Summer Safety: Sunscreen and Bug Repellant

Playing It Safe This Summer

Summer is a great time to get out and play but before you do, protect your family from sunburn and insect bites. It is safest to use separate products since you will need to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and bug spray can last for up to eight hours.


The first, and best, line of defense against the sun is covering up exposed areas. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and clothing with a tight weave and look for shady spots. Sunscreen works best when applied 15-20 minutes prior to heading outside, every two hours, and after getting out of the pool (towel dry and reapply). It is important to apply enough sunscreen – adults usually need about 1 ounce for good coverage. The most intense sun exposure happens between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., but since damaging UV rays can penetrate clouds, even on an overcast day, sunscreen is needed. The SPF should be at least 30 and protect against UVA and UVB rays.

For more information about sun safety check out the American Academy of Pediatrics website:

Bug Repellants

Guidelines regarding the safe and effective use of insect repellents were created in order to maximize effectiveness and minimize side effects. The two most common active ingredients in bug repellants are DEET and PICARDIN.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than two-months of age not use products with DEET. For older infants and children, repellents with 10 to 30 percent DEET are safe and effective when following the directions on the label. Higher concentrations of picaridin (e.g., 20 percent) have similar efficacy to DEET, when used for short periods and the products are well tolerated, in contrast to some containing DEET. Picaridin is odorless, non-sticky, and non-greasy; it also does not irritate skin, stain fabrics, or degrade plastics. However, DEET has a longer duration of action so it requires fewer reapplications. With both, protection is shortened by swimming, washing, sweating, wiping, exercise, and rainfall.

Bug Repellent Proper Application

Repellents should be applied to exposed skin, clothing, or both - but not under clothing - using enough to lightly cover but not saturate the area. A thin layer can be applied to the face by dispensing a small amount into the palms, rubbing the hands together, and then applying to the face. After application is complete, the palms should be washed to prevent contact with sensitive areas like the eyes and mouth. For the same reason these products should not be applied to a small child’s hands or used over cuts, wounds or inflamed skin. Do not inhale aerosols, spray them in enclosed spaces or near food, or get them into the eyes. The treated areas should be washed with soap and water once the repellent is no longer needed.

Tick Protection

The best protection against ticks is to prevent them from getting to the skin. This consists of wearing clothing properly, pant legs tucked into socks, etc., combined with DEET applied to exposed skin. Even DEET, which is considered the most effective agent, only repels ticks for short periods of time. Light-colored materials are preferable because ticks can more easily be seen against these. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors - preferably within two hours - to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling. Parents should check their children for ticks as well as examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home and then attach to a person later. Protect yourself and your kids this summer – use sunscreen and bug repellant safely and effectively!

Victoria Jewell-Mahler, MD, FAAP (UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics – Moon, Wexford and South Fayette)