Sunburn And Bug Bites

By Paul R. Huard

February 1, 2008 4 min read


Protect yourself against these enemies of fun

By Paul R. Huard

Copley News Service

Putting on a jacket or windbreaker before heading outdoors is great protection from the elements, but don't forget the layer that is your first line of defense - your skin.

Skin is the largest organ your body possesses. It is a guard against infection, helps cool the body through the evaporation of perspiration and protects you from numerous environmental hazards such as excessive exposure to sunshine or drastic temperatures.

Neglect can transform exposed skin from baby smooth to a dry, red and itchy mess. What's more, biting insects can turn a pleasant day into a misery if you are not adequately protected.

The secret to healthy skin when outdoors is simply making sure that it is protected and has plenty of moisture. That's why insect repellent, sun block and lip ointments are just as important as any other gear you take outdoors.

Exposure to excessive UV rays can still pose health risks even if you are not lying on a beach under blistering sun. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Of these cases, more than 111,900 are melanoma, a cancer that claims nearly 8,000 lives annually.

One issue with outdoor skin care is keeping water molecules in the upper layer of skin, which is called the epidermis. The thickness of the epidermis varies in different types of skin, but is usually thinnest on the eyelids (at about .05 millimeters thick) and thickest on the palms and soles (at 1.5 millimeters thick).

If you are going to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes, the academy recommends that you generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin using a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

Melinda Garland, marketing coordinator for W.S. Badger Co., Inc., says that a physical barrier sunscreen that blocks the rays and holds in skin moisture will do the trick.

The Gilsum, N.H., company ( produces lip balm and sunscreen made from natural ingredients. The sunscreen comes in SPF 15 and SPF 30 strengths ($16 for a 2.9 ounce tube of either), and the lip balm in SPF 15 ($3.50 for a .15 ounce stick).

When it comes to biting insects, the most common pests faced by people outdoors are mosquitoes or biting flies. Both are attracted to exposed skin, and the painful bites are a nuisance at the least, the source of serious diseases such as West Nile virus at the worst.

Research indicates that DEET, a chemical used in insect repellents for the last 40 years, is very effective against mosquitoes, says Kurt Avery, president of Sawyer Products, a Safety Harbor, Fla., company ( that produces insect repellents for both the retail market and military use. He recommends repellent lotions against mosquitoes, as well as long clothing that can cover exposed skin.

Avery said that a 20 percent solution of picaridin, a chemical recently approved for use as a repellent, is a revolution in insect protection.

Picaridin works very effectively without dissolving some of the plastics found in outdoor gear such as fishing tackle, but the formula lasts for up to eight hours against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers and fleas. The company will release an expanded product line containing the chemical this year.

If facing swarms of biting flies, Avery recommended treating clothing with permethrin. A contact insecticide, permethrin is non-toxic to humans. Aerosol applications can last up to six weeks and through several washings; non-aerosol formulations last two weeks.

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