Unsexy Question: How Do I Protect My Skin From Bug Bites?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

Q: I’m looking forward to a Caribbean cruise next month. Viking has warned us about mosquitoes on the islands that are known to carry the Zika virus, dengue fever, and other nasty ailments. What’s the most effective way to incorporate sunscreen and insect repellent into my skin-care regimen to ward off both sunburn and illness? I plan to use a higher-SPF sunscreen than usual and will apply it more liberally and frequently. But in what order should I apply moisturizer, sunscreen, and insect repellent to my face and body for best results? 

A: A vacation!

I turned to HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf, M.D., for her best advice.

“Generally, I suggest applying moisturizer before sunscreen so the sunscreen can go on more smoothly,” she said. But in warmer, more humid weather, when sunscreen alone may feel sufficient, applying sunscreen first and then adding moisturizer if your skin still feels dry makes sense.

Mosquito repellent is in a different category than skin care; think of it instead as safety gear, said Waldorf. The most effective repellents contain DEET, and you don’t want to apply that everywhere. (No, we don’t, but it’s probably not going to kill us.)

When she’s traveling — and she’s a big traveler — Waldorf prefers individually wrapped bug-repellent towelettes because they’re convenient and make the repellent easy to use. “After applying your moisturizer and sunscreen, rub the towelette on any areas that will be exposed except the face,” she said. To protect the face, apply the repellent only on the hairline, outer ears, and under the jawline. Then wash your hands well.

After an hour, you can reapply sunscreen without worrying about spreading the repellent where you don’t want it. You can also buy bug-repellent clothing — shawls and hats pre-treated with permethrin, or a spray to treat your own clothes (or have them treated for you, but that requires $$$). And Waldorf adds an interesting note about DEET: It can melt nail polish. So be careful if you want to keep a manicure intact.

Although most of us may not be thinking about mosquito protection at this time of year, as climate change accelerates the circulation of various insect-borne communicable diseases, we’d be wise to learn how to protect ourselves. Dear Reader, I hope you suffer no unbidden flying guests and enjoy the trip as a happily unbitten one yourself.

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Unsexy Question: How Do I Protect My Skin From Bug Bites?