Each summer, countless Canadians find themselves sporting the first sunburn of the year with a smattering of mosquito bites for good measure. It's a truly Canadian experience, but if you follow these tips, you can prevent undue harm and suffering:

Choose paraben-free sunscreens

Many of us have made the mistake of staying out in the sun too long. We underestimate the dangers, lose track of time or don't use sunscreen properly. Too much sun can be dangerous, so cover up.

Choose a sunscreen without parabens. Widely used in cosmetics as a synthetic preservative, these are easily absorbed by skin and are suspected of interfering with hormone function.

The U.S. Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested sunscreens and found that most are filled with chemicals hazardous to your health and dangerous to the environment, and many do a poor job of protecting your skin from damaging UV rays. Choose safer brands listed in EWG's 2011 Sunscreen Guide.

Too late, already burned?

If you do get burned, consider these non-toxic DIY remedies for quick relief. My favourite recipe is an After Sun Soother Tea; the tannic acid in the tea draws heat out of the burn and restores the skin's acid balance. Mint herb also has a cooling effect.

Create a mosquito-unfriendly home

Think about all the non-toxic things you can do to keep mosquitoes away. Chemical and synthetic ingredients in bug sprays often don't break down in the environment so they linger and can cause harm to plants and animals, other than mosquitoes.

  • Remove standing water (mosquito breeding grounds) — refresh bird baths,
  • Fill, cover or remove backyard items that collect water — empty planters, kids' toys, wheelbarrows, etc.
  • Keep your rain gutters clean to help rainwater flow freely.
  • Repair screens on doors and windows.
  • Keep grass to about three inches and trim shrubs.
  • Attract mosquito eating chickadees, house wrens, bluebirds, swallows, and martins with birdhouses or bird baths.

Make yourself unattractive to mosquitoes

  • Go fragrance-free. Mosquitoes love scents in soaps, lotions, shampoos, perfumes and laundry detergent.
  • Cover up with long sleeves, long pants and socks.
  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. Tuck your kid's pants into their socks for extra protection.
  • Take a bug net or bug shirt camping. It will keep you sane.
  • Try herbal repellents with essential oils of citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, lemongrass or peppermint. They can be safe for use on children (but not on babes under two).

Avoid using DEET

DEET is a registered pesticide. It comes with warnings to avoid eyes, mouth, ears, cuts and irritated skin for a reason. It's also a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxin. DEET can damage synthetics — plastics, rayon — as well as furniture finishes, leather, and paint. So, why put it on your skin? And never rinse DEET off in oceans, lakes or rivers.

What are your tips and tricks to battle all that summer has to offer?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

May 30, 2011

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