You know the famous saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — an old saying and a good one. As we head into summer outdoor fun, take a moment to protect yourself and your family from the negative effects of the sun’s rays, bites from ticks, mosquitos and chiggers, and exposure to poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants.


Wear protective clothing and hats. Take the time to put sunscreen on everyday before you head out the door. Reapply throughout the day. If you are swimming in natural waters like the ocean, bay, lake or pond, choose a sunscreen that is safe for the environment as well.

A biodegradable sunscreen will break down in the water and be safe for marine life. According to marine biologist Lauren Blickle, non-biodegradable sunscreens act like an oil slick sinking to the bottom, killing coral and adding to water pollution. You may think a few people in a big body of water will not matter, but over time, many people in the water with non-biodegradable sunscreen adds up.

To find out if your sunscreen is environmentally safe, flip over that sunscreen bottle and look at the active ingredients. A product is truly reef safe if it contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients. Avoid sunscreen products containing oxybenzone. Look for sunscreens that derive ingredients from natural, plant-based sources like organic sunflower oil and organic beeswax. As always, be wary of ingredients that you can’t pronounce.

Spray sunscreens don’t provide adequate coverage and there are concerns about inhalation. Make sure the sunscreen is broad spectrum and water resistant.

Broad spectrum sunscreen protects from both UVA and UVB rays and the water resistance will ensure that you stay protected both in and out of the water.

The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual sunscreen report and lists sunscreen products and safety. Most natural food stores carry mineral-based sunscreens, though a few options can be found hidden on the isles of national drug store chains. You can also purchase directly from the manufacturer online. Remember the Sun Protection Factor is the number of minutes to reapply for instance SPF 30 means to re-apply every 30 minutes and SPF 55 is every 55 minutes. Also re-apply after swimming. The Skin Cancer Foundation states preventing sunburns and overexposure to UVA and UVB rays will help keep you prevent skin cancers and keep you skin young and supple.

BUG BITES: Ticks, Mosquitoes, Chiggers

Bug bites are an annoyance and can be a carrier for disease such as Lyme from ticks, and Zika virus or West Nile virus from mosquitos. Chiggers are just plain annoying and cause severe itchiness. Apply bug spray when heading outdoors every 4 hours.

DEET is a commonly known bug spray that is not to be used on anyone younger than 2 years old and perhaps not on anyone at all. The EPA’s final decision on using DEET is in review after the EPA has completed an Endocrine Disruptor Screening under FFDCA section 408(p).

Try some other bug sprays that are shown to be effective without the side effects. In the Journal of Insect Science, bug sprays with picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, or PMD, are also recommended by the CDC. PMD is the ingredient in the oil that makes it repellent to insects. When researchers from New Mexico State University tested a variety of commercial products for their ability to repel mosquitoes, they found that a product containing lemon eucalyptus oil was about as effective and as long lasting as products containing DEET. According to Made Safe, other plant-based alternatives repellents are citronella, clove oil, geronial, and neem. Spray your clothes and pant legs.


Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can be quite uncomfortable causing a very itchy, sometimes weepy, rash. Last year, we saw quite a few cases of poison oak that lasted two months treated or not treated. You may not realize you touch these plants that is why it is important to shower and wash your clothes separately after a walking in the woods. Urushiol oil from the plants does not wash off easily from leather or suede material and may cause recurring rashing until the oil wears off. If you touch your shoes, wash your hands. Heavy soaps like Dawn detergent, Castille soap, Tecnu Skin Cleanser, Fels Nap soap, GOOP, Jewelweed soap will be helpful to wash the urushiol oil off of you and your shoes. Be aware of what these plants look like.

Poison Ivy is a 3 shiny leaf vine. Its on the ground and up structures.

Poison Oak looks similar to poison ivy.

Poison Sumac is not a prevalent but be aware of what these plants look like to avoid brushing up against them. For goodness sake, do not burn the plant causing the oil to float into the air. The oil from the plants, Urushiol, is what causes the contact dermatitis itchy rash. Weeping liquid from the rash is not contagious. Only the urushiol oil from the plant that is on your body and clothes causes the rash to spread. The rash can be treated with calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, ice cubes, and zanfel ointment.

Enjoy the great outdoors safely!

Any questions or comments contact Angela Coleman at

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