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Applying Sunscreen and Insect Repellent Together for Maximum Effectiveness

LIUNA members spend a lot of time outdoors. This puts them at risk for overexposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which can lead to premature skin aging and skin cancer, as well as heat stress. The LHSFNA’s annual Sun Sense Plus campaign raises awareness about these hazards and helps prevent them among LIUNA members by distributing a variety of products and educational materials.

However, the sun and high heat conditions aren’t the only hazards LIUNA members face outdoors. Biting insects like mosquitoes and ticks can carry many different harmful diseases, including Zika and West Nile virus, Lyme disease and others. The negative health effects caused by these diseases can seriously impact the lives of LIUNA members and their families for years.

To address this issue, the LHSFNA is adding a new product to our Sun Sense Plus campaign for 2018. In addition to sunscreen, lip balm, neck flaps and cooling cloths, the Fund will also offer individually packaged insect repellent towelettes. When using both sunscreen and insect repellent, LIUNA members are encouraged to follow these best practices to help ensure the effectiveness of both products.

Apply Sunscreen First

Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunscreen that’s water-resistant, as it will stay on better if you’re sweating a lot on the job or if your skin gets wet.

Remember these tips when applying sunscreen:

  • Try to put on sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside so it has time to absorb into your skin.
  • Use at least an ounce of sunscreen – about the amount that will fit in a shot glass or the palm of your hand.
  • Don’t forget the back of your neck, hands and knees or your ears, eyelids or inner elbows. These are common areas that get skipped. If off the job and barefoot, don’t forget the tops of your feet.
  • Reapply at least every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating heavily, swimming, etc.

Apply Insect Repellent Second

Apply insect repellent about 20 minutes after applying sunscreen to give sunscreen time to soak into your skin. Spray or wipe on a light coating of insect repellent – large amounts haven’t been shown to be more effective. Repellents are generally effective for much longer than sunscreen (Consumer Reports tested some repellents as effective for up to seven hours), so reapply only if insects start biting again.

Some studies have shown that insect repellents with DEET lower the effectiveness of sunscreen by about 40 percent. So if you use an insect repellent with DEET, plan on reapplying sunscreen more frequently than usual. Switching to a higher SPF sunscreen won’t hurt, but it also likely won’t help that much – SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent of the sun’s rays, while SPF 50 blocks about 98 percent.

Remember these tips when applying insect repellent:

  • Avoid breathing in insect repellent spray; stand downwind when spraying or apply in a well-ventilated area.
  • If using a spray, put insect repellent on your hands and carefully wipe some onto your face, neck and the outside of your ears. Avoid the nostrils, lips and mouth. Wash your hands after applying to avoid ingesting the product.
  • Like sunscreen, repellent can wash off faster during heavy sweating or if your skin gets wet.
  • Don’t apply repellent underneath your clothes.
  • Don’t forget your ankles and feet – these are common transfer areas for ticks and other insects on the ground.
  • Don’t use repellent products on cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

Avoid Combined Products

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding products that combine sunscreen and insect repellent into a single package. That’s because sunscreen generally needs to be applied much more frequently than insect repellent, and reapplication of a combined product can lead to unnecessary exposure to the chemicals in insect repellent.

Ordering LHSFNA Sun Sense Plus Materials

Sun Sense Plus products and publications are available free of charge to LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and signatory contractors for distribution to LIUNA members. Individual LIUNA members should order through their District Council, Local Union or employer representative. For more information on ordering, go to and click on Order Sun Sense Plus Materials or contact the Fund’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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