Fighting Mother Nature with Sunscreen and Repellents

The perfectly planned road trip can be brought down by nature’s unforgiving sun and its endless supply of bugs. But with a little planning, some forethought and of course handy tips from Clutch and Chrome, with the help of Consumer Reports both can be kept at bay.

As exciting as any road trip may be, nature toughest challenges need to be packed for. And while this may not be the first time for many riders heading out into the elements, new studies and a better understanding of the sun as well as suncreens may change what most have been told our whole lives.

But out of all the things we can blame on our parents, the misunderstandings of sunscreen UV-A and UV-B rays isn't their fault. Firstly, current rules for sunscreen labels were first written in the 70s, when the effects of UV-A radiation weren't entirely understood. The SPF number on sunscreen only tells you how well it protects against UV-B radiation, which causes sunburns.

Unfortunately, more unseen damage can be done against our skins aside from the painful sunburn, such as the various skin cancers and premature aging. Those are caused by UV-A rays and the label may not clearly indicate how well a sunscreen protects against the more harmful radiation of the sun.

When choosing a sunscreen, riders should look for the creams that protect from both types of UV rays as well as looking for the higher numbers. But be warned, the difference in UVB protection between an SPF 100 and SPF 50 is marginal. Far from offering double the blockage, SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. (SPF 30, that old-timer, holds its own, deflecting 96.7 percent).

To understand the mysterious SPF, riders should appreciate its a measure of UVB sun protection on skin treated with sunscreen; put simply, if your skin normally turns red in ten minutes, then an SPF of 30 could lengthen that time to 300 minutes.

While there are many who enjoy the romantic image of a weather-worn biker, too much sun could possibly lead to medical problems and shorten future time in the saddle.

In the tests, Consumer Reports Health also evaluated how the sunscreens smelled, felt, and absorbed into the skin. While the complete results can be found online, overall the top four performing sunscreens had a slight or moderately intense floral or citrus scent and left little residue on the skin.

"A top performing sunscreen isn't going to give you any protection if its smell or the way it feels on your skin is so offensive to you that you won't use it," said Gayle Williams, deputy editor, Consumer Reports Health.

Regardless what the bottle or tube states, its also important to know that they deover what’s promised. In a study by last year, Consumer Reports found nearly a third of sunscreens tested fell short of the promised SPF protection, missing the mark by anywhere from 16% to 70%.

In that same report, fifteen of 34 sunscreens tested earned a spot on the “recommended” list.

"We tested more this year than we have in our previous tests," says Trisha Calvo, deputy editor of health and food at Consumer Reports. Last year, 7 out of 20 tested sunscreens were recommended.

The report covers sunscreens from small and large makers, and they vary in price.

The only one that earned a full 100% score is La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk, SPF 60. At $7.20 an ounce, it's also the priciest.

Here are the other 14 on the recommended list which Consumer Reports refers to them as ''non-yucky, non-sticky, no-burn options.''

  • Vichy Capital Soleil 50 Lightweight Foaming Lotion, SPF 50, at $5.94 an ounce
  • Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50, at $1.31 an ounce
  • Equate Ultra Protection, SPF 50, at $.56 an ounce
  • No-Ad Sport SPF 50, at $.63 an ounce
  • Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish, SPF 30, at $1 an ounce
  • Aveeno Protect+Hydrate, SPF 30, at $3.33 an ounce
  • Up & Up Ultra Sheer, SPF 30, at $1.63 an ounce
  • Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray, SPF 50+, at $1.83 an ounce
  • L'Oreal Quick Dry Sheer Finish (spray) 50+, at $2.44 an ounce
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance AccuSpray, SPF 30, at $1.58 an ounce
  • Equate Sport Continuous Spray, SPF 30, at $1.33 an ounce
  • Coppertone UltraGuard, SPF 70+, at $1.38 an ounce
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection, SPF 70, at $1.62 an ounce
  • Caribbean Breeze Continuous Tropical Mist (spray), SPF 70, at $2.75 an ounce

If readers notice a lack of those ‘natural’ sunscreens, there’s a reason why. Natural sunscreens may not deliver.

The magazine found they "don't really work all that well,'' Calvo says. There's no definition of natural. The researchers applied it to products that have the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as main ingredients. Those are the ones that used to produce the white-nosed lifeguard look, although super-tiny nanoparticles in the newer formulas make that look less likely now.

Only two of the five natural products met their SPF claims. Perhaps the nanoparticles don't provide enough uniform coverage, the researchers say. If you prefer a natural product, Calvo says one you might consider is California Baby Super Sensitive SPF 30+, as it met its SPF claim.

What about sunscreens designed and promoted to be used primarily on the face?

The best face sunscreen in the Consumer Report’s test was Avon Sun + Face Lotion SPF 40. The second best face sunscreen is Coppertone Sport High Performance Faces SPF 50. Both provide plenty of broad-spectrum and SPF coverage, though the Coppertone product tested at an SPF of 41 rather than the 50 claimed on the bottle.

Reportedly, they left just a slight amount of residue and were slightly scented.

Tips for buying and using sunscreens:

  • Buy sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (plenty for most people) that claims to be water resistant.
  • For full-body protection, adults should apply 2 to 3 tablespoons of lotion 15 to 30 minutes before going 0ut in the sun.  Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.  Applying sprays can be tricky if it's windy.
  • To avoid staining your biker apparel, don't spray or rub sunscreen on clothes.
  • Wear tightly woven clothing and a hat, limit your sun time, and seek shade during the hottest hours of the day.
  • If you buy a sunscreen and it has no expiration date, write down the purchase date on the bottle with a permanent marker. Discard your sunscreen at its expiration date or if you've had it for more than two years as it may have lost its potency.
  • Don't make your purchase decisions based on brand alone. Different formulas or SPFs within the same brand may not have equivalent performance.

With many motorcycle enthusiasts using campgrounds for overnight trips, bugs can be a major problem. Consumer Reports Health also tested insect repellents at an outside lab, where brave testers bared their arms in mosquito-filled cages and let deer ticks crawl on them. Consumer Reports recorded how long it took for two common types of mosquitoes to start biting and for deer ticks to decide it was safe to crawl over treated areas.

For the first time ever in Consumer Reports’ tests of insect repellents, new, safer products made with milder, plantlike chemicals were the most effective. The top scorers outperformed products that contained deet, a chemical that did best in previous Ratings but can cause serious side effects.

The active ingredients in the top repellents are chemically synthesized compounds that are similar to or come from natural ingredients. The secret sauce in the best-scoring Sawyer product is picaridin; in the Repel it’s oil of lemon eucalyptus.

They are not side-effect-free, but “those problems are much less severe than deet,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. “Still, all repellents should be used sparingly and only for the time you need them—especially on children and older people.”

Top-rated repellents:

  • Sawyers Fisherman’s Formula
  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Repel Scented Family (which contains 15 percent DEET)
  • Off! Deepwoods (25 percent DEET)
  • Natrapel 8 Hour
  • Coleman SkinSmart

Lowest-rated products:

  • EcoSmart Organic
  • Off! Family Care II Clean Feel
  • California Natural Baby Bug Blend
  • All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor
  • BullFrog Mosquito Coast
  • Babyganics Natural
  • Burt’s Bees Herbal
  • Cutter Natural
  • Cutter Skin Sensations

Consumer Reports tests also found that products with natural plant oils, such as citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary did not always live up to their manufacturers’ claims they are “proven effective” against mosquitoes or “repels mosquitoes for hours.”

In addition, two products Babyganics Natural and EcoSmart Organic imply that they’re organic. But neither contains certified organic ingredients, as per U.S. Department of Agriculture provisions.

But Consumer Reports experts noted two natural alternatives to DEET picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus did well in the tests. Both have less serious side effects than DEET, but care should still be taken when applying such products on kids.

As with the sunscreen, more information can be found online on how to effectively use insect repellent as well as all the test results.

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