Should You Put On Sunscreen or Bug Repellent First?

When using sunscreen and bug spray together, follow these tips.

Young child itches legs after not applying bug spray.

Sunscreen and bug spray are two staples everyone should have on hand, especially in the warmer months when people tend to spend more time outside. Sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin from damage, and bug spray keeps your skin bug- and insect-free.

Using both is key to staying safe outside; however, you may have several questions regarding application order and effectiveness such as these below:

  • What should you do when you need sunscreen and insect repellent at the same time?
  • Is it safe to use them together?
  • Should one be applied before the other?
  • What if the insect repellent contains DEET?

These are all good questions. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from research published almost 20 years ago suggesting that insect repellent with DEET causes sunscreen to work less efficiently (up to 33 percent), according to WebMD.

A later WebMD report indicated that the U.S. Army did its own study and found that applying sunscreen before insect repellent didn’t seem to decrease effectiveness of either substance.

Related: Get The Facts About Lyme Disease And How To Protect Yourself

Dr. Marc Sanders, dermatologist at Intermountain Health, says, "Insect repellent can be used with sunscreen; the repellent should be applied after the sunscreen." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support Dr. Sanders' viewpoint; sunscreen can be used and applied first, allowing several minutes to pass before repellent is used.

Should I reapply sunscreen and repellent after I’ve used both?

Sunscreen should be reapplied every couple of hours (sooner if in water or sweating), whereas insect repellent lasts longer. If this is the case, just reapply the sunscreen at the designated time to ensure your skin is protected from the sun.

Related: How to Choose Sunscreen and When To Reapply

Do I need to shower after using insect repellent and sunscreen?

According to Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Group and contributor for, “It is a good idea to wash off the insect repellent once you return indoors.” Shu also suggests that you only use repellent on exposed areas of the skin.

The most important thing is that you’re safe while you’re outdoors this summer. Protect yourself by correctly using sunscreen and insect repellent, reapplying when necessary, and washing after use.

Ready to schedule a consult with a dermatologist? Select Health members can use the Find a Doctor tool to locate a nearby skin specialist.

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