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Sunscreen and Bug Spray – Is it a Happy Combo??

By , On , In Sunscreens

Hooray, it finally is the season for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities! Unfortunately, it’s also the season for annoying insects. This presents us with a dilemma – how do you wear sunscreen AND bug spray? Do you use a combination product or not? Which one goes on first?

While it may seem convenient to use a single product to protect you and your family from both sunburns and bug bites, it is actually not a great option. When used separately, both an insect repellent and sunscreen are pretty safe and effective. However, their combination may lead to several problems.

The Underlying Issue with the Combo Products

A combination of bug spray and sunscreen can be problematic in many ways.

Firstly, the contents of common insect repellants can drastically reduce the sun-protective properties of the sunscreen in the same formulation. Similarly, the sunscreen part may enhance the absorption and toxicity of N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) and other potent chemicals in the bug repellant component, which worsen its side effects.

Secondly, how you use a sunscreen and insect repellant differ greatly. Sunscreens should be re-applied every two hours, whereas insect repellents are only re-applied every three to six hours. Also, insect repellants shouldn’t be applied on the face.

For these reasons, it’s next to impossible to find a combo that will be as safe and effective as individual products. Thus, you are better off using sunscreen and insect repellant separately when going outdoors.

Which One Should Go On First?

When you need to apply both sunscreen and insect repellent, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends applying the sunscreen first. Wait for at least 10 minutes for the sunscreen to get absorbed completely before applying the insect repellant.

Two tents on a hill overlooking a lake with mountains in the background, with two people sitting outdoors - highlighting the use of bug spray and sunscreen

How to Choose an Bug Spray and a Sunscreen

When selecting insect repellants, the two most effective options are DEET and 20% Picaridin. Another very effective option is Permethrin-treated clothing.

As far as sunscreens are concerned, a broad-spectrum sunscreen, offering protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and with a SPF of 30 or above is your best bet.


No matter how convenient it may seem to use a two-in-one product, it will not give you the same level of protection. Therefore, taking a few extra minutes to apply sunscreen first, followed by insect repellant, will certainly be worth your while. With optimal protection, you can safely enjoy your time outdoors!