Is the SPF in Your Bug Spray Enough to Protect Your Skin from the Sun?

If your summer plans include spending lots of time outdoors, whether you like biking, hiking, fishing, boating, or swimming, two of the biggest skin problems you’re going to run into are sunburn and bug bites. It would make sense, then, that you might be tempted to reach for a two-in-one product that combines sunscreen and insect repellent into one convenient formula. While using a combination product like this might sound like a good idea, the truth is that your skin is not likely to get the sun protection it needs without using two separate products. Here’s why.

The Trouble with Combination Products

There are a few primary issues with using a combination SPF and bug spray. First, the ingredients commonly used to repel insects from your skin can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen contained in the same formula. Conversely, the sunscreen component can also heighten the toxicity and absorption, and therefore negative side effects, of DEET and other chemicals used to keep bugs at bay (Skin Cancer Foundation). Secondly, the way you should use sunscreens and insect repellents greatly differ, making it difficult to properly apply a single product that contains both of these components. Sunscreens should be applied liberally and frequently throughout the day, following the rule of thumb of one ounce (the size of a shot glass) of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of skin on your body. On the other hand, you should apply insect repellents sparingly–no more than every two to six hours, depending on the product–and it is not recommended to use these products on your face (Skin Cancer Foundation). Because of these vast differences in the ways that sunscreens and bug sprays should be used, it is virtually impossible to find a combination product that will be safe and effective at both blocking UV rays and keeping bugs away. For this reason, you’re much better off taking that extra step before you go outside and using two separate products–a sunscreen and an insect repellent.

Your Insect Repellent Options

When choosing an insect repellent, you do have a few different options. However, recent research has discovered that some popular natural alternatives like citronella candles and many herbal extracts may not be nearly as effective as once believed at repelling mosquitoes. Instead, scientists have found that the two most effective insect repellent options are DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus, which were shown to reduce mosquito attraction by 60 percent (Science). You’ll also want to avoid using perfumes or other scented skincare products to avoid attracting mosquitoes and other insects. If you’re looking for a DEET-free way to help get rid of bugs, you can try a product like the Mosquito Magnet. For tips on relieving itching after you’ve already been bitten, take a look at this blog post.

Choosing a Sunscreen

A good place to start when choosing the right sunscreen is to find out your unique skin type. If you already know your Baumann Skin Type, you can head over to Skin Type Solutions and search for sunscreens that match your type. Otherwise, find an STS-approved dermatologist in your area who can help you determine your Baumann Skin Type and recommend the best products for your skin. Generally speaking, those with dry, sensitive skin types may do better with a physical sunscreen rather than a chemical sunscreen. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Sunscreen and Jan Marini Physical SPF 45 are great physical sunscreens to try. You should also look for sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and be sure to reapply these products at least every two hours or after swimming to be sure that your skin is protected from the harmful effects of the sun.

In Summary

Even though it might seem much more convenient to use a two-in-one product that contains SPF and insect repellent, the truth is that you’re probably not going to be happy with the end results. It is going to be well worth taking an extra minute or two to apply sunscreen first, then use a bug spray on top of that. If you have additional summer skincare tips that you’d like to share, feel free to let us know on our Facebook page!


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

June 26, 2017 Skincare