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Gearing Up for Summer Protection



— July 15, 2017

Gearing Up for Summer Protection


Summer is famous for backyard barbecues, camping trips, and pool parties. But it’s also infamous for stinging sunburns and itchy bug bites. You definitely want to protect your skin from its adversaries because not only are those burns and bites annoying, they can also lead to more serious problems like skin cancer or infections with the Zika or West Nile viruses. Rather than slathering on toxins and blasting yourself with spray-on chemicals, we’ve turned to the experts who share more natural ways to protect your skin from the summer sun and swarms of bugs.

To deflect those skin-trashing rays
Check your sunscreen’s report card
Holly Lucille, ND, RN, a West Hollywood-based naturopathic physician and media host (, says she keeps a tube of sunscreen in her beach bag, purse and travel bag to make sure she’s always got it on hand. (A little sun exposure, which prompts your skin to make vitamin D, is OK. As Lucille puts it, “In general, a range of about five minutes for those with very fair skin to about 20 minutes for those with darker complexions is adequate.”) The key number is a product’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF), a measure of how well it protects the skin. But with dozens of sunscreens on the market, how can you know which ones are safe? Look for paraben-free, eco-friendly organic varieties; for guidance, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide at An interactive search function on the EWG’s website allows you to plug in a sunscreen brand and type to see how it stacks up. (The latest guide tested 750 products and found almost three-fourths were unsafe, ineffective—or both.) All of the reviewed products receive a score on a 1 to 10 scale, and they are accompanied by a breakdown of ingredients. The EWG says it’s especially concerned with sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disrupter, and DNA-damaging retinyl palmitate.

Try a natural sun protector In addition to finding a good sunscreen, check your pantry. Will Cole, DC, a functional medicine practitioner based in the Pittsburgh area (, says, “What you put on your skin, your body absorbs.” Coconut oil, Cole notes, offers 4 to 6 SPF, which is not enough protection if you plan to be in the sun all day, but could suffice for a quick trip outside. There are other natural sunblocks; according to Cole, zinc oxide can provide 20 SPF and red raspberry seed oil can provide an SPF of up to 50.

Sip some green tea You may already know green tea can help you maintain a healthy weight, promote free-flowing circulation and even reduce risks of certain cancers. But this hard-working health MVP can also help protect you from the sun, says Lucille, who adds, “I use green tea in my practice all the time.” A 2013 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that antioxidant compounds called catechins in green tea can prevent premature skin aging (who needs that?) and make you more resistant to UV rays.

Make your plate pretty in pink (and red) Tomatoes and watermelon are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect skin cells from UV rays, says Christy Brissette, RD, of the food consulting firm 80 Twenty Nutrition ( In fact, Brissette points to a study that found that eating five tablespoons of tomato paste a day for three months helped protect participants against sun damage. So should you skip the sunscreen and gorge on pizza? Not so fast. “While these results are exciting, tomatoes are no replacement for protecting yourself from the sun,” Brissette says. “Think of tomatoes as a bonus for sun protection, not one of your main strategies. They won’t prevent sunburns on their own.”

Wear UPF-rated clothing More clothing brands offer items such as shirts, hats, and pants made of a fabric designed to shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays, and Cole says that it’s not just a marketing gimmick. When shopping for sun-protective clothing, look for its ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) rating; anything more than UPF 15 is good but a rating of 50 or more is better. Don’t want to splurge? Wearing any clothing at all can reduce your exposure risk by 27%, according to the EWG.

Soothe burns naturally If you do get a sunburn, Cole suggests treating it with aloe vera or lavender oil; in fact, treat it with the actual leaves of an aloe vera plant if you can. “The least amount of ingredients and the less processed, the better,” Cole says. To get the natural gel from an aloe vera plant, cut a leaf open lengthwise.

To beat the bugs

Skip the sweets Mosquitos and other bugs tend to be attracted to sweet smells from alcohol, wine, fruits, and honey, Brissette says. “There’s some evidence that the smell of pungent foods, like garlic and onion, as well as vinegar, might repel mosquitos,” she continues. “So, go ahead and add some red onion to your salads and kabobs and bring on the Italian and Mediterranean cuisines to keep the bugs away.”

B prepared for bug season If you haven’t already, start taking B-complex vitamins, suggests Gabrielle Francis, ND, who practices in New York City as the Herban Alchemist ( “The B vitamins give off an odor that mosquitos don’t like,” she says. Start taking them a month in advance of your vacation or other time that you plan to spend outdoors and continue taking them throughout the summer.

Wear light colors It’s not just fashionable to wear white after Memorial Day, it’s also practical. “Mosquitos tend to like dark colors and can often bite through the fabric,” Francis says. Because of this, she suggests wearing loose-fitting cotton clothes that are white or in light colors.

Blend essential oils Mosquitos despise essential oils, says Francis, who adds that bug-deterring oils include geranium, lemongrass, citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, cedar, rosemary, and peppermint, among others. For a natural mosquito repellant, Francis suggests mixing any combination of these oils with 190-proof grain alcohol. For a more general insect repellant, she offers an easy recipe: 20 drops of eucalyptus oil, 20 drops of cedarwood oil, 10 drops of tea tree oil, 10 drops of geranium oil and 2 ounces of carrier oil, such as jojoba or almond. Mix the ingredients together in a four-ounce container and apply it to the skin.

Consider a homeopathic remedy for bites Don’t scratch because you could open the skin up for infection, Francis advises. Instead, turn to homeopathic remedies. Apis Mellifica, for example, is good for insect stings that are red, hot, swollen or puffy. Urtica Urens treats large, bright red blotches or hives that burn, sting and itch badly. Staphysagria is great for not just remedying, but also preventing, mosquito bites. “For those who are prone to attracting every mosquito in the area, it may be taken as a prophylactic or can be used after being stung to reduce the effects from the mosquito bite,” says Francis. Formica rufa is useful for insect stings from fire ants and other bites where there is terrible stinging pain, along with persistent itching and blistering at the bite site.

Use catnip Your cat might go crazy for catnip. But it has the opposite effect on mosquitoes, according to scientists. In fact, the wild-growing herb was found to be about 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, the chemical found in most insect repellents in research conducted by scientists from Iowa State University, who reported that nepetalactone, an essential oil in catnip, gives off an odor that mosquitoes don’t seem to like.

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