What’s bugging me

We took the kids fishing for the day at Great Falls Park, and while it was a treat to spend some family time in such a relaxing activity for everyone, it was also a reminder to break out the bug spray after I caught what I’m sure was a deer tick wandering up my arm.

I wanted to find out what the DEET-free options were, though, and thought I’d share my research.

Greener Choices.org is an offshoot of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine. Here’s what they had to say about Deet-free insect repellents:

If you’re looking for an effective insect repellent without the potentially harmful chemical deet, you’re in luck. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that two commercially available alternatives to deet are just as effective. Consumer Reports put that to the test and found a few products worth considering.

A variety of repellents with and without deet were tested against deer ticks-the type that can transmit lyme disease-and two types of mosquitoes: aedes, an aggressive species that can carry dengue fever, and culex, a calmer species that can carry West Nile virus.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant-based chemical repellent that the CDC considers as effective against mosquitoes as deet. In Consumer Reports’ tests, Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus, containing 26 percent lemon eucalyptus, offered the best protection of the deet-free products we evaluated. It beat out three repellents with 7 percent deet and protected against both mosquito types for an average of 5 to 6 hours and against ticks for about 8 hours.

Picaridin is a chemical repellent that, when used properly, is considered safe by the World Health Organization. It’s the other alternative deemed to be as effective as deet by the CDC. Our tests found that Cutter Advanced Sport with 15 percent picaridin scored better than three repellents with 7 percent deet. It protected against both mosquito species for an average of almost 3 hours and against ticks for 11 to 12 hours.

Botanicals. We also tested a number of botanical repellents, including those containing soybean oil, geranium oil, and oil of peppermint. All scored middling or worse. The best of the bunch was Bite Blocker Outdoor Extreme. It offered little protection against aedes mosquitoes, but did protect against culex mosquitoes and ticks for about 2 hours. None of the botanicals we tested offered as much protection as deet-containing repellents.

If you’d still prefer to use DEET, check out these sites:

Follow Safety Precautions When Using DEET on Children
American Academy of Pediatrics News – June, 2003

Insect repellents containing DEET … with a concentration of 10% appear to be as safe as products with a concentration of 30% when used according to the directions on the product labels. DEET is not recommended for use on children under 2 months of age.

DEET should not be used in a product that combines the repellent with a sunscreen. Sunscreens often are applied repeatedly because they can be washed off. DEET is not water-soluble and will last up to 8 hours. Repeated application may increase the potential toxic effects of DEET.

DEET Alternatives Considered to be Effective Mosquito Repellents
AAP News – June, 2005

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its recommendations for mosquito control to include compounds that contain picaridin. The repellent has been in use in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia for years and originally was registered by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 but has just been recommended by CDC in terms of efficacy and safety when used as directed. The mechanism of action appears to be the same as for DEET. Picaridin currently is available in 5% to 10% solutions.

In addition, CDC has indicated that oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane diol; PMD) also is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and is comparable in its duration of effectiveness to lower concentrations of DEET. Earlier studies also indicate that 2% soybean oil has similar levels of effectiveness. The range of DEET concentrations that have been shown to be similar in duration of action to these other products generally are in the 6.65% to 15% range. The mechanisms of action for oil of lemon eucalyptus and for soybean oil have not been determined.

Both the Academy and the EPA recommend the following precautions when using insect repellents:

  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label).
  • Do not use repellents under clothing.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using sprays, do not spray directly on face – spray on hands first and then apply to face.
  • Do not allow children to handle the product. When using on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Do not apply to children’s hands.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application and saturation generally are unnecessary for effectiveness.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days. Also, wash treated clothing before wearing it again. (This precaution may vary with different repellents – check the product label.)
  • If a child develops a rash or other apparent allergic reaction from an insect repellent, stop using the repellent, wash it off with mild soap and water and call a local poison control center for further guidance.

Insect Repellent Use and Safety in Children

 Insect Repellent Reviews

Best Insect Repellents


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