Maybe we're going insane, but doesn't it seem like for every bug bite you find, another three appear somewhere else on your body? SO annoying. But besides dealing with these irritating bumps, insects can spread viruses and diseases that can at times be life threatening. Luckily, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s possible to keep those pesky pests at bay (to some extent), but haphazardly dousing yourself in bug spray whenever you remember isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly the best strategy.
First things first: Get the full lowdown on DEET (one of the most common and effective bug spray ingredients) and other bug repellants here. Although previous studies have found that DEET has potentially harmful and serious side effects, a recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced that it is relatively safe when used with caution (meaning you follow the instructions on the bottle and limit your exposure). To do that, avoid these common bug spray mistakes so that you can stay safe and protected this summer:
You spray yourself indoors. Take it outside. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at a greater risk of breathing in chemicals inside your home, says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. Being outdoors allows the fresh air to act as a natural ventilator, which reduces your inhalation risk.
You go for the most extreme spray first. You may not even need it, according to David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at EWG in a previous interview with WH. Try covering your exposed areas with long-sleeved clothing and pants without spraying anything. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re finding bug bites, start with the lowest concentration of ingredients first and work your way up to the maximum protection (30 percent with DEET, for instance; after that, a higher concentration isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t more effective) if needed. And since sprays are designed for specific purposes, make sure youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not using a repellant meant for hiking when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just grilling in your backyard.
You spray directly onto your face. To avoid irritating your eyes and accidentally consuming spray through your nostrils or mouth, Bowe recommends spraying your hands first and then rubbing your face with the residue (be very careful not to get any in your eyes or mouth).
You forget about your hair. Some bugsÃ¢â‚¬”particularly ticksÃ¢â‚¬” have a nasty habit of hiding in your locks, so coat your hair with a light spray, says Bowe.
You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t spray your body before you get dressed. The only way to make sure you protect those covered-but-still-vulnerable spots like your thighs and ankles is to apply an insect repellant before you put your clothes on, says Neal Schultz, M.D. Bugs are so tiny that they can sneak their way onto your body through any hole or opening. And those pests will find that one unprotected spot, says Bowe.
You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t spray your clothes at all. Consider this an extra precaution. Even if your skin areas are covered, you may want to give your clothes a quick spritz, too, says Bowe. Just remember to wash them immediately when you get home.
You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t shower when you get home. Toss your clothes into the laundry and head straight to the bathroom. You could unnecessarily expose yourself to chemicals the longer you stay in your outfit without bathing, says Bowe.
MORE: The Truth About DEETÃ¢â‚¬”And Other Bug Repellants
You use two-in-one products. Sprays that act as both bug repellants and sunscreens arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually recommended, says Bowe. Sunscreen needs to be re-applied more often than a repellant (depending on DEET percentage). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend applying SPF before bug spray.
You spray too much. The more the merrier doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t apply here. Bug sprays have a certain level of effectiveness that will not get amplified the more you put on, says Bowe. If you do so, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just increasing your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
You spray yourself too far from (or too close to) your body. Leave a solid foot between you and the spray bottle, suggests Eliot Ghatan, M.D. You want to make sure thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just enough (without going overboard) coating your skin to rub onto other areas of your body.
MORE: Down, Bug! Repel Insects the Safe Way