Sunscreen, Insect Repellent, and Clothing Provide Zika Protection

sunscreen insect repellents

As if the election year and hurricane season wasn’t stressful enough, now we have the Zika virus to worry about. As of today, there have been 59 mosquito-borne cases of Zika reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of the locally acquired cases in the continental U.S. have been in Florida, but there have been more than 3,500 travel-related cases brought into every state in the country.

Zika 101

The Zika virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The males of the species don’t bite humans. The females are the ones that can spread the disease through bites.

This type of mosquito rests when it is cool and dark. It stays quiet indoors at night and may hide in closets or other dark spaces. The mosquito becomes more active a few hours after the sun rises and stays active throughout the day.

Aedes aegypti has become adapted to breeding near homes. That’s because the mosquito prefers to lay its eggs in clean water that is devoid of other life. Your birdbath, fountain and kiddie pool are the perfect breeding grounds.

How To Protect Yourself from Zika

Because Zika-carrying mosquitoes are most active during the day, if you’re shielding yourself from the sun by covering your skin with sun protective clothing, you’ll be more protected from the mosquitoes too.

In fact the best way to avoid getting Zika is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. Cover as much exposed skin as possible with long pants and long shirts. Don’t forget to wear socks. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes may focus their bites on the lower extremities.

Wear insect repellent when you go outside. Children older than 2 months can safely wear insect repellent, as long as it doesn’t contain eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol (PMD).

Sunscreen Insect Repellents: Which Should You Put On First?

There is not much evidence to lead us in the right direction. For years, the CDC advised to put on sunscreen, let it soak in for 5 to 10 minutes, and then apply insect repellent. Some articles online mention that the International Society of Travel Medicine changed that recommendation more recently, advising that people should put on DEET-based insect repellent before sunscreen.

Some researchers found that adding insect repellent directly to sunscreen minimizes the sun blocking effects of the product. However, sunscreen doesn’t necessarily reduce the effect of insect repellent. Still, many sunscreen insect repellents don't take into consideration the fact that you should apply sunscreen more frequently than insect repellent.

However, one researcher found that if sunscreen was applied after the insect repellent, it made the repellent less effective. This could be because the repellant does not need to absorb into the skin to work, so some of it was removed by the sunscreen application.

Because there is not a clear-cut answer, the best recommendation that we can make is to wear sun protective clothing to protect yourself from both sun and mosquitoes. Then, slather sunscreen onto exposed areas. After 10 to 20 minutes, or before you step outside, add the insect repellent. Make sure that you spray repellent over your clothes, too.

The Zika virus reminds us that it’s still important to wear our sun protective clothing even though summer is over. We don’t want you to be afraid to head outdoors and take advantage of the crisp fall air. Sunscreen insect repellents can provide added protection. However, it may be best to put on your SPF first, let it soak in, and then apply insect repellent.

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