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Saving your skin.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Summer's here - time to defend yourself against the onslaughts of sun and insects.

Once upon a time, mosquito bites and sunburn were considered mere annoyances. Then mosquitoes began spreading the potentially fatal West Nile virus, and we learned how easily ultraviolet radiation from the sun can lead to skin cancer.

Summer Solstice was Tuesday, meaning the hours of sunlight are at their annual peak. Meanwhile, Oregon's wet spring has produced an earlier-than-usual mosquito hatch. 'Tis indeed the season to slather on sunscreen and insect repellent - although not simultaneously, experts advise.

Fortunately, outdoor lovers have more weapons than ever with which to defend themselves against biting insects and harmful ultraviolet rays. And you're no longer limited to lotions, balms and sprays. Clothing manufacturers have jumped to our aid with garments designed to repel insects and ward off harmful effects of the sun.

The threats facing people who work and play outdoors are real enough.

West Nile virus caused 98 U.S. deaths in 2004 (out of 2,535 confirmed cases), according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Five people in Oregon were diagnosed with West Nile virus last year, according to the Oregon Department of Health Services.

The virus -spread when an animal or person is bitten by an infected mosquito - affects the central nervous system and can cause high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, paralysis and, in extreme cases, death.

Meanwhile, there were an estimated 1.3 million skin cancer cases in the U.S. last year, according to the Office of the Surgeon General. That's more than all the breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer cases combined. The rate of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, rose threefold between 1980 and 2003.

"Skin cancer is increasingly striking younger people, especially those in their 20s and 30s," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. "One blistering sunburn in childhood can double a child's risk of developing skin cancer later in life."

How to defend yourself and your family against these dual threats?

Until recently, the only chemical compound the CDC recommended for long-lasting protection against mosquitos was N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, commonly known as "DEET." But many people avoid using repellents containing DEET because it smells bad and has a high potential for irritating skin and mucus membranes (not to mention that some plastics "melt" when exposed to it).

In April, however, the federal government revised its recommendations on insect repellents effective against mosquitoes that transmit the West Nile virus. Two new ingredients were added to the CDC's recommended list after the Environmental Protection Agency ruled they are safe and effective.

Testing found one of those ingredients, picaridin, to be DEET's equal at warding off mosquitos. Picaridin is also effective at repelling ticks, chiggers, gnats, fleas and no-see-ums.

Picaridin - also known as Bayrepel (after Bayer AG, the company which developed it) - has been used in Europe since 1998. And the World Health Organization has recommended picaridin as the best protection against malaria. But its sale in the U.S. was illegal until this year. The substance is odorless and has what users often describe as "a light, clean feel" as opposed to the "oily" feel of DEET.

In tests conducted using members of the Australian Defense Force, only 14.7 percent of the users reported any sense of discomfort or irritation while using a repellent containing picaridin, compared to 53 percent of the soldiers using DEET.

The only picaridin-based repellent to reach the U.S. market so far is Cutter Advanced, manufactured by Spectrum Brands. It contains 7 percent picaridin, and a six-ounce pump spray bottle costs about $6.

The product has already created a buzz among consumers.

"Sales have far surpassed our expectations," said Angela Proctor, product manager for Spectrum Brands. "In fact, it's difficult to find Cutter Advanced in some areas of the country because stores are selling out of it."

The other ingredient newly endorsed by the CDC is oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based repellent found in at least three different brands of repellent. The CDC says products with 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus "provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations (10 to 15 percent) of DEET."

DEET does not become more effective at higher concentrations; it simply retains its effectiveness for longer periods of time.

Some repellent manufacturers have been able to formulate encapsulated ("time release") repellents that extend the length of time in which lower concentrations of DEET remain effective.

Another increasingly popular civil defense against mosquitoes is "permethrin," an insecticide/repellent meant to be applied to clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear, not bare skin.

The U.S. Defense Department uses a solution of 0.5 percent permethrin to help protect members of the military.

According to the CDC, "permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes and other arthropods, and retains this effect after repeated laundering."

One of the first commercial lines of products pre-treated with permethrin was "Buzz Off" clothing, by Ex Officio, which makes travel wear.

Buzz Off retains its insect-repellent characteristics through at least 25 washings, the company says.

"Permethrin is great. It's very effective against flies and ticks and things that DEET is only marginally effective against," said Matt Symonds, camping and climbing specialist for REI in Eugene.

The permethrin treatment adds about $15 to each item of clothing, according to an Ex Officio spokesman.

But you need not purchase a whole new wardrobe to get permethrin protection. The substance is available in spray bottles that can be used to treat your camping and hiking duds.

"For 10 bucks you get a bottle that will do about five outfits," Symonds said.

The spray-on stuff, however, loses its effectiveness after a couple of launderings.

Meanwhile, more and more clothing manufacturers are also touting the ability of their garments to screen out the sun's harmful rays, in response to increasing public awareness that "covering up" doesn't necessarily block out ultraviolet rays.

For example, "Buzz Off" says its apparel also "provides 30+ UPF sun protection."

The UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, a rating system similar to the more-familiar SPF (Sun Protection Factor) used to indicate the effectiveness of various sunscreen products. Some light cotton T-shirts, for example, provide protection equivalent to an SPF 5 sunscreen (or SPF 3, if the T-shirt is wet).

In both systems the "protection factor" is a number that relates to your skin's susceptibility to burning.

With SPF 15 sunscreen (or a UPF 15 shirt), for example, it takes 15 times as much sun exposure to get sunburned as compared to wearing no sunscreen or shirt at all.

A garment's UPF rating is largely a result of how tight the "weave" is in the fabric used to make it, although fabrics can be treated with a chemical that helps absorb ultraviolet rays. Even color can make a difference in a garment's UPF rating, as darker colors absorb more ultraviolet light.

When it comes to protecting exposed skin, many dermatologists recommend looking beyond the SPF ratings and choosing "broad spectrum" sunscreens, which offer some protection against ultraviolet "A" rays as well the ultraviolet "B" rays that ordinary sunscreens protect against.

While UVB rays burn the surface of the skin, UVA rays penetrate more deeply and cause damage below the surface, causing wrinkles among other things. SPF ratings relate only to UVB rays. There is no system for measuring UVA protection.

Ingredients such as avabenzone, Parsol 1789, oxybenzone and dioxybenzone provide some protection against UVA rays and can be found on the labels of many "broad spectrum" sunscreen products.

Whatever sunscreen you use, don't skimp. Getting the full SPF advertised on the label takes a full teaspoon on the face, and enough to fill a shot glass rubbed over the body. Don't forget to use a high SPF balm on your lips.

Also, dermatologists point out that most sunscreens take 15 minutes or longer to start working because they must be absorbed by the skin first. So lather up before you go step outside.

Especially important to remember in Oregon is that up to 80 percent of ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds. Don't be fooled into thinking you're safe from sunburn on overcast days.

Researchers suspect that is one reason the skin cancer rate is significantly higher in dreary ol' England than it is in sunny Australia.



The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following recommendations for the safe use of insect repellent and sunscreen products.

Use enough repellent to cover exposed skin, but heavy application is not necessary to achieve protection

Don't apply repellent to skin that is under clothing.

Do not apply repellent to cuts, wounds or irritated skin

Do not apply aerosol or pump products directly to your face. Spray your hands and then run them carefully over your face, avoiding eyes and mouth.

Do not allow children to handle the product; apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child.

When using insect repellent and sunscreen products at the same time, apply sunscreen first. After the sunscreen is completely absorbed into the skin, apply repellent containing DEET.

The use of products that combine DEET with sunscreen is not recommended, as the instructions for the safe use of DEET and the safe use of sunscreen are different.


If you find yourself afraid to get out of the mosquito netting this summer, you might try one of the new products designed to keep the bugs away. In addition to sprays, clothing that contains insecticide and repellent is available at many outdoors stores. Ex Officio makes insect protective clothing called "Buzz Off" (right) while Ultrathon insect repellent (left) contains DEET. Kevin Clark / The Register-Guard REI is among the stores in the Eugene-Springfield area that carry "Buzz Off" clothing, which is made by Ex Officio and is pre-treated with permethrin. "Permethrin is great. It's very effective against flies and ticks and things that DEET is only marginally effective against." MATT SYMONDS REI CAMPING SPECIALIST
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Choose your weapons in the war against mosquitoes and cancer
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 23, 2005
Previous Article:MORNING BRIEFING.
Next Article:Simple rules for staying safe.

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