Save Your Skin with Sunscreen and Insect Repellents

Take a few moments to review our most frequently asked questions regarding the use of workplace sunscreens and insect repellents.

As the warmest time of year approaches, make it a priority to protect your workforce from the hot rays of the sun and the bites and stings of pesky insects. DEET and SPF are common summer terms, but how can you truly stay safe? Take a few moments to review our most frequently asked questions regarding the use of workplace sunscreens and insect repellents.


Sunscreen: what are the common types of sunscreen?

There are two different types of sunscreen: mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreen (also known as “physical sunscreen”) is typically visible on the skin and blocks UVA and UVB radiation. Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and becomes invisible, but only blocks UVB rays and requires around 20 minutes after application to be effective. Folks with sensitive skin may also see an uptick in breakouts while using chemical sunscreen.


What is SPF and what does the SPF number signify?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UV rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn, damages skin and can contribute to skin cancer. SPF protects against UVB rays, rather than UVA rays.


The SPF number refers to the amount of time that persons will be protected from a burn. For example, an SPF of 15 will allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than they normally would be able to stay without burning. Higher SPF numbers indicate more protection.


Should I choose the sunscreen with the highest SPF?

To put it succinctly: not necessarily. Sunscreens with higher SPFs, such as SPF 75 or SPF 100, do not offer significantly greater protection than SPF 30, and this may mislead people into thinking that they have more protection than they actually do. 

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
  • SPF 70 blocks 98.5% of UVB rays

As you can see, the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only a 1% filtering improvement. So an SPF of 15 does not provide half the protection factor as an SPF 30, contrary to what most people might assume.


The Skin Cancer Foundation considers SPFs of 15 or higher acceptable UVB protection for normal everyday activity, and SPFs of 30 or higher acceptable for extended or intense outdoor exposures. And remember, it is important for the sunscreen to include broad-spectrum protection that also shields adequately against UVA.


How much sunscreen do I need?

Sunscreens should be liberally applied (a minimum of 1 ounce or about the size of a shot glass) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Special attention should be given to covering the ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet and backs of hands.


How often does sunscreen need to be re-applied?

Sunscreens should be reapplied at least every two hours and each time a person gets wet or perspires heavily. Note that some sunscreens may also lose efficacy when applied with insect repellents, necessitating more frequent application when the two products are used together.


Does sunscreen expire?

The Food and Drug Administration requires that sunscreens remain at their original strengths for at least three years.


  • Some manufacturers put an expiration date on their sunscreen bottles. Discard sunscreen that is past this expiration date.
  • If you buy sunscreen that doesn't have an expiration date, write the date of purchase on the bottle and throw it out after three years.
  • To retain your sunscreen's effectiveness, avoid exposing the bottle to excessive heat or direct sun. Place sunscreen bottles in the shade or wrap them in a beach towel. Discard sunscreen that has any obvious changes in color or consistency.


How many outdoor workers actually use sunscreen?

A recent online Harris Poll examined the sunscreen habits among employees ages 18 and older who work outdoors at least half the time.

  • The study found that only 18% of outdoor workers always wear sunscreen on the job.
  •  That being said, 58% of outdoor workers say they always or sometimes see a need to wear sunscreen at work. So outdoor workers appear to know that they need sunscreen, but simply aren't using it.

Part of the issue is likely that 71% of outdoor workers say their employers don't provide sunscreen to them for use at work. Perhaps that is why 59% of outdoor workers say that they typically bring their own sunscreen to work.


Insect repellents: Another form of protection

There are many risks when working outdoors and they aren’t limited to the elements. Insects can also present a risk of disease, especially when traveling to regions with known mosquito borne disease. Protecting your skin when outside is key.


What is DEET?

DEET (chemical name N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is used as the active ingredient in many insect repellents. DEET-based repellents typically offer the best protection against mosquito bites. DEET is designed for direct application to skin to repel insects, rather than kill them. 


DEET has been around since 1946 and is considered the gold standard repellent recommended by the World Health Organization Pesticide Evaluation Scheme. It has also been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1957. Concentrations of DEET in products that are designed for application to skin range from 4% to 100%.


What does the DEET concentration mean?

The concentration of DEET in a product indicates how long the product will be effective. A higher concentration does not mean that the product will work better; It means that it will be effective for a longer period of time. Therefore, products containing lower concentrations of DEET may need to be reapplied, depending on the length of time a person is outdoors.


When using insect repellents, what precautions should I follow?

  • Read and follow all directions on the product label.
  • When applying product to your face, first spray it onto your hands, then rub it onto your face.
  •  Use repellents only when outdoors, and then wash your skin with soap and water after coming indoors.
  •  Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Avoid over-application of the product.
  • DEET may be used on adults, children and infants older than 2 months of age.
  •  Do not apply repellent to young children’s hands or around their eyes and mouth.
  • DEET is toxic if it is swallowed, inhaled, or gets in your eyes.
  • Do not put repellent on wounds or broken skin.


Is there a more natural alternative to DEET?

Some people prefer a more natural means of repelling insects rather than using DEET, which is toxic if swallowed. Some essential oils can be a viable substitute, particularly oil of lemon eucalyptus. This synthetic form of an ingredient in eucalyptus leaves and twigs can help repel insects and provide protection against mosquitoes and deer ticks similarly to repellents with 15%-20% concentrations of DEET. 


When choosing this alternative, it is important to be mindful that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends concentrations of DEET greater than 20% to be effective against specific disease-carrying mosquitoes.


What sunscreens are available from Wesco Safety?

Rocky Mountain Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

Ideal for those active while in the sun, this SPF 30 formula has been enhanced to provide the maximum FDA-certified broad spectrum protection, along with 80-minute water resistance. This formula interlocks tightly with the skin's upper layer, so it won't clog pores. It also allows the skin to breathe and perspire, keeping the body cool naturally. Bonding-based formulas do not wash away during water activities or periods of extreme perspiration.


Coretex SunX Sunscreen: 2 Oz. Bottle

Protect yourself from the sun's UVA and UVB rays with this water- and sweat-resistant sunscreen. Lotion absorbs into the skin quickly, leaving behind no residue. Lotion is PABA free and contains soothing aloe vera gel and Vitamin E.


Coretex SunX 30+ Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Multi-Pack

Protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Each packet contains a sunscreen lotion pouch and a dry towelette. The towelette is not pre-moistened and is intended to absorb sweat, dirt, sunscreen and/or other substances. 


This formula is FDA rated to be water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Lotion is PABA an oil free and contains soothing aloe vera gel and Vitamin E.


What insect repellents are available from Wesco Safety?


Repel Insect Repellent

Provide hours of effective, unscented protection from mosquitoes, ticks, black flies, and other biting insects.


Ben's 30 Wilderness Insect Repellent

Ben's 30 Wilderness Formula repels insects that may carry the West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease. This special formula is made to stay on the skin's surface, rather than absorbing, where it evaporates slowly for up to eight hours of long-lasting, effective protection. The active ingredient in Ben’s 30 is 30% DEET.


Natrapel® 8-Hour Insect Repellent

It's about time – a DEET-free insect repellent that really works! Natrapel 8-Hour provides over eight hours of protection from biting insects and ticks. This effective protection is due to its CDC-recommended 20% Picaridin formula. 


Unlike ineffective DEET alternatives, Picaridin is the only formula that consistently shows equal or better performance than DEET in independent, clinical tests. Even better, this product is completely safe on gear and will not melt jackets, fishing line, and other synthetic materials.


Our Safety Support Team is always available to discuss workplace sun and insect protection and to help you choose the right products to keep your workforce protected and safe.


If you're looking for more information on other summertime workplace safety topics, recent blog posts have covered both The Effects of Heat Stress and The Prevention of Dehydration.



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