably think that if a little bit of something is good, a lot of it is even better. However this is not true when it comes to using DEET, you should use it in the lowest effective concentration because a little bit of DEET is better.
Once you finish with your outdoor activity and return indoors, it’s recommended to wash off the bug repellent.Because our skin is like a sponge that will mop up all the chemical ingredients we put on, you need to ditch the toxic chemicals for some safer options and treat your body like it deserves.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment in the comment section bellow. Share with us your methods of protecting the sun and bugs. Check out our article on how to make a DIY mosquito repellent without harmful chemicals for more options.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.