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Repelling Those Repellent Little Bugs


Smack! Smack! Scratch, scratch. Ah, the sounds of mosquito season…

While overseas travelers are concerned with potential serious results of getting bitten, such as contracting Zika, West Nile, dengue or even malaria, most of us just don’t want to sit around itching all season.

But what’s the best mosquito repellent? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are four ingredients that are effective in today’s products: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535.

DEET, the most widely used bug bane, was developed by the U.S. military in 1946. It developed a reputation as dangerous to humans, but recent studies found no harmful effects of DEET when used on the skin, even in pregnant women. However, it feels oily, has a pungent odor, and can melt plastic, so may damage your gear, spandex clothing or even your sunglasses. It is the most effective mosquito repellent, lasting as long as 13 hours.

Picaridin is the newest bug stopping product in the U.S., widely used across Europe and Australia and available here since 2005. It is a synthetic compound developed from a plant extract found in black pepper plants. In recent tests, Consumer Reports gave two products with picaridin top ratings for repelling mosquitos that carry the Zika virus for eight full hours. It does not damage fabrics or surfaces.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as PMD, is a chemical copy of oil produced by the lemon eucalyptus tree. It is not an essential oil, although it may be labeled “plant-based” or “botanical.” It may cause a reaction on sensitive skin, but was found by Consumer Reports testing to be effective for seven hours.

Finally, IR3535 has been used as an insect repellent in Europe for 20 years with no substantial adverse effects, according to the EPA. A chemical derived from an amino acid, it has been available in the U.S. since 1999. Like DEET, it can damage plastics and synthetic fabrics, and can mar paint or manicures, but is not harmful with ingested, inhaled or used on skin, and repels mosquitos up to eight hours.

Spray repellents work faster than lotions, but lotions may have time-released ingredients so offer longer protection. And, mixing bug repellent with sunscreen may diminish the effectiveness of both, so the CDC recommends putting on sunscreen first, then your bug bane. They don’t recommend two-in-one products because they may result in higher than needed doses of repellent.

Finally, if that can of bug spray is more than three years old, invest in a new one, especially if it’s been exposed to extreme heat or cold, which can reduce its effectiveness.

Categories: Simply Healthy