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Summer Health

May 20, 2013


I’m lounging on my deck, languidly waving at a flurry of mosquitoes wafting past my head. The summer sun bakes down on my skin and my muscles melt into a state of relaxation.

Summer is here.

So too, unfortunately, are the mosquitoes.

Insect repellents have been used on the skin for many years to prevent mosquito and tick bites. Mosquitoes transmit malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus. Ticks transmit Lyme disease.

The most effective topical insect repellent is N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET). It repels mosquitoes, chiggers, gnats, ticks, fleas and flies. DEET comes in various concentrations but increasing the concentration above 50% has no added benefit.

Health Canada recommends that insect repellents containing DEET not be used on infants under 6 months of age and that products containing no more than 10% be used for children up to the age of 12. Apply once daily for children between 6 and 24 months. Children between 2 and 12 years can use the 10% DEET up to a maximum of every 8 hours. Bear in mind that DEET can damage clothes made from synthetic fibers, as well as plastics on eyeglasses. Picaridin is another repellent which appears to be better tolerated on the skin than DEET and it does not damage fabric or plastic. Additional protection in the form of insecticide-treated clothing, nets and tents is also advised. Permethrin products can be used for this purpose.


The CDC does not recommend use of agents that combine a sunscreen with an insect repellent, because the sunscreen has to be reapplied more often than the repellent.

As for sunbathing, that’s a no-no. Non-melanoma skin cancer is the commonest cancer seen by doctors.

So protect yourself by slipping on a shirt, slopping on the sunscreen, slapping on a hat, sliding on some sunglasses, and seeking shade or shelter.

Sunscreens are not recommended for babies younger than 6 months. In children older than 6 months, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. To avoid irritating your baby’s skin and eyes, use a sunscreen that contains only inorganic filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Apply sunscreen liberally, and reapply every two hours — or more often if swimming or sweating.

Lastly, you can’t cheat by trying to tan indoors. Indoor tanning is a known risk factor for malignant melanoma, and also raises your risk for non-melanoma skin cancer. Specifically, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Your risk is higher if you have been exposed to indoor tanning before the age of 25 years.

Respect the sun, protect your skin, and if you happen to forget your sunscreen …


then improvise!

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