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Sunscreen or Insect Repellent First

Should you apply sunscreen or insect repellent first?

There is a lot to consider when it comes to protecting ourselves and our children from the sun and those pesky bites. It's important to understand how to correctly apply sunscreen and insect repellent together for maximum protection on both fronts. When using the two products, there are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind.

Can you use a sunscreen and insect repellent together?

Yes you can, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. It is recommended that you apply sunscreen first, followed by insect repellent. 

This is because the smell of a repellent is an important part of why it works. If you were to apply your sunscreen over the top, it would “trap” the smell of the repellent under a layer of sunscreen and you’ll be more prone to bites. It has been found that a repellent's efficacy (as determined by the period of protection) was actually reduced when applied under a sunscreen.

Since insect repellent lasts longer than sunscreen, you'll need to reapply your sunscreen more frequently (ie every 2 hours) than you need to reapply a repellent. This becomes an issue: should you reapply your repellent each time you reapply your sunscreen?

Are there any risks associated with using an insect repellent and sunscreen together?

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when using an insect repellent and sunscreen together as the effectiveness of both products can be affected. 

1. Applying products over or mixing them into a sunscreen can change the SPF and effectiveness. 

If you are going to be applying a repellent and sunscreen, make sure you’re using a high SPF, broad spectrum sunscreen (ie SPF50+) to ensure that you’re being protected and getting the benefits of wearing sunscreen. The formulation of a sunscreen plays a big role in determining the level of SPF protection it offers. Mixing any sort of product into or combining it with your sunscreen essentially changes the formulation. When you mess with the formulation, there is a chance you’ll be reducing how effective it is. 

2. DEET-based repellents shouldn’t be reapplied more than once per day

DEET shouldn’t be reapplied more than once per day. Additionally, toxicology studies have found that sunscreen can increase the absorption of DEET [1]; this is important to remember, particularly if applying to your children's skin.

This creates a bit of a paradox: if you reapply sunscreen over a repellent, the repellent's effectiveness will be reduced - so you need to reapply the repellent....

It's worth noting that DEET-based repellents have been shown to have a low risk of negative health effects in several studies, when used according to the directions on the back of the bottle. 

However, the chance of an adverse reaction to a repellent increases the more you reapply and especially when using high-dose DEET-based “tropical strength” repellents containing up to 80% DEET in conjunction with sunscreen. 

If you want to reduce the risks as much as possible, either limit your time outdoors to avoid needing to reapply both sunscreen and repellent, or look for a DEET-free insect repellent that can safely be reapplied throughout the day.

View our range of DEET-free Tropical strength insect repellents here.

What about combined sunscreen and repellent products?

These products sound like they’re a great idea, but they seem to be almost exclusively DEET-based repellents. And like all sunscreens, they need to be reapplied every two hours if you’re outside - which is far more often than you should be reapplying a DEET-based repellent.

The CDC advises against the use of combined sunscreens and repellents [2].

So what should you use if you’re going to be out in the sun and the bugs are biting all day?

Using a DEET free repellent will allow you to reapply more than once, at the same time as your sunscreen to keep you and your kids protected throughout the whole day. 

Both our Tropical and Sensitive repellents allow you to reapply when needed and can be used over a long period of time/ daily without having to worry about over-applying.

Shop our range of natural, DEET-Free Insect Repellents here