It’s been a long, cold lonely winter
It feels like years since its been here.
– George Harrison, Beatles Abbey Road album 1969
A sure sign that summer is coming is the Consumer Report annual update on sunscreens and bug repellents (July 2015 issue, just received). Of the 1000 sunscreen products on the market, they tested and rated only the 15 lotions, 13 sprays, and 6 ultrahighs which actually delivered close to the advertised SPF (sun protection factor). Their conclusions include:
- Advertised and labeled SPF factors are often untrue. ( actual can be 16% to 70% less) So what? If they drop below an SPF of 30 they are not as protective as the dermatologists want them to be. This is one reason they are not labeled “sunblocks” anymore.
- Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens that reduce BOTH UVA and UVB exposure to the skin
- “Natural” sunscreens, even those that tout a mineral base, don’t work so well. (CVS Baby Pure & Gentle SPF 60 provided an actual SPF of 18.)
- You can get good protection for $1.65 an oz. or pay $7.20 an oz. for top rated ultra sunscreens.(SPF 70+)
- Adult and infant sunscreens are the same except for fragrance and color and are interchangeable in terms of protection.
- No further word from the FDA on nanoparticles.
- Don’t forget to slather your ears and the tops of your feet.
Consumer Reports bottom line:
Best for Kids: Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 $1.31/oz.
Best Buy: Walmart’s Equate Lotion or Spray SPF 50 $0.56/oz. for lotion and $1.33/oz. for spray.
Best “Natural” Sunscreen: California Baby SPF 30 (the only one that reached close to 30 SPF) $6.90/0z.
Not recommended: Yes To Cucumbers Natural SPF 30 provided actual SPF of 14 for $4.00/oz.
Truly Fragrance-Free: Coppertone Ultra Guard SPF 70 (actual SPF of 59) $1.38/oz.
Sidebar on tanning: In October 2014 a UMassMedSchool study of 125 top universities revealed that 48% had tanning booths for their students on campus despite growing evidence that exposure in tanning booths increased the rate of skin cancer. About 15% also allowed students to use their campus cash cards at off-campus tanning booths. By May of 2015 several colleges have disallowed the use of cash cards for off-campus tanning booths, in part as a result of a focused campaign led by UMMS researchers to reduce student access to tanning booths.
Battle of the Bugs
The same issue of Consumer Reports lists the results of 15 different bug repellents worn by their stalwart volunteers who subjected themselves to hordes of disease-free culex and aedes mosquitoes (the ones that do carry West Nile fever and chikungunya). Before you laugh at “chikungunya” or laugh at just trying to say it, you should know that this viral non-fatal disease has become a significant problem in South and Central America, including the Caribbean Islands. Panama has roadside billboards exhorting citizens to visit a doctor at the “first sign of fever, don’t treat your fever at home”.
Results of this torture of CR volunteers:
- DEET is effective and NOT dangerous for you or your kids over 2 months of age as long as you use the right concentration. Concentrations of 15% or more work and above 30% work no better. Potential side-effects are much less under 30% concentration. So, use DEET 15-30%. Off! Deep Woods – 25% or Repel Scented Family – 15% are recommended. Several Cutter products have 7% or less of DEET and are not recommended.
- Non-DEET repellents containing 20% picaridin (a synthetic compound that mimics a chemical in black pepper plants) OR 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (another synthetic chemical) provide up to 7 hours of protection. FDA says the oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years because it can cause temporary eye injury. Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin (20%) and Natrapel 8 Hour (20% picaridian) are recommended. Off! Family Care is only 5% picaridin and is not recommended.
- Don’t spray any of the products in your face. All bug repellents cause eye irritation. Apply with your hands, especially with children.
- “Natural” repellents don’t do the job. All of the plant-oil products failed immediately or within an hour. The “organic” label is meaningless.
- Wristbands don’t work either. One manufacturer is being taken to court by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising.
- For the patio, before they bite? Unfortunately the citronella candle buckets, though pleasing, offered no protection, and neither did a battery-operated diffuser of plant oils. A high-speed pedestal oscillating fan reduced mosquito landings by 45% to 65%, especially for those sitting closest to the fan, but I suspect their warbly-sounding words were an unexpected addition to the BBQ party.
- What about Skin So Soft? Avon makes no repellent claims, and in this case the manufacturer is right. CR found it offered no protection in 1993, and this time too. Avon is now marketing combined sunscreen and repellent (picaridin) products, but the repellent concentrations are too low for protection. They are not recommended.
Summer is here, along with the sun and uninvited flying guests!