Summer Safety Tips to Protect Against Tick-Borne Illnesses & Skin Cancer
Learn important outdoor summer safety tips to protect your body from tick-borne illnesses and sunburns that can lead to skin cancer.
Outdoor Summer Safety Tips
Which is your biggest concern? Getting skin cancer or contracting Lyme disease? You may be surprised to learn that equal numbers of people fall victim to both each year. As these numbers have increased considerably to around 300,000 cases of each per year, it makes sense that summer skin care should be a priority. By carrying out a few essential summer safety tips, you can help prevent you and your family from getting sick. Keep reading to discover these essential summer safety tips that target potential summertime threats.
Why Is Summer Skin Care Important?
Summer skin care involves more than just protecting your skin from the sun. Ticks, which can potentially infect their host with Lyme disease or even a red meat allergy, are also becoming increasingly common. This makes not just skin cancer, but the possibility of a lifelong illness from chronic lyme disease, an equal concern. Learn important summer safety tips to protect your body from tick-borne illnesses and sunburns that can lead to skin cancer below.
Concern Over Potentially Toxic Ingredients In Sunscreen
You may have heard that are new concerns regarding sunscreens. A recent medical study by JAMA showed that certain chemicals used in sunscreen – specifically avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule – are actually absorbed into the users bloodstream during use. Unfortunately for us, these levels are much higher than approved by the FDA.
However, as sunscreens have not been subjected to the same standards as drug safety testing, there have been no safety inspections on sunscreens thus far. This means that the chemicals in many of the sunscreens on the market are potentially poisoning our bodies. What we don’t know, is if these chemicals are putting us at risk for future illnesses or cancer.
What I found especially scary is how long three of the aforementioned chemicals stay in the bloodstream. Not only do levels of all of these chemicals exceed the maximum safety levels set by the FDA after the first use, three are still detectable after a seven day period. Especially troubling are the results of study on oxybenzone. A chemical banned from sunscreens in Hawaii as it’s toxic to coral reefs, oxybenzone also shows up in womens breast milk.
Unfortunately, no one knows the long term effects of using sunscreen with these ingredients. As of yet, more testing needs to be done to ensure consumer safety. There simply is no concrete answer as to if these ingredients cause cancer over time with continued use. Kind of scary right?
Outdoor Summer Sun Protection Safety Tips
In order to keep your skin safe from cancer, wearing clothing that covers exposed skin and applying sunscreen are two very important summer safety tips. However, with new insight on the potential dangers of chemicals found in sunscreens, it begs the question, what kind of sunscreen should you use?
What Types of Sunscreen Should I Use?
Barrier sunscreens, or mineral based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, and are free of the previously mentioned chemicals are considered to be safe and effective at protecting skin from sunburns. (Some brands to consider are Waxhead, Bare Republic and Australian Gold.)
It is recommended that you opt out of making your own sunscreen unless you can test its effectiveness. There are numerous reports across the internet in which homemade sunscreens did not offer the protection thought. Thus resulting in bad sunburns. (So DIY at your own risk.)
One only needs to refer back to the debacle with The Honest Company sunscreen during 2015 to fully realize the challenge in make a safe and effective product. There were multiple reports after the original sunscreen was reformulated to reduce the amount of zinc oxide. Extensive sunburns were reported after this change, that while more aesthetically pleasing (bye bye white marks!) it missed the mark on sun protection. (You can read more on this issue here.)
The risk of skin cancer, unfortunately, seems to keep rising. In 2018 the World Cancer Research Fund reported 300,000 new cases of melanoma. This marks melanoma as the 19th most commonly occurring cancer among men and women.
Why Protecting Yourself From Tick Bites Is Important
While the thought of skin cancer is certainly scary, contracting Lyme disease – or even an allergy to red meat – from a tick bite is becoming increasingly common. And quite honestly, just as terrifying. Like melanoma, the CDC reports that 300,000 Americans contract tick-borne diseases each year. While there were 30,000 cases reported to the CDC in 2013, they believe that the actual number of cases is ten times this amount.
The month of May typically marks the start of tick season. This means starting now you should already be taking precautions to protect yourself – and your furry friends – from tick bites. In addition, as we had a mild winter across much of the United States, tick season is expected to be considerably worse this year over previous years when winter temperatures were much colder. It is important to keep in mind, however, that just because tick season starts in May, that doesn’t mean there’s not a year round risk.
Common Disease Carrying Ticks to Watch Out For
Black Legged Tick (Deer Tick)
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. However, the black legged tick, also known as a deer tick, does. It’s prevalent across much of the Northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central part of the United States as well as Illinois. Cases of lyme disease have been reported from Virginia to Northern Maine. This disease causes fever, headache and fatigue as well as characteristic skin rash. If left untreated, the infection may spread to the joints, heart and the nervous system. This in turn can lead to chronic pain, similar to that of fibromyalgia. (Learn more about Lyme disease here.)
A few years back my neighbor contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite. He had headaches so intense he was unable to work for six months coupled with crippling pain. After which he was only able to go back to work part time. If you suspect you may have been bitten by a deer tick, immediate antibiotic treatment can reduce or prevent the symptoms of Lyme disease. However, the best course of action is still prevention.
Deer ticks must be attached to their host – whether pet or human – for 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that causes lyme disease. Therefore, checking yourself and your animals for ticks once you’ve been outside in wooded and high grass areas can help prevent transmission of the disease. While wearing protective clothing and using a tick repellent can prevent tick bites entirely.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick, on the other hand, is also one of the most common ticks in the US. However, it is often misidentified. While dog ticks do not carry Lyme disease, they can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and possibly ehrlichiosis to humans. Ehrlichiosis is an emerging concern for areas where this tick is found, East of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ehrlichiosis causes a variety of symptoms that include fever, headache, chills, malaise, muscle pain, gastrointestinal distress, confusion, red eyes and a rash. Approximately one third of adults and half of all children who contract ehrlichiosis experience systems. As with Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis can be fatal in some cases. However, early treatment with antibiotics is often effective.
Lone Star Tick
Finally, the lone star tick – which is also common in my home state of Virginia – can pass along what is called alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is a sugar molecule that the lone star tick can transmit from mammals to humans. When this happens, our bodies develop antibodies against alpha-gal. This in turn results to a life threatening allergy to red meat.
The allergy causes symptoms in humans ranging from hives to violent vomiting and diarrhea – or worse death from anaphylaxis shock. People who have this allergy, like those allergic to bee stings or even peanuts – must carry an EpiPen with them in case of accidental exposure. Additionally, UVA has also conducted research linking those sensitive to the alpha-gal gene with a much higher risk of heart disease.
The lone star tick is especially dangerous as it will actually hunt its next meal. Research has shown that this tick can sense mammals and humans from 60 to 100 feet away. The tick then gravitates towards mammals, rather than patiently waiting for someone to walk by. A recent news story in our area reported that doctors in Richmond are seeing approximately 100 cases per week of people who have been infected with alpha-gal from tick bites.
Outdoor Summer Safety Tips to Prevent Tick Bites
If you live in areas that are prone to ticks, or you are visit high grassy or wooded areas, you should be taking precautions to prevent tick bites. Here’s how to keep you and your family safe from tick-borne illnesses.
- Wear light protective clothing that covers your arms and legs. (Ticks are easier to see on light colored clothes.) A head covering is also recommended. Tuck or tape your cuffs into your shoes to prevent ticks from crawling inside underneath your clothes.
- It’s recommended that you spray an insect repellant that contains picaridin, rather than DEET, onto your clothing and hands. (Avoid spraying insect repellent onto your face. Apply with your hands instead, avoiding mucous membranes.) Be sure to wash skin and clothes once you return indoors. Other DEET alternatives include natural tick repellents containing lemon eucalyptus oil.
- When hiking, walk inside the center of the trail to avoid being brushed by foliage that may contain ticks. If camping, avoid sitting in areas with leaf litter.
- Check yourself, as well as pets and children, for ticks every two to three hours. Most ticks are unable to transmit a disease until after the four hour mark. While removing ticks within 36 hours makes transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease unlikely.
- If you find a tick on your clothing, it can be easily removed with masking or cellophane tape. To remove ticks on skin, grasp it firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Then firmly and gently pull the tick straight out. Alternately, you can also use a cloth or tissue to form barrier between your fingers and the tick prior to removal. Always wash the infected area with soap and water following tick removal, followed by an antiseptic.
- If you’re worried about infection, you can save the tick in a small vial of alcohol. This way the tick can be identified if you do get sick or want to take preventative antibiotics to protect against Lyme disease. Or if you experience an unexplained illness accompanied by a fever after visiting a tick prone area.
Alternatives to DEET
According to UpToDate, insect repellents containing the active ingredients DEET, IR3535, or picaridin are the most effective at preventing tick bites. However, these products must be reapplied frequently. Further, DEET products are not safe for use on small children under two months of age. Nor are they safe for adults at concentrations of higher than 30%. This chemical repellent can cause adverse neurologic reactions, such as seizures, as a result of overexposure. In addition it can also cause hives and blister-like lesions.
Due to the potential toxicity of DEET, picaridin is now recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a safe alternative to DEET. It should be applied every two hours. Picaridin is non-greasy and odorless. And it won’t irritate skin or stain fabrics. While there has been no indication of toxicity reported from use on humans, picaridin has caused liver toxicity in rats.
While potentially less effective, natural alternatives are considered safer than chemical tick repellents. WebMD states that the application of Citriodiol (which contains 30% lemon eucalyptus oil extract) three times daily significantly decreases the risk of tick attachment if you live in tick-infested area. You can purchase REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent on Amazon. Like Citriodiol, it also contains 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus. And it doesn’t smell like bug spray.
You can also make a natural insect repellent at home. I have an insect repellent body butter recipe made with a blend of essential oils, including lemon eucalyptus to help repel mosquitoes and deer ticks. You find that recipe here.
What Is Your Biggest Outdoor Summer Skin Care Threat?
While it’s important to be diligent at preventing both sunburns and tick bites with the above summer safety tips, I’m curious which you find the greater concern? I posed this same question to my boyfriend, Greg. He stated that after watching me struggling with chronic pain from fibromyalgia, he’d definitely go the skin cancer route. Neither, however, would be his preference. I’ve seen photos of the damage caused by skin cancer and the radiation used to treat it. It’s not pretty. And I imagine it’s also quite painful.
The point is, however, both of these threats are scary and potentially life threatening. I’d love to hear you thoughts on these two health topics as well as your own summer safety tips you take to keep your and your family well. So be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.
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