This blog first ran on the Premier Pediatrics website.
In about two weeks, I’ll be sending three of my four kids to sleepaway camp. Which means that, in about two weeks, my youngest, a feisty seven-year-old, will finally get what he’s always wanted…to be the eldest kid at home (alas, the only kid at home, but he’ll take what he can get).
Sibling idiosyncrasies aside, the summer of 2014 will see the little guy whooping it up with his local pals and hanging tight with Mom and Dad, while the others will be having a blast in their own bunks in the mountains, away from parental eyes.
But one of the things that my kids will have in common these next eight weeks is the way that they’ll protect themselves from the summer sun and pesky skeeters. Because I know about the many worrisome chemicals that fill bottles of conventional sunscreens and bug sprays, all my kids will be using safer alternatives that will guard their bodies, inside and out. So, whether they’re splashing around in a city park or swimming in a glistening lake, they’ll have the most effective and least toxic sunscreens and bug repellents on hand.
Check out these tips for the safest ways to protect your own family from the harmful rays of the sun:
- AVOID oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which are known hormone disruptors as well as allergens
- AVOID vitamin A as well as retinyl palmitate and retinol (forms of vit A), all of which can hasten the development of cancerous tumors when exposed to UV rays
- AVOID aerosol sunscreens, which can be inhaled into the lungs
- CHOOSE sunscreens that offer broad spectrum protection. This means defense against UVA and UVB rays, both of which are implicated in causing sun damage, including deadly melanomas
- CHOOSE mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredients
- CHOOSE sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 to 50, apply one ounce to all exposed parts 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming/excessive sweating
And what about those bugs?
This issue is a bit trickier, as most ingredients (whether a synthetic chemical like DEET or a naturally occurring ingredient such as oil of lemon-eucalyptus), are not always 100% effective and have meaningful pros and cons.
It is important to remember that babies under 6 months of age should not be exposed to bug repellants at all and that children under 3 should not use oil of lemon eucalyptus or its derivative, PMD.
If your children will be in areas not known for bug-borne diseases (and they don’t mind a couple of bug bites), then no aggressive ingredient is required and options like Badger Anti-Bug Shake and Spray or Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent should do just fine (always do a skin test before using fully, as even these botanical repellents can cause allergic reactions).
But while it’s best to avoid areas known for Lyme disease-transmitting ticks and to steer clear of standing water where West Nile-transmitting mosquitos might be nesting, that’s not always possible. If children are venturing into territory that might harbor such problems, it is vital that they wear hats, long sleeves and pants tucked into socks. And it’s also important that they are protected by the proper repellent for the circumstances.
The Environmental Working Group does a great job of laying out the scenarios and offering the most appropriate options, including details on the currently recommended ingredients and the safest ways to handle them. Take a look at EWG’s Guide to Bug Repellents for Kids and you’ll be ready to send your kids around the block or across the country for some happy and safe summer fun.