Frolicking in the Great Outdoors is a wonderful thing – until you have to endure the mosquitoes. Besides delivering an almost-maddening itch with their bite, mosquitoes are also carriers of the West Nile Virus. Although the virus is not usually deadly, it is a sure-fire way toput a damper on summer fun. (You can read more about West Nile Virus symptoms here.)
Although the use of insect repellents containing DEET is usually recommended, the effects of DEET on human health are questionable, at best. “Citing human health reasons, Health Canada barred the sale of insect repellents for human use that contained more than 30% DEET in a 2002 re-evaluation. The agency recommended that DEET based products be used on children between the ages of 2 and 12 only if the concentration of DEET is 10% or less and that repellents be applied no more than 3 times a day, children under 2 should not receive more than 1 application of repellent in a day and DEET based products of any concentration not be used on infants under 6 months.“ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DEET)
So what about natural alternatives? According to a 2002 study by the New England Journal of Medicine, DEET-free, natural insect repellents are a completely effective alternative – without the health risks. Here’s the recap of the best natural repellents, courtesy of about.com:
“The most effective natural mosquito repellent at the time of writing is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.
- A 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared different synthetic chemical and herbal repellents: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Repellent provided 120.1 minutes of mosquito protection, more than a repellent with a low concentration of the chemical DEET (Off Skintastic for Kids with 4.75% DEET provided 88.4 minutes of protection) and less than Off Deep Woods with 23.8% DEET, which provided 301.5 minutes of protection.
- A study by the US Department of Agriculture compared four synthetic mosquito repellents and eight natural mosquito repellents and found that Repel Lemon Eucalyptus was the most effective repellent, more so than a 7% DEET repellent.
- Lemon eucalyptus oil repellents, in addition to the chemicals DEET and picaridin, have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (which means that the materials have been reviewed and approved for effectiveness and human safety) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus.
- A June 2006 Consumer Reports article stated that after conducting their own tests, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus was the best non-DEET mosquito repellent. However, volunteers criticized its odor.”
Don’t like the smell of “Repel”? There’s another effective option:
“The New England Journal of Medicine study found that Bite Blocker provided 94.6 minutes of protection against mosquitos. This is slightly more effective than Off Skintastic for Kids (containing 4.75% DEET), which provided 88.4 minutes of protection.
The study by the United States Department of Agriculture ranked Bite Blocker number two in effectiveness after Repel. Bite Blocker was rated more effective than a synthetic 7% DEET mosquito repellent.
While we’re all familiar with the wonders of citronella, evidence points to it being an excellent second-defense, but comparatively ineffective as a stand-alone repellent. Citronella candles and incense should be used in combination with other, stronger repellents for maximum benefit.
So what if we all end up smelling like lemon-eucalyptus while frolicking in the Great Outdoors? We will be able to sound out “Shoo-Fly, Don’t Bother Me” ’round the campfire with DEET-free (and mosquito-free) confidence.
(photo courtesy of Wal-Mart.com)