The Ultimate Guide to Safe Summer Skincare
You probably want to squeeze every bit of sunshine out of summer before school starts and the fall chill sets in. With outdoor activity comes sun exposure and bug bites, so naturally, you want to protect yourself. Store shelves are lined with sunscreens and bug repellents that prevent sunburn and itchy bites, but they are often made with ingredients that may adversely affect your health.
While there is growing awareness as to the safety and efficacy of particular ingredients’ use, it can be difficult to discern the high-quality, safe skincare from the ones that you probably don’t want near your skin.
Here are some things to look out for when purchasing sunscreen and bug repellant.
The problem with conventional sunscreen
There are hundreds of sunscreen options to choose from, boasting various claims like “natural” or “dermatologist-tested.” How do they actually measure up?
A recent study found that sunscreen ingredients can be found in the bloodstream after a single use. More research is needed to determine whether that means sunscreens propose a risk, but it’s probably safe to assume you don’t want chemicals in your body.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) evaluated more than 1,300 varieties of sunscreen and found that only about a fourth of them protect from burns with typical use and do not contain questionable ingredients such as:
- Oxybenzone: a potentially hormone-disrupting chemical that is readily absorbed by the body
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA): Para-aminobenzoic acid can cause skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea, and loss of appetite
- Trolamine salicylate: a potentially irritating ingredient that may cause blistering, peeling, and redness at the application site
- Octinoxate: a potential endocrine disruptor that may mimics estrogen and can disrupt thyroid function in some users
These are only a few of the chemicals that could pose a problem. Others include avobenzone, cylcopentasiloxane, cyclomethicone, formaldehyde, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, DMDM, homosalate, and many more.
It’s impossible to keep up with the long list of potentially problematic sunscreen ingredients. That’s why going as natural as possible is key.
Another issue is that “waterproof” claims are only partially true. After prolonged swimming, a portion of your sunscreen can wash into the body of water you’re swimming in, and harm aquatic plant and animal life.
Chemical vs. Physical sunscreen
Active ingredients in sunscreens work as either physical or chemical UV filters that keep harmful rays from damaging the skin, each using a different protective mechanism. The most common sunscreens are composed of chemical filters. Typically, these products include a combination of two to six of the active ingredients given above.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are found in mineral sunscreens. These reflect the light away from the skin, which is why they have a thick white or shiny appearance.
When it comes to choosing safer sunscreens that last, we found a few that work well without nasty chemicals.
- Beautycounter Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for Face
- Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen
- ATTITUDE Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen, Fragrance-Free
- Solara Suncare Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Daily Sunscreen, Unscented
- Ao Skincare 6000X Elemental Screen
Another often overlooked physical sunscreen category is clothing. Long-sleeved shirts, rash guards, and hats can provide a lot of protection and the ones made with modern materials are breathable and feel cool. Some are even designed for swimming.
Chemicals in bug repellants
Tick- and insect-borne diseases are on the rise with no signs of slowing down. These conditions, such as the West Nile virus and lyme disease, can have debilitating health effects. Even if you don’t contract a disease, mosquito bites are itchy and can be miserable if you have several.
Finding the right protection from insect bites can be frustrating for a lot of the same reasons that we listed above with sunscreens. There are many questionable ingredients on the label, and a lot of misinformation around them.
The active ingredient in most conventional bug spray is DEET, or diethyltoluamide. DEET is a colorless oily liquid with a mild odor that bugs don’t like.
Research has found many cases where high concentrations of DEET were associated with severe skin reactions and neurological problems including seizures. If you choose a bug repellent that contains DEET, make sure that the concentration does not exceed 30 percent, and use it only as-needed to avoid over-exposure.
Natural Bug Repellants
Better yet, avoid the risk altogether by opting for a natural bug repellent versus chemical DEET. Botanical-based ingredients, such as essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, cinnamon, thyme, and tea tree can effectively repel bugs and insects without the risk that comes with DEET.
If you use essential oils, they must be diluted to 2%. Some of the oils listed above will burn your skin if applied pure.
We found a few brands that keep bugs away without DEET:
- Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray
- Murphy's Naturals plant-based Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray
- Bye Bye Bugs Natural Bug Repellent Spray
- Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Pump Spray
- Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray
It can be a slow process to get government regulatory agencies to thoroughly vet topical products. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to ensure your family enjoys the outdoors without painful sunburns and itchy bug bites for the rest of the summer. By making skin safety a daily habit and checking the labels, you can keep your skin protected from the great outdoors, without sacrificing our long-term health.