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Sun Protection Found in Special Summer Clothing Is Safe

Dear Dr. Roach: More and more summer clothing includes sunscreen. I’m concerned about the effects of sunscreen on our bodies all day and into the night, as we wear the same clothes that long. — T.P.

Answer: First off, sunburns are very bad for you and predispose you to developing skin cancer, so I am in favor of reducing sun exposure and sunburn. Second, the chemicals in sun-protective clothing are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which are extensively used in sunscreens and cosmetics, and are generally accepted as safe. Third, part of the effectiveness of the clothing is the way the clothing is woven, not the chemical. Finally, one company states that the clothing stays effective for 500+ washings, suggesting that very little of the chemical comes out, even with washing. For all of these reasons, I have no concerns about chemical exposure with sun-protective clothing.

Some sunscreen creams contain chemicals that are controversial in terms of causing disease, especially oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. The Skin Cancer Foundation disagrees, stating that these concerns are based on questionable science.

The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of sunscreens that meet its criteria for safety, which do not contain these ingredients. You can find it at www.ewg.org.

Dear Dr. Roach: Despite an ample supply of K-Y jelly, intercourse is painful for my wife (aged 70), and all activity has ceased. Help. — T.F.

Answer: Water-based lubricants like K-Y and Astroglide (made without glycerin, which can cause allergic-type reactions) are a good first step to treating painful intercourse. However, there are other causes.

By far, the most common is atrophic vaginitis, which I have mentioned several times, as it can predispose women to urine infections. It is caused by the decrease in estrogen that happens at menopause, and leads to a thinning of the normal vaginal lining. Replacement, via an estrogen cream such as Vagifem, is very effective at improving symptoms, and has a lower side-effect profile than other ways of taking estrogen.

Your wife should see her gynecologist or regular doctor for an exam to look for atrophic vaginitis or other causes of painful intercourse, such as lichen planus, lichen sclerosis and vulvodynia (also called vestibulitis).

Dear Dr. Roach: Two months ago, I got the flu, with classic body aches and fever. I lost my senses of smell and taste. After two months, my smell has not returned and only approximately 25 percent of my taste has returned. I am 77 with insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2. I have good blood sugar control and no significant complications. I think that a virus is the cause. Is there anything that I can do, and are my taste and smell senses likely to come back? — J.G.

Answer: Flulike viral infections can be complicated by sinus infections, which is the most common cause of smell and taste disorders. Most often, these infections go away by themselves; however, it’s been more than two months for you.

Even well-controlled diabetes can make sinus infections last longer and be more severe. I think it’s time to discuss either looking for a cause of the smell and taste changes (such as a CT scan) or a trial of treatment with your regular doctor.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or write to P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.