The season is quickly upon us once again; sunshine, landscaping, gardening, barbecuing, plus the annoyance that comes with outdoor activities: mosquitoes. As the weather warms up here in the pinnacle of Spring, so does insect populations. Today, we have a plethora of methods and choices when it comes to repellents. When comparing ingredients and prices, how do we know which is the best for our needs?
As a thrifty consumer you’re probably already aware of whom is the leading name in insect repellent in today’s market. If you guessed Off!, you’re absolutely correct. Off! (an SC Johnson product) has literally dozens of products to protect us from the creepy crawly winged nuisances that violate our outdoor gatherings.
But let’s be fair, there are other brands out there, and we want to get the best for our dollar. To start, Off! has products for as little as $2.00 upwards to $11.00. Cutter, another big name, ranges from $8.00 to $12.00. Avon (yes, the makeup people) sells spray repellent for $8.00. 3M Ultrathon carries products ranging from $8.00 to $16.00. These price variations depend on how large the bottle you’re buying, the quantity of DEET the repellent contains, whether it’s an aerosol or cream or pump, and if you’re buying a candle or fogger versus a spray. In reality, no one brand is better in quality than another according to Consumer Reports.
If quality is not an issue then, what is the best way to choose an insect repellent. First, you must consider how long you will be outdoors. Then, decide if you will need your insect repellent to be waterproof. Lastly, how old is the person wearing the repellent? The longer someone is outdoors, the more DEET the wearer will want the repellent to have. Though this is a general rule of thumb, this is actually a misconception. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and studies performed by a Mohamed Abou-Domia of Duke University Medical Center, a product containing 23% DEET is just as effective as a product containing only 5% DEET. The only difference being the longevity of a single application.
What is DEET? DEET is the main chemical compound that does the actual insect repelling. Too little means you’re being bit frequently; too much, as proven in tests with lab rats, can cause over absorption into the skin and into the blood, which in turn kills brain cells. Don’t be frightened by this as there has been no recorded evidence of someone dying from DEET exposure. Just be aware that too much is definitely not a good thing. Incidentally, that is why a DEET based repellent is not recommended for children 12 years of age and younger. As a tip, always apply sprays to clothing versus skin whenever possible. Typically an application of 5% DEET based repellent applied no more than three times a day will suffice.
So, what about solutions that don’t involve sprays or creams such as an Off! clip on fan or a citronella candle for example? The Off! clip on fan still uses DEET in its disc cartridges. However, you’re not getting it on your skin, making it safer to use. Candles, coils, and other area of effect repellents in general are practically useless. They protect roughly a five foot radius around itself, and if there’s a wind, they provide nearly no protection whatsoever.
Another thought is the combination of SPF or waterproofing to the repellent. According to studies, extra additives that either permit the wearer to be outdoors longer or keep the repellent on longer, increase the chance for DEET to have harmful side effects.
Then, we have non-DEET based repellent alternatives. One alternative is a chemical called Picaridin. This is a close cousin to DEET, and the consumer should not make any differential between the two. Another alternative, and a popular one, is eucalyptus. A product called Repel Lemon Eucalyptus provides roughly two hours of repellent protection; it’s all natural; and is more effective than a product containing 7% DEET. This product sells for $6.00 to $9.00 depending on where you buy it. Research shows this to be a very reliable and non-toxic repellent. If eucalyptus has any drawbacks it would be the odor and the oil. If the wearer has skin sensitivity to certain oils, they probably want to avoid using the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.
What have we learned? DEET is the main ingredient in most insect repellents. In small doses, DEET will not harm the wearer. It makes no difference if you’re buying 5% DEET or 23% DEET, both will have the same amount of repelling power, just the higher percentage will last longer. On the other hand, it’s safer to reapply a 5% three times a day versus a single application of a higher concentration of DEET. Avoid repellents that combine waterproofing and/or SPF protection. If you must apply insect repellent to a child, buy the kid friendly version of the product and read the warnings. If you prefer all natural, by all means go for it; eucalyptus is a non-toxic and highly effective insect repellent. Bottom line is the cost. A simple $2.00-$3.00 bottle/can of Off! is not only as good as more expensive products, but is also highly effective.
One more thing… Catnip is a natural mosquito deterrent too. Plant some and make you and your kitties happy.