Sunscreen

5:06 p.m. on May 12, 2010 (EDT)
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One of the ten essentials so you know it deserves attention! Was hoping to get a general discussion going and to include particular brands or products that have worked well for you all in the past. Perhaps even sunscreens that also incorporate an insect repellent that really works. Forgive me but didn't find much in the way of gear reviews or previous discussion(s) for this essential item.

When shopping for a sunscreen for the backcountry, what do we look for beyond spf - and even that? What spf would a person need at a high elevation above treeline as opposed to a hike at a lower elevation under intermittent vegetative cover? Which type of product do I choose so it doesn't rub off on my clothes/gear, won't clog my pores or dissolve away as I sweat?

6:16 p.m. on May 12, 2010 (EDT)
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I hike mostly under the tree canopy, but when summer comes I'll take some sunscreen. I like 'Badger Unscented 30 SPF', I don't know how it compares to other brands.

I try to use unscented products in the woods as much as possible since that is the general recommendation, as you probably know the odors from scented toothpaste, soap, sunscreen, etc. can attract critters to your camp. That is really the only consideration that comes to mind other than getting a sunscreen intended for active wear.

12:24 a.m. on May 13, 2010 (EDT)
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There are a number of significant changes coming in how the feds rate sunblocks and what SPF (and UPF) really mean. Plus the manufacturers are doing a lot of changes in formulation (most of which I suspect are just cosmetic, so to speak). Consumer Reports had a good article in a recent issue of this topic and some rating information.

I get to high altitude a lot (meaning well above the 10,000 foot level). So a lot of what is in the public discussions is not really valid. For most people, SPF 30 is plenty. Above 14-15k, SPF 50 and higher really does make a difference, compared to SPF30.

As far as the mixed repellent/sunblock are concerned, the big problem is that to be effective, both repellent and sunblock need to be renewed periodically. The recommended times (and what I have found for me personally) are significantly different. So personally, I find that separate potions work better.

5:34 a.m. on May 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Since everything is so expensive here in Norway we try to load up on things like sunscreen whenever we go to the US. I came back from a trip a couple of years ago with a BIG bottle of SPF 30 "No Ad" sunscreen. My wife figured I should have brought a name brand because the no brand type probably cuts some corners to make it less effective or more oily or something like that. I found a website that rated hundred of sunscreens not only for effectiveness but known or putatively toxic ingredients. Some of the name brands didn't come out so good, but as I recall my No Ad type came out OK so we went ahead and used it. But I just found the web site again and the No Ad is now only middling due concerns about the toxicity of some of the ingredients. Anyway here's the web site, which seems to be both objective and very comprehensive:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens//summary.php

11:33 a.m. on May 13, 2010 (EDT)
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One other thing to be aware of is that sunblocks do degrade with time, even though they do not have a "use by" date on them. There have been notes in the AMGA Bulletin and from some of the professional guide companies giving lifetimes (supposedly from the manufacturers) of 18-24 months, after which the effective SPF drops significantly. I find it hard to understand how a basic mineral like zinc oxide or titanium oxide (common ingredients in the higher SPF products) would deteriorate. But I can see that the organic ingredients would (organic in the sense of organic chemistry, not in the sense of their production). These ingredients are the ones which require putting the sunblock on 15-30 minutes before sun exposure so that they can bind with your skin. They are also the ones that in some sunblocks I have tried I can start tasting within 10-15 minutes as they "bind" with my skin - I toss those as soon as I notice that taste and never use them again. No, I don't put them in my mouth. Though that does bring up - when on snow and particularly glaciers, do not breathe through your mouth, and do put the sunblock on the bottom of your nose and ears. All of us in one group I was with on Denali had our palates burn because we were all breathing with our mouths open - worse than "pizza mouth"!

2:00 p.m. on May 13, 2010 (EDT)
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I can attest that some brands quite working effectively if they are too old. On one occasion I used a bottle of high SPF of the NO-AD brand that was at least a year old and my younger brothers and myself ended up badly burned in less than an hour at the beach. We followed the directions perfectly, applying at least 30 min before going outside, and reapplying after swimming. The stuff worked other times, but it was clear the bottle my brothers brought was too old, and no longer worked.

July 24, 2014
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