Living Well

Is it bad to wear sunscreen everyday?

Wearing sunscreen every day, especially if you're outside a lot, can help prevent certain conditions such as premature skin aging, sunburns, and even skin cancer. The risks are serious — skin cancer affects over 3.3 million people each year, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (JAMA) So it's pretty obvious that we'd naturally turn to lotions and sprays to lower our risk. That is, aside from staying out of the sun.

The question is, is it okay to wear sunscreen everyday? Sure, it's a good idea to protect your exposed skin from harmful UV rays, but could daily use be detrimental? All it takes is a quick Google search to find articles that state that sunscreen is ineffective, all the way to claiming that the ingredients can cause you harm.

But it is even true? Does slathering on something that is supposed to help you have the opposite effect?

Let's take a look.

A Peek into the FDA

Believe it or not, sunscreens originally went on the market as cosmetics. However, when these products started making health-related claims like preventing skin cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started regulating them as drugs in 1978.

The thing is, sunscreens that were already in existence before 1978 weren't subjected to the same types of testing until the FDA started to regulate their ingredients and usage. In other words, these products weren't subject to the same type of testing as modern drugs. The ingredients in these sunscreens fell into a category referred to as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). (JAMA)

However, with new options like mineral sunscreen and reef-safe varieties, ingredients such as BPA in plastic, avobenzone, retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone in chemical sunscreens have been put under the microscope as to whether the toxicity levels are any cause for concern.

So Are Chemicals in Sunscreens Effective?

The good news is the FDA has wondered the same thing and has questioned whether the chemicals from sunscreens are indeed absorbed into the body and what the possible effects are.

Back in May 2019, a study was published in JAMA where it aimed to answer these questions. The study randomly selected 24 healthy people to use one of four sunscreens. One was a cream, two were sprays and the fourth was a lotion. The participants were told to apply the sunscreens on 75% of their bodies four times a day for the next four days. Then, they had 30 blood samples drawn over the course of seven days.

The study looked at avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule, four common sunscreen ingredients. For all four sunscreens tested, all of them were above the nanogram threshold after the first day, in which the FDA states that the product will then need to undergo a toxicology assessment.

Except for the cream, the nanogram levels were higher than the limit allowed by the FDA. Plus, the levels increased with each passing day, which suggests with continued use, there'll be chemical accumulation in the body.

Is It Bad to Wear Sunscreen Everyday?

To be clear, the study mentioned above is no indication that sunscreen is bad for you, even sunscreen designed for children. It's possible that even with the amount absorbed, it's still perfectly safe to wear it to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. If you think about it, tons of people use sunscreen and there is hardly any data so far that has shown any issues with them. Given that, it's safe to say that the question "is it safe to wear sunscreen every day?" is probably, yes.

That being said, the FDA is still preparing their final recommendation on chemicals found in sunscreens. For now, the FDA's proposed rule is that any sunscreen with trolamine salicylate and para-aminobenzoic acid should not be given the GRAS designation. Plus, since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide aren't absorbed into the skin (rather it sits on it), these inorganic compounds can be classified as GRAS.

What's the Best Way to Protect Myself From The Sun?

You might not be convinced that wearing sunscreen is still harmful and you should forego it altogether. Or you're going to use alternatives like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. However, with lots of new entrants to the market, these types of sunscreens may be less effective than conventional ones — they may be less likely to meet the sun protection rating you see on the packaging. So it's smart to shop around and go with brands that have a long track record of success in protecting from sun exposure using alternative ingredients. (Consumer Reports)

Remember, there is no clear evidence that proves chemicals in conventional sunscreens are bad for you. But if you're still uneasy about wearing sunscreen every day, you can still protect yourself from sun exposure by wearing protective clothing that blocks out the sun, like hats and UV protective clothing or even staying in the shade as much as possible.

Otherwise, think of sunscreen as a supplement to other sun protection methods. If you're inside and thinking "should I wear sunscreen indoors," the answer is it's better to be safe if you're near a window.

When you do wear sunscreen, there are some basic guidelines or best practices to follow to prevent sun damage. As for answering, what SPF I should use, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that everyone wears an SPF sunscreen daily, even children. As long as you make sure that the sunscreen you choose is properly vetted to protect from UV radiation, you should be ready to go.

When applying sunscreen, make sure to cover all of your exposed skin that clothing won't cover — the AAD says most adults need at least one ounce to cover the entire body (don't forget your lips!). Don't forget to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. If you're outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, after sweating or after swimming — and be sure to read the directions on your bottle! Following these guidelines will provide the best defense against harmful rays and overall UV exposure.

No matter what, it's imperative that you take care of your health and protect yourself from skin damage. It's great you want to spend time outdoors, but you also need to ensure you take the right precautions in place to protect your health for years to come.

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! To stay on top of all FSA news that can affect your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Sarah Li-Cain

Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer and a AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) candidate whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia and International Business Times. She's also the host of Beyond The Dollar, a show where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about how money affects their well-being. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, she can be found spending time at the beach with her family when she's not working.

Living Well

What’s SPF in Sunscreen? SPF Level Breakdown

Sunscreen comes in all shapes, sizes, and most importantly, SPF values. When you go shopping for sun protection, you'll likely face a wall of countless SPF numbers emblazoned across colorful bottles, ranging in SPF value from as low as 2 (those with fair skin, beware) to as high as 110. But before you side with a specific brand or a type of sunscreen, you should know what is SPF?

We're going to give you an SPF level breakdown on what SPF in sunscreen is and how it works to help take the guesswork out of your UV protection. (Bonus: knowing what SPF is can make for some impressive poolside conversation.)

What's with all the acronyms?

Science usually has ways of consolidating really long words into things like SPF, UVA, UVB - but don't let these words intimidate you. Let's start here: What does SPF stand for? SPF stands for sun protection factor, and is a relative measurement of how long you are protected from UVB rays. You're probably thinking, "OK, so how about those UVB rays?" We'll get into that next, but let's go in alphabetical order. It's important to remember that the sun is a powerful thing, and its light is made up of different types of rays: UVA and UVB. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, these rays are both forms of ultraviolet light that play a role in the damaging of skin, from sunburn to skin cancer formation.

UVA rays affect your skin differently than UVB rays and attribute to things like premature skin aging, also known as wrinkles. UVB rays, on the other hand, cause sunburn and play a crucial role in the cause of skin cancer according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

How does SPF work?

Now that we've gotten the acronyms out of the way, let's hone in on how SPF works. First, you should know that SPF is measured by its effectiveness in blocking the sun's UVB rays, not UVA rays. Remember, UVB rays are responsible for sunburn, which is exactly how SPF gets its number. Let's break it down.

The SPF value represents the factor in which you are likely to burn. In an example used by Skin Cancer Foundation, the SPF number is a multiplier of how long it takes your skin to burn without the use of sunblock. So that means if it takes your skin 10 minutes to burn without the use of sunscreen, then wearing a sunscreen with SPF 30 will take you 30 times as long to burn, assuming you applied it properly (always follow the directions provided by the sunscreen company).

More detail on broad spectrum protection

Getting back to those UVA rays. You may be wondering how the SPF number plays into the protection from UVA rays. That's where broad-spectrum sunscreen comes in. Ensuring you have broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 will mean you're protected from the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays. Although, that wasn't always the case. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, the FDA "issued new rules for sunscreen labeling," which meant companies had a standard to meet when labeling their products "broad spectrum."

Luckily for tax-free users, eligible sunscreen must carry a minimum of SPF 15 with broad spectrum protection, so the convenience of finding the most-protective UV protection is built directly into tax-free spending.

How does SPF block the rays?

That's the thing, it doesn't. SPF is just the indication of how much protection you will get from that sunblock. (We just went over this.) What does block the rays are the actual active ingredients used in the sunscreen. This is commonly divided into two categories: chemical or mineral. The common active ingredients used in chemical sunscreens (avobenzone or oxybenzone) actually absorb the Uv radiation, break it down, and release it as heat, as described by Live Science.

In comparison, mineral sunscreens which commonly use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, are (as their name implies) physical minerals that sit atop your skin and physically reflect the UV rays. Sure, it doesn't sound nearly as scientific, but it is effective and a great alternative for those who have sensitive skin and are interested in more environmentally conscious options. Find which sunscreen is right for you and stick with which protects you best.

Does a higher SPF block more rays?

Technically, yes. Sunscreens do their best to block as many UVB rays as possible, but no sunscreen blocks 100 percent of all UVB rays. As determined by ConsumerReports.org, sunscreens with high SPF values of 100 and more, may not be more protective than an SPF 30 or SPF 50, which already blocks 97-98 percent. There's also the risk of entrusting higher SPF values to protect you for longer than lower SPF numbers, which can put you and your loved ones at risk of UV damage.

The sun doesn't deserve all this bad rap though. While its UV rays can be harmful, moderate amounts of exposure to sunlight is beneficial to your health. You may have heard that sun exposure is important for the production of vitamin D, which is true! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it only takes about 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sun on the arms, legs, abdomen, and back, two to three times a week to benefit from the sun's rays. The Foundation also explains that UVB rays are responsible for "triggering vitamin D production in the skin." While SPF indicates the protection from UVB rays, there's no proof that shows higher SPFs can diminish your body's ability to maintain vitamin D sufficiency.

ABCs of SPF

From SPF to UVA and UVB, the most important takeaways you should have on your next sunscreen purchase should include: broad spectrum, a minimum SPF 15 value, and most importantly, follow the directions! Don't be fooled by high SPF numbers and always remember to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day! Now take what you've learned about SPF and impress a friend or two next time you're poolside.


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How much can you save with tax-free health? Use our Digital Open Enrollment survey to find out!

Open enrollment season is here and for many working professionals, this means big decisions on healthcare, dental/vision and voluntary benefits for 2021.

If you're considering a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HSA) this fall, be sure to use our Digital Open Enrollment survey first!

Take the Survey

Our new Digital Open Enrollment survey takes as little as five minutes to complete and consists of a series of multiple choice questions to find out which account may be right for your financial situation, your favorite activities, and lifestyle.

The quiz ends with an executive summary that will show you how much you can save on eligible products that matter to you, a side-by-side comparison of how an FSA and HSA can benefit your financial bottom line, information about how you can enroll in an account, and more.

Best of all, those who provide their email during the quiz enter a chance to win free eligible prizes! With open enrollment here and big decisions on the horizon, now is the perfect time to find out how much you can save with an FSA or HSA.

Take the Survey

Note: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied on, for legal, financial or tax advice. Please consult with your legal, financial or tax advisor(s) before engaging in any transaction.

Living Well

What SPF Should I Use?

The sun plays a very important role in our everyday lives. It helps keep our sleep pattern on track and helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, which is important for bone function and healthy skin. But like most things, it's only good in moderation. And for those who love the sun, you probably have a hard time accepting that.

The truth is, too much sun exposure is harmful to your skin, which is why we require protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Deciding how much and what kind of protection you need depends on many factors. That's why we've put together an easy guide to help you choose the right protection.

All about UV

When considering sun protection, it's probably best to understand what exactly you're protecting yourself from. The sun's rays are made up of UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause skin damage, but in different ways. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVB rays cause sunburn and play a crucial role in the cause of skin cancer. While UVA rays are responsible for that glowy tan you're after, they're also wreaking havoc on your skin causing damage via aging and wrinkles.

A sunscreen's SPF protection refers to the protection it provides from the sun's UVB rays. So you're probably wondering, "What about UVA radiation?" That's where broad-spectrum protection comes in. Sunscreens with broad-spectrum protection do their best to block the entire spectrum of UV rays emitted by the sun, which is especially important when considering the harm UVB rays and UVA rays each cause.

Now that you understand what you're protecting yourself from, let's take a deeper dive into the pool of SPF so you can better understand which SPF number is right for you.

Shining a light on SPF

Not all SPFs are treated equally. So, before you ask yourself which SPF you should use, let's talk about what SPF is. The first question to consider is: what does SPF stand for? SPF is short for "sun protection factor," which indicates the effectiveness of a sunscreen vs. not wearing sunscreen. Sunscreens have many different SPF values from as low as 4 to as high as 110.

Understanding this value and what these numbers mean is essential to choosing the right SPF. According to MadeSafe.org, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, and SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays, but no one sunscreen blocks 100%. This also does not mean a higher SPF number provides longer UV protection. I know, we promised this was going to be an easy guide, but bear with us, this part is important: SPF 30 and SPF 80 both last the same amount of time, they just offer different degrees of protection within that time frame. That's why questions like when, how much, and how often you apply sunscreen are key.

So how much is enough sunscreen?

Great question. The answer is: it depends. To practice safe sun exposure, we recommend following the instructions provided by your sunscreen product; however, there are some hard and fast rules that apply to good skincare practice.

According to QSun.co, a good rule of thumb when you apply sunscreen is "one teaspoon per body part" of exposed skin. No one expects you to bring your baking set to the beach to ensure you're accounting for the proper amount, but it wouldn't hurt to measure out a teaspoon of sunscreen in your hand so you can get used to what that measurement looks like.

While this is a helpful tip, it doesn't take into account how body surface area differs from one individual to another. In that case, it's best to make sure no piece of skin goes untouched. Applying sunscreen to dry skin, 30 minutes prior to sun exposure is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. This will ensure that the sunscreen has been completely absorbed by the skin to offer maximum protection against sun damage.

Another tip is to reapply, reapply, reapply. We can't stress this enough. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, one should reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating. We know, it's never convenient to break up a game of Marco Polo to reapply sunscreen, but you'll thank us later when you're not feeling the stinging effect of sunburn while trying to enjoy your s'mores.

Check your sundial

Luckily for planet earth, the sun never takes a day off, but for us, that means the sun is constantly emitting harmful UV rays. Having said that, it is recommended that you wear sunscreen everyday. But when you are spending time outdoors, the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so your best bet is to make sure you're especially covered during these hours.

Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it's especially important to look out for things like snow, sand and water as their reflective properties can enhance your skin's exposure to ultraviolet rays.

SPF by skin type

This leads us to the second-most-important consideration when choosing SPF and that is your skin type. Whether your skin is oily, dark, or fair, you will need to consider which SPF provides your skin with the maximum protection against sun damage.

For those with normal skin (neither dry nor oily) you're in luck. Any sunscreen is fair game for your skin type. You can pretty much pick your preference whether it may be reef safe, mineral, or chemical (we'll get to these in a bit).

For oily skin, you'll want to make sure you get a sunscreen that doesn't pack on the grease. The Healthy suggests finding a sunscreen with "ensulizole as the UVB blocker, since it's the least greasy." You can also consider a powder mineral sunscreen to avoid the greasiness.

For dry skin, try a sunscreen and moisturizer combo. Another option is finding sunscreens with soothing emollients, which according to Healthline, "coat your skin with a thin oily film that seals the water in your skin," thus keeping your skin hydrated.

And then there's acne-prone skin. Have no fear, there's SPF protection just for you. Search for a lightweight moisturizing sunscreen that is "non-comedogenic," which is a fancy word for, "will not clog your pores and cause acne."

If you have particularly sensitive skin, you may even want to seek shade during the sun's high point of the day. Choosing protective clothing to minimize the amount of skin you have exposed to the sun altogether is also a good idea. Plenty of outdoor apparel retailers offer built-in UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

And if you have a history of skin cancer, or may be at high-risk for skin cancer, avoiding excess sun exposure may be best. But in the event you find yourself in the sunlight, the Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that SPF 50 may not be enough protection. Consult your doctor about which protection may be right for you.

Chemical or Mineral

There are essentially two different types of active sunscreen ingredients that help prevent UVA and UVB rays, and they are chemical ingredients or mineral (physical) ingredients. Here's how they work:

Chemical sunscreen products use active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate which according to Piedmont Healthcare, absorbs the sun's rays, converts the rays to heat, and releases them from the body.

Mineral sunscreens "work like a shield, sitting on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun's rays," according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. These use active ingredients like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and are typically a good alternative for sensitive skin types or even babies and toddlers.

No matter your desired protection, make sure not to miss the top of your head, ears, and even your lips! The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends a broad-spectrum lip balm with a minimum SPF value of 30 for healthy, sun-kissed lips.

So which SPF is right for me?

You've probably learned by now that there is no one magic number that covers every circumstance, but what you now know are the steps it takes to find out which SPF works best for you when you need it. So the next time you go shopping for sunscreen, find the right SPF by asking yourself the following:

  • Who the sunscreen is for (children or adults)
  • Skin type
  • Sensitivity to sun exposure
  • Amount of time you will be spending outdoors
  • Your preference for the type of SPF protection (chemical or mineral)
  • Lastly, always make sure your sunscreen has not expired

Remember, you can always start with a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF value of 30, which is recommended by dermatologists and research done by credible organizations. (We suggest listening to the pros on this one.) Now put up your broad-spectrum covered feet up and enjoy the great outdoors with peace of mind.


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Living Well

Panty liners vs. pads. What’s the difference?

With the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020, flexible spending account (FSA) and health savings account (HSA) users finally got what they had long clamored for: feminine hygiene products like tampons, pads, panty liners and more now finally eligible for purchase with FSA and HSA funds.

It's a whole new world of eligibility out there, and the 70+ million Americans with tax-free health care accounts can now budget menstrual care into their expected yearly health expenses, which can help them save hundreds on taxes each year versus paying out-of-pocket with taxed funds. But having options can be difficult when it comes to something as personal as menstrual care, where comfort and effectiveness can lead to years of brand loyalty.

But if you find yourself with extra FSA funds in the coming months or overestimated your HSA contribution for 2020, this may be the perfect opportunity to explore what's new in feminine hygiene. From organic products to reusable, sustainable solutions, there's more options than ever on the market, and this could be your opportunity to try a break from your routine that may turn into something lasting.

First up, pads vs. panty liners!

Pads

You may be surprised to hear this, but according to the market research firm IMARC Group, menstrual care pads, also known as sanitary pads, are the most popular feminine hygiene segment in 2020, holding the largest market share compared to other menstrual care options. With that said, consumer attitudes have changed in recent years and the pads of the past are not quite the same as the ones you can find on the shelf today.

Pads encompass a huge category of feminine hygiene products, so we can't treat them with a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, let's explore each of the most popular versions and their pros/cons.

Pros and Cons of Menstrual Pads

1. Disposable Pads

Pros: Ease of use by far - disposables are the most common type of menstrual pad that is easier to find in stores thanks to greater variety in shapes, sizes and absorbency levels. There's no need to wash or store them, so they are particularly helpful when traveling.

Cons: Disposable pads are probably the least sustainable option out there, as they end up in the garbage after use and cannot be recycled or reused. Additionally, some disposable pads may contain chemicals or dyes that could be harmful for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

2. Organic Pads

Pros: Organic pads are part of a larger industry trend of women seeking out safer feminine hygiene products made from natural materials. By far, one of the biggest benefits is breathability. Organic pads do not use synthetic fibers that are found in most disposable pads, and are also free of dyes, fragrances and other additives that could cause allergic reactions in some wearers.

Cons: According to Nannocare, some women have reported that they notice an increased level of wetness when using organic versus synthetic products. As compared with synthetic fibers that have perforated surfaces, organic pads that typically use cotton may take a bit longer to absorb wetness. But, they have the added benefit of being able to absorb more flow than a disposable pad. So overall, organic pads seem like the better buy, but may require a bit of getting used to!

3. Reusable Pads

Pros: If you care about the environment and sustainability, this is the perfect choice for you! Reusable pads - usually cloth pads - are the most cost-effective, safe, and sustainable menstrual care option available. They come in sizes and absorbency levels to suit any flow, and many are made with organic materials to make them safer than disposable options.

Cons: Reusable pads are a great way to save money, but they require some work on your part to keep them clean and ready for reuse. According to TreeHugger, this can be accomplished by soaking them overnight (with some hydrogen peroxide) and put on a machine wash cycle on hot.


Panty Liners

As we've seen above, pads are a bit of a do-everything type of feminine hygiene product with varying sizes and absorbency levels, while panty liners are a bit more specialized. Panty liners are much smaller and are designed to be worn in the beginning and end stages of a woman's period to help absorb lighter flow. Let's dive into the pros/cons of this common, and sometimes misunderstood, menstrual care product.

Benefits of Panty Liners

Panty liners may not be the menstrual care product that you wear on a daily basis or during your highest flow periods, but it's certainly helpful to have at certain stages. In addition to the beginning and end stages of periods where liners can handle lighter flow, they are also helpful for women who have unexpected vaginal discharge or occasional bouts of incontinence. According to Flo, panty liners can be a great option in tandem with tampons or mono-cups, as they can handle any excess discharge that may occur. This is also another area where organic cotton panty liners have increased in popularity, so you can do your part to help the environment.

Disadvantages of Panty Liners

Depending on the type of brand you go with, some panty liners may not be the most portable options. Additionally, they may not be able to provide enough absorbency to handle heavier flows. As a means of controlling occasional discharge or wetness, panty liners are perfect for the job, but should not be relied on to handle menstrual periods.


What's the verdict?

It's a tie! Panty liners and pads often get confused because they look so similar, but they perform different jobs at different stages of your monthly cycles. In some cases, it's not a matter of choice, as they can sometimes work better together!

The fact is, there's far more to think about these days when you're shopping for menstrual care: cost savings, sustainability, comfort, and absorbency are all important factors that should inform your decision. But good old-fashioned trial and error helps as well! With thousands of new feminine hygiene products now eligible for FSA/HSA spending, now is the perfect time to explore how to improve your menstrual care regimen,put money back into your pocket, and give yourself peace of mind daily that you're safe, comfortable, and protected.



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popular

Claritin vs. Benadryl: Are They the Same?

Think about the last time you shopped for over-the-counter (OTC) medications. You may recall a dizzying selection of countless options packaged in bright colorful boxes, all claiming to remedy similar symptoms, especially when it comes to seasonal allergies.

Claritin and Benadryl have long been classic mainstays in the allergy relief department for many Americans, but the next time you reach toward the shelf, you may ask yourself, "Claritin or Benadryl?" Or better yet, "Are they the same?" With OTC allergy meds as part of the ensemble of now fully FSA-eligible OTC medicines, we want you to have the insight you need to make your next search for eligible allergy relief a successful (and sneeze-free) one.

Claritin (Loratadine) vs. Benadryl (diphenhydramine)

Lorata-what? Diphen-who? Normally, we'd leave the tough words to the experts, but this distinction is actually fairly important when comparing Claritin to Benadryl. Loratadine and diphenhydramine are the generic drug names for Claritin and Benadryl, respectively. And at the root of it, are both antihistamine medications.

What are antihistamines? According to WebMD, histamine is a chemical released by the body in response to an allergen. Histamine is responsible for common allergy symptoms such as runny nose, hives, itchy eyes, and watery eyes, all which result from hayfever (allergic rhinitis) or an allergic reaction to allergens like pollen, dust mites, or ragweed. In this case, antihistamines, as the name implies, block histamine. The difference between these two antihistamines comes in how they block histamines, their side effects, their many forms, and who can take them.

How does Claritin and Benadryl work?

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is categorized as a first-generation antihistamine. This means it was the first antihistamine medicine developed to treat allergic reactions, like nasal congestion and itching, and seasonal allergic rhinitis. Claritin (Loratadine) however, is what's known as a second-generation antihistamine. This means it's among a newer class of antihistamine medicines developed to also treat allergic reactions and seasonal allergic rhinitis.

The most notable difference between the two generations of drugs is that one is a nonsedative antihistamine (non-drowsy) and the other, a sedative antihistamine (drowsy). Loratadine works on blocking the histamine receptors (H-1 receptors) located outside the brain and spinal cord resulting in a non-drowsy approach toward blocking histamine. Diphenhydramine also blocks H-1 receptors, but does so differently, which affects other functions of the body like the body's reuptake of serotonin - a natural mood stabilizer - and leads to sedative and drowsy effects.

According to research from a literature review, second-generation antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) have "the fastest onset of action among the newer antihistamines." For those concerned with quicker results, these options prove favorable over their older counterparts.

Side effects of Claritin and Benadryl

As mentioned, the most prominent difference between Claritin and Benadryl would be sedative and nonsedative. This alone weighs heavily on the decision of which antihistamine people prefer.

For a sedative antihistamine like Benadryl, side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and incoordination are most common. Even though Benadryl is effective in inducing sleep, this does not mean Benadryl should be taken as a sleep aid for allergy season.

Compared to Benadryl, Claritin has mild side effects. The most common side effects users experience with Claritin would be headache and dry mouth.

The many forms of Claritin and Benadryl

Both Claritin and Benadryl come in a variety of forms from an oral tablet, to a chewable, oral liquid, liquid-filled capsule, and more. Some of these have advantages over others. For example, Claritin and Benadryl can come in the form of an oral disintegrating tablet or an oral dissolving strip.

The latter method is especially helpful for a litany of reasons: it does not require swallowing, does not leave a residue or trace, offers portability, ease to use for children or elderly patients, and according to a 2015 study published in Journal of Pharmaceutics and Drug Development, "increases the bioavailability of the drug," which essentially results in reduced dose and side effects.

Who can take Claritin and Benadryl?

Both Claritin and Benadryl have their limitations in terms of who can take them and what complications they may have with certain ailments, disorders, and medications.

Claritin should not be given to children younger than 2 years old. According to Drugs.com, a syrup version of the drug is recommended for children ages 2 to 5 years old, whereas the variety of forms from liquid capsule to disintegrating tablets is appropriate for 6 years and older.

Common medications that may interact with Loratadine (Claritin) include amiodarone, celecoxib, HIV medications such as darunavir, ritonavir, or saquinavir, dasatinib, diltiazem, fluvoxamine, mifepristone, and voriconazole.

Similar to Claritin, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is also not suitable for children younger than 2 years old. According to Drugs.com, Benadryl may not be suitable for women who are breastfeeding, or people with respiratory diseases such as asthma or those with heart conditions. Some may also experience dizziness, low blood pressure, a headache, rapid heart beat, disturbed coordination, abdominal discomfort, and it may worsen the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if used on a regular basis.

Common medications that may interact with Loratadine (Benadryl) include benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, oxazepam, and temazepam, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as isocarboxazid, selegiline, or tranylcypromine, opioids, such as oxycodone, morphine, or codeine, sedatives, or any medication that causes sedation, such as sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants. You should also avoid alcohol as it can enhance its sedative effects.

Claritin vs. Benadryl: The bottom line

When it comes to choosing the best OTC allergy medicine for you, it all depends on personal preference! The bottom line is that Claritin and Benadryl are both FDA-approved over-the-counter antihistamine medications proven to help with relief from an allergic reaction or perennial or seasonal allergic rhinitis.

When sedation is a concern, Claritin makes for both a desirable and practical option for daytime relief from allergies. This is especially important for those who need to return to their normal day-to-day responsibilities such as driving, working, and other activities. If your allergies are keeping you up at night, Benadryl's sedative properties may be your knight and shining armor for nighttime allergy relief.

Keep in mind that Claritin and Benadryl aren't for everyone, but both options come in a variety of forms to best suit your family's needs as both a staple in your medicine cabinet, or on-the-go relief! So the next time you're shopping for allergy medicine, be sure to consult your doctor about which allergy medicine is right for you this season.


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A Guide to the Best Over-the-Counter Allergy Medicine for You

Whether you suffer from seasonal allergies, or the whole year is just one big sneezing fit, finding the best over-the-counter allergy medicine can be a case of trial and error. With antihistamines, decongestants, combination treatments and more to choose from, there's a lot of products to sift through as you try to find the right medication for your allergy symptoms.

Thankfully, with the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020, an allergy sufferer can now purchase over-the-counter allergy medicines with no prescription required, so you can now factor in the cost of these medicines into your yearly FSA contributions. Effectively, an entire section of your pharmacy has just been opened up to FSA spending, so it's time to take advantage!

FSAstore.com makes it easy to get the health and wellness products you need to stay healthy, and with hundreds of newly stocked medications now available, we have a lot more topics to write about on the FSA Learning Center! First, let's start by examining the most common allergy medicines available for FSA spending, so you can pinpoint the best or new over-the-counter allergy meds for you and your family.


Your OTC Allergy Meds Guide

1. Antihistamines

As one of the most common OTC allergy medicines on the market, what antihistamines do is right in the name: they fight back against histamine. According to the Mayo Clinic, histamine is a chemical that is created in the body when it comes in contact with an allergen. Producing histamine is the body's immune response to allergens, which results in common allergic reactions like sneezing, sniffling, watery eyes, breaking out in hives and more. Antihistamines reduce the production of this chemical to ward off the most common symptoms of allergies.

When should I use antihistamines?

Antihistamines are a great choice during allergy season, but some may have side effects that could change how and when they are used. Some antihistamines are known to make users drowsy or tired, so always check for proper dosage and side effects when taking this medication, as well as taking into account the types of activities you will partake in after taking it. Antihistamines are available in pills, nasal sprays, eye drops and more.

Common Over-the-Counter Antihistamines: Cetirizine (Zyrtec, Zyrtec Allergy), Desloratadine (Clarinex), Fexofenadine (Allegra, Allegra Allergy), Levocetirizine (Xyzal, Xyzal Allergy) and Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin).


2. Decongestants

Decongestants are often used in tandem with antihistamines to combat a wide range of allergic symptoms and can provide allergy relief for congested nasal passage ways, but they are also sold as stand-alone medications to relieve nasal congestion. But according to WebMD, decongestants work by combating the body's immune response to swell when coming into contact with an allergen, and this typically can happen in the nasal passages that can result in feeling "stuffed up." By reducing this swelling, nasal passages can clear and decongestants can aid in treating seasonal and year-round allergy symptoms.

When should I use a decongestant?

When it comes to a stuffy nose and swollen nasal passages, decongestants are the best choice and are available in pills, liquids, nasal sprays and nose drops. As opposed to antihistamines, decongestants can sometimes leave users jittery or may experience trouble sleeping, so if this continues, speak with a doctor about your treatment options.

Common Over-the-Counter Decongestants: Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan), Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, Suphedrin PE), Pseudoephedrine (Silfedrine, Sudafed, Suphedrine)


3. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are another type of allergy medicine that is designed to fight inflammation to alleviate allergic reactions. According to Healthline, Corticosteroids are medications designed to emulate cortisol, a hormone naturally produced by the body's adrenal glands. Cortisol plays a vital role in a wide range of processes in the body, including metabolism, immune response, and stress. These medications are primarily used in treatment for respiratory allergies like asthma, but are effective in preventing and relieving stuffiness, sneezing and runny noses.

When should I use corticosteroids?

The vast majority of corticosteroids are only available as a prescription medication, and are used to treat a variety of conditions aside from allergies, including asthma and arthritis. For allergy sufferers, corticosteroids are primarily used to fight inflammation in the body caused by the immune system's response to coming in contact with an allergen. Corticosteroids are available in pills, nasal sprays, inhalers, skin creams and more.

Common over-the-counter corticosteroids: Hydrocortisone (Cortizone), Budesonide (Rhinocort), Fluticasone furoate (Flonase Sensimist), Fluticasone propionate (Flonase Allergy Relief), Mometasone (Nasonex) and Triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 Hour).


4. Mast Cell Stabilizers

First thing's first: what's a mast cell? It's actually a type of white blood cell that responds when the body comes in contact with antigens (foreign substances that the body perceives as a threat, such as allergens). By "stabilizing" these reactions with targeted over-the-counter allergy medicines, allergic reactions like stuffy noses, sneezing and more are kept under control by adjusting the body's immune response, reports Drugs.com.

When should I use mast cell stabilizers?

For most people, mast cell stabilizers are used when traditional antihistamines don't have the desired effects in fighting off allergy symptoms. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic reports that these drugs are generally safe but usually need to be used for several days to produce the full effect. In most cases, mast cell stabilizers are used to control asthma and allergy symptoms, specifically allergic and chronic rhinitis.

Common over-the-counter mast cell stabilizers: Cromolyn (Nasalcrom)


What's the best choice for me?

Over-the-counter allergy medicines, especially now that they're FSA-eligible, are an effective means of treating seasonal and chronic allergies year-round and can help get symptoms under control. But, no two allergic reactions are alike, and your treatment plan for allergies is uniquely your own, so we advise that before beginning any OTC medication regimen, speak with your doctor to learn about the full extent of your allergies and underlying health to find the medication that works for you — especially if you find that your current allergy medicine is not working.

The vast majority of allergy medicines on the market today are only available by prescription, and some targeted therapies are only available with a prescription from a doctor. Products such as leukotriene modifiers (Singulair) and emergency epinephrine shots (EpiPen) are only available with a prescription from a doctor and treat allergic reactions in specific, targeted ways. It may be possible that these options are a better choice to treat your allergies, so it's always best to start any treatment plan by consulting your doctor.

Finally, your current state of health also dramatically impacts what sort of treatment plan you or a loved one should pursue to treat your allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic health conditions, being pregnant or breastfeeding, age and taking other medications should be factored into any treatment plan, so these are important factors to bring up with your doctor when going in for a visit to talk about which are the best over-the-counter allergy meds for you and your family.

Now that OTC medicines are fully FSA-eligible, you have more options than ever to take advantage of your tax-free healthcare funds. If you or a loved one are still dealing with daily allergy symptoms, your FSA may just be a helpful tool on your path to allergy season relief!


Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! We'll keep you posted on all the FSA changes that may be coming in the foreseeable future, so be sure to to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.
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Staff Picks: 10 FSA-eligible must-haves for summer

June is finally here and families all over the U.S. will look to the great outdoors to enjoy their the warm weather. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, health implications and safety take on a new profound importance in everyday life, and your flexible spending account (FSA) can help you plan ahead so you don't miss out on your favorite summer activities.

Before it's time to (safely) enjoy the great outdoors, we surveyed the Health-E Commerce team for a list of their top 10 favorite summer health and wellness essentials of 2020:

1. Bug Bite Thing®

Summer means pesky mosquitoes, and if you're looking for a drug-free way to treat insect bites, look no further than the Bug Bite Thing! This device uses suction to painlessly and effectively extract insect saliva/venom from under the skin to eliminate itching, stinging and swelling.

2. Sun Bum® Lip Balm Watermelon - SPF 30

Don't neglect your lip protection during the summer months! Sun Bum® lip balm offers broad spectrum protection to safeguard against UV rays, as well as moisturizers to keep them feeling refreshed and cool with a fun watermelon flavor!

3. MDSolarSciences™ Daily Wear Moisturizing Sunscreen - SPF 30

Year-round sun care is a smart choice for your skin health, so if you're looking for a daily wear sunscreen that can support your skin while keeping you protected, look no further than this great daily wear sunscreen from MDSolarSciences™.

4. SPOTMYUV™ Detection Stickers

This wearable UV detection sticker is one of the favorites of the FSAstore.com staff! This color changing sticker is waterproof, sweat resistant and hypoallergenic, and changes color when it's time for you to reapply sunscreen.

5. Neutrogena® Wet Skin Kids Stick Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Protection - SPF 70

Don't forget kid's sun protection as well! Our pick is the Neutrogena® Wet Skin Kids Stick, which offers broad spectrum and SPF 70 protection, and extra water resistance to keep them safe. If your little ones are especially little, we also have baby sunscreen!

6. Caring Mill™ Bradie Sun Readers

Need a new pair of readers for the beach or wherever you're headed? See clearly and support a great cause! With the sale of each Caring Mill product, we make a donation to Children's Health Fund.

7. Band-Aid® Hydro Seal Bandages Blister Cushion

If blisters are common when you hit the great outdoors, plan ahead with Band-Aid® Hydro Seal Blister Cushions. They're moisture-resistant to stay adhered during long walks and hikes, and can help you ward off discomfort all summer long.

8. Vibrathotics®

While we're on the subject of foot pain, one of our favorite hi-tech health products is Vibrathotics®, a vibrating shoe insert that reduces pain and numbness in the feet by improving blood circulation and stimulating nerves. They're perfect for a post-gym cooldown, pain relief after a long walk and are a great drug-free choice for foot pain.

9. KT Tape® Pro, Pre-Cut

Muscle soreness and injuries shouldn't get in the way of your fitness plan, and that's why athletes the world over trust KT Tape® to stay in the game. These kinesiology tapes are super flexible to be worn during workouts to enhance blood flow to sore and aching muscles without obstructing your range of motion.

10. MediAid® First Aid Kit

Are you prepared for medical emergencies during your summer travels? Stay on top of bumps, bruises, cuts and more with a portable MediAid® first aid kit, which can easily fit in a bag, glove compartment or suitcase.

And don't forget, with the passage of the CARES Act in late March, your FSA now covers over-the-counter (OTC) medicines without a prescription, and feminine care products like tampons, pads, and more are now fully FSA-eligible! It's a great time to be an FSA user.


Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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Your FSA COVID-19 Prep Cheat Sheet: What We Carry and Why

As the U.S. makes preparations to ride out the COVID-19 wave, millions of Americans with FSAs are turning to their employee benefits to help them cover the cost of qualified medical products for virus preparedness.

Our customer service team has received an overwhelming response from concerned customers, and we wanted to get on top of the biggest questions quickly so you can get the best info to prepare for COVID-19.

Are masks FSA-eligible?

Surgical masks and those designed to prevent the spread of pathogens like the N95 mask, are currently not FSA-eligible. However, there may be some cases when a benefits administrator may approve a mask as a "preventive health" expense, but these cases are rare.

But, the CDC recently called for all Americans to wear face masks in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and masks have emerged as a critical tool to stop community spread. While the IRS has not issued guidance on mask eligibility, we hope they will reconsider their status in the future.

Are surgical gloves FSA-eligible?

Surgical gloves are also not FSA-eligible, although without any clear guidance from the IRS, these too could be considered an eligible expense by some administrators. In most cases, it's best to check with your administrator first to check their eligibility status under your plan.

Is hand sanitizer FSA-eligible?

Hand sanitizer may be FSA-eligible, but it likely falls under a class of products that require a prescription to purchase with FSA funds. In accordance with regulations put forth in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), over-the-counter products that contain "medicated ingredients" require an Rx to purchase. The most common active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, and products must contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be considered antibacterial.

Other products such as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are may also be FSA-eligible, but could falso require a prescription to be reimbursed through an FSA. To find out more about eligibility for these products, contact your FSA administrator.

Update (4.7.20): With the passage of the CARES Act, the prescription requirement for OTC medicines with an FSA/HSA has been lifted. However, hand sanitizer has not been made eligible at this time. We are appealing to the IRS for additional guidance in the hopes that this essential product be made available to tax-free healthcare consumers.

Are antibacterial products FSA-eligible?

Currently no. These are not considered qualified medical expenses but we are hopeful that they may be in the future. As always, we'll keep you posted if anything changes.

What are the best options to combat COVID-19 with my FSA?

In truth, the vast majority of preparations that the CDC recommends to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as washing hands, avoiding large crowds and wiping down commonly used surfaces with antibacterial products, are not practices that can be aided by your FSA at this juncture. The fact is, FSA regulations need to expand to allow for preventive products like hand sanitizer, antibacterial products and more to help combat this public health crisis.

FSAstore.com is taking direct steps to help FSA users:

We have recently launched our new Virus Preparedness category to ensure families can find the most popular FSA-eligible items purchased during flu season. In response to the growing pressure of the broader market, we have taken further steps as advocates of our tax-free health community to make virus preparedness our top priority.

Here's how:

  • We will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each product found on the Virus Preparedness page to the CDC Foundation to support their response in combating COVID-19.
  • Our Fair Price Pledge: During the public health emergency in the US caused by the 2019 coronavirus, we pledge to provide fair price protections for all items in our Virus Preparedness category. We will make every effort to keep a steady supply of these items available to our customers at current prices. Prices may increase, however, if market conditions require it, such as paying a premium to secure product during a supply shortage, expediting product shipments to our warehouses so you can receive them quicker or other similar situations.
  • With millions of Americans struggling with the unexpected financial burden brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, FSAstore.com is looking to the IRS to clarify the eligibility status of key items like hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and more. It's our hope that the IRS will provide guidance so that FSA users will be able to confidently use their tax-free funds to cover these much-needed items.
We'll be providing all updates on the current crisis and any further news developments right here in the FSA Learning Center, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Coronavirus Preparedness and Your FSA

With coronavirus cases surging around the globe and the United States beginning to see its first cases, this public health crisis has everyone taking a closer look at their state of health, hygiene and preparedness for a potential pandemic.

Here at FSAstore.com, we've already seen an uptick in interest in thermometers, respiratory therapy, vaporizers and nasal decongestants. The fact is, your flexible spending account (FSA) could be a great help in a time like this, and we want to give you all the tools and know-how you need to take full advantage of your tax-free healthcare benefits to safeguard you and your family's health.

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a classification of respiratory viruses that were discovered in the 1960s and include conditions ranging from the common cold to more serious conditions like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The current strain that is causing issues all over the globe, COVID-19, is similar to the aforementioned strains but has unique qualities that are making it a uniquely difficult disease to prepare for, and we're still learning more and more about the virus each day (APIC).

Are virus preparation products FSA-eligible?

Some! FSAs are designed to help individuals and families cover the cost of qualified medical expenses, and there are a number of products available that can help you or your family get prepared. Many of the same items that can help ward off and treat seasonal flu viruses can be very handy in any virus preparedness plan.

We have created a Virus Preparedness page to help you get started.

How does coronavirus spread?

COVID-19 is spread person to person and through contact with infected surfaces and objects. However, the CDC warns that while it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads (CDC).

How do I protect myself from catching coronavirus (COVID-19)?

It's still flu season in much of the United States, and many of the same steps that we all take to avoid catching the flu can apply to coronavirus preparation - just a bit more top of mind and built into your daily routine. Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Wash your hands! The risk of any virus can be reduced (sometimes by as much as 50%) by proper hand hygiene. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Can't wash your hands? Use a hand sanitizer. While not as effective as hand washing, in a pinch, a vigorous hand rub with sanitizer is better than nothing. APIC recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  3. Keep surfaces clean. Antibacterial wipes and sprays are a good start to keep your home's surfaces germ-free, and it may be smart to keep some in your backpack or purse when you're heading out. If you're looking for a DIY solution, a 1:10 bleach solution works in a pinch.
  4. Keep commonly used devices clean. How often are you washing your phone or keys? Use the aforementioned antibacterial wipes or a bottle of alcohol and cotton balls to do the trick.
  5. Keep tissues on hand. When you feel that sneeze coming on, direct it into a tissue or your arm to help prevent community spread. And be sure to dispose of those used tissues and wash your hands afterward at the first opportunity.
  6. Stay home if you're not feeling well. Don't risk it! If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19., the CDC suggests calling your healthcare professional.

What are smart FSA-eligible purchases for coronavirus preparation?

Your FSA can play an important role in helping to boost your current state of health and treat virus-like symptoms should they arise. Here are few suggestions to keep in mind that are useful in any virus preparedness plan:

Thermometers

Every home needs a good thermometer so you can stay on top of temperature readings for you or your loved ones and plan your treatment plan accordingly. With in-ear, forehead, infrared and more, there are plenty of options out there to suit your budget.

Vaporizers

COVID-19 is a respiratory condition, as is seasonal influenza that can result in painful coughing, aches and pains. Vaporizers deliver targeted steam therapy to your breathing passages to clear mucus, soothe discomfort from coughing or a sore throat and clearing away environmental pollutants that may be present. If you're looking for something less time-consuming, saline sprays can work in a pinch.

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation with Neti pots and saline sprays are great options to have on-hand from common colds to more advanced conditions. Nasal irrigation is also extremely helpful in treating upper respiratory conditions to help clear breathing passages, remove environmental pollutants and ease inflammation.

Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications

Finally, it may be wise to pick up a few over-the-counter medicines to err on the safe side. Pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen, cold & allergy medicines like decongestants and expectorants will be great to have on-hand throughout cold & flu season.

Finally, if you do become sick, there are a few items you may be happy that you picked up in advance. Dual hot and cold packs for treating pain and inflammation, first aid kits for any emergencies and saline wipes are great options to help you ride out the worst of your illness.

Update: As of March 2020 with the passage of the CARES Act, the OTC Rx requirement has been repealed and prescriptions are no longer necessary to purchase over-the-counter medicines with an FSA or HSA. Additionally, menstrual care products like tampons and pads are fully FSA-/HSA-eligible. Learn more here.

Am I ready?

We encourage our readers to visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) website often for the latest updates on COVID-19 and the best actionable information you can use to safeguard your family.

COVID-19 is a definite concern and it's spread will be generally disruptive, difficult and possibly dangerous for some at-risk groups. But taking real steps to mitigate the effects it will have on you or your family isn't an overreaction — it's a responsible choice that your FSA can help you achieve.