Safe Summer Sunscreens and Insect Repellents

It’s summertime, which means it’s time to get outdoors. We’re often asked about ingredients in skin care products, and during this time of year the discussion turns to sunscreens and insect repellants.

First, a word about the sun and health. In general, exposure to normal levels of sun exposure isn’t bad for you. There seems to be an idea that the sun’s primary role is to afflict humans with skin cancer. It isn’t. Among other things, the sun helps produce incredibly important Vitamin D via our skin. There’s also something about the sun that improves mood and promotes the release of certain feel-good hormones.

The general idea about safe sun exposure is that if we have adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, they will have a protective effect against some sun damage. We also now know that the super antioxidant, astaxanthin, protects the skin against harmful radiation, along with Vitamin C.

In 2012, the Environmental Working Group suggested that the safest sunscreens do NOT have the chemicals oxybenzone, or retinyl palmitate (which may sensitize the skin to the sun’s rays. They also suggested that sunscreens shouldn’t have an SPF above 50, but should protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Many natural health professionals advise sticking with old-fashioned titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Some products also have ingredients like green tea, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter, all of which are excellent for skin health.


Years ago, DEET-based bug repellents were popular. Today, most professionals are very concerned about this chemical, even though it’s very effective as a repellent. According to Medline Plus, complications associated with DEET include breathing difficulties, coughing, imbalance in oxygen levels, tremors, seizures, and vomiting.

Some natural products to investigate may have certain essential oils that have long been used to repel bugs. Ingredients to look for include citronella, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil, and vanillin. Some others have a natural chemical found in chrysanthemum flowers called “pyrethrin”. (As an aside, I’ve seen a reality show on TV that follows a professional exterminator who uses natural products when possible. He routinely uses concentrated pyrethrin to remediate insect infestations in homes.)

Your local health food store will have several good product options for you. Also, Google “natural sunscreens” or “natural insect repellents” to find great brands that are safe and effective.



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