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Know how to apply sunscreen, insect repellent correctly

By Beverly G. Benson | Health Promotion Nurse Educator | May 17, 2019


For anyone who has lived in the South for any period of time knows that we have bugs. We have mosquitoes the size of an airplane and, boy, do they leave a mark.

Mosquitoes also can carry diseases. In addition, there are ticks that can also carry illnesses.  We also have a lot of sun here, which increases the risk for heat illnesses and injury to skin damage and cancers.

How can you protect yourself? If you enjoy being outside, you’ll need to know what to do to avoid those nasty bug bites. First of all, do you know which to apply first – sunscreen or insect repellent? This has been debated for quite some time, so Army Public Health Nursing is here to settle the debate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes prior to being in the sun, applying first and allowing to dry for about 5 to 10 minutes, then apply the insect repellent.

To properly apply the sunscreen you want to make sure to apply it evenly, covering all exposed areas. If reapplying sunscreen later, you don’t necessarily have to reapply the bug spray. Select a broad spectrum protection at least an SPF rating of 15.

When applying the bug spray, you’ll also want to ensure you apply it evenly, but don’t overapply. Shake the container and spray onto all uncovered skin and clothes (approximately 4 to 8 inches away unless label directions state otherwise.)

Make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area, away from any open flames and not inhaling the spray. Don’t spray insect repellent under clothing, as spraying the clothing itself is sufficient. 

Spray into your hands and rub into sensitive areas, such as the face and neck. Don’t spray areas where you have open cuts or wounds, broken or irritated skin, as this may aggravate those areas. Don’t forget your ankles and knees, as bugs love to go after those areas.

With children, never apply insect repellent to children younger than two months old and never spray directly onto any child’s skin. Avoid the hands as kids tend to put their fingers into their mouths and eyes. 

If you or your children are swimming or sweating a lot, you may need to reapply. Once you are done with outdoor activities wash your – and your children’s – skin with soap and water.

Making the best decisions you can to prevent skin damage and, ultimately, skin cancer, starts with education.

In addition to the above tips, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends seeking shade when appropriate, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, here in Texas, we know there is a lot of sun throughout the day so, if your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.

Wear protective clothing like a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, lightweight long-sleeved shirt and lightweight pants. Remember, water reflects the sun’s rays and can increase your chances of sunburn.