Insect Repellent Myths Revealed:
Which Insect Repellants Really Work and Which are Toxic?
Getting eaten alive by mosquitoes or invaded by a swarm of ants or flies are among the fastest ways to break up your summer picnics, barbeques and outdoor gatherings. Unfortunately, they’re par for the course at this time of year.
Wait! Before you spray another chemical insect repellent on your skin, find out why the main ingredient it contains could be toxic to you, too!
Theories abound about natural and not-so-natural ways to keep bugs from interfering with your outdoor festivities, but which ones really work? Rather than making your friends and family act as guinea pigs at your next barbeque, why not read through what the research says first? This way you’ll be armed with an arsenal of safe and effective insect repellants to keep the bugs away while your family plays!
The Dangerously Effective Repellent You Should Avoid Like the Plague
Insect Repellents that contain DEET make up the lion share of the market. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about one-third of the U.S. population uses DEET-containing products every year.
Their popularity is likely due to the fact that they do work very well at killing insects, but at what expense to your health? You should know that although the EPA maintains that “normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population,” this chemical is a known neurotoxin.
Studies conducted at Duke University have found that using DEET frequently or for extended periods may damage your brain cells, resulting in:
Weakness and fatigue
Muscle and joint pain
Shortness of breath
Further, the EPA has based their safety studies on brief exposures to DEET. They state, “Human exposure is expected to be brief, and long-term exposure is not expected.”
What, you may be wondering, then happens to the family that uses DEET over an extended period of time? Studies have shown that when used in high amounts, or for long periods of time, DEET is far from safe.
According to research by Mohamed Abou-Dania, a professor at Duke University, while lab rats had no reaction to DEET when it was used for 30 days, after 60 days their brain cells started to die. This chemical has also been shown to cause nervous-system damage, including:
Further, groundbreaking new research that came out last year revealed that DEET is, in fact, toxic to the central nervous system. Writing in the journal BMC Biology, the French researchers wrote, "We've found that deet is not simply a behavior-modifying chemical but also inhibits the activity of a key central nervous system enzyme, acetycholinesterase, in both insects and mammals." They continue:
“Deet is commonly used in combination with insecticides and we show that deet has the capacity to strengthen the toxicity of carbamates, a class of insecticides known to block acetylcholinesterase.
These findings question the safety of deet, particularly in combination with other chemicals, and they highlight the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the development of safer insect repellents for use in public health.”
Also, as soon as you come inside and wash DEET from your skin and clothing (something the EPA recommends you do right away), that DEET gets washed down the drain, and as a result is now showing up in rivers, lakes and also your drinking water.
The Low-Down on Natural Repellents: What Works?
You want to repel insects, but you don’t want to slather a neurotoxin all over your body. Good choice. So what alternatives are there that actually work? Here’s a breakdown of some of the more common natural insect repellent alternatives:
Enzyme-Based Formulas: Natural products that use enzymes to control pests are incredibly effective because insects depend on enzymes to shed their hard outer shells, or exoskeletons. While insects go through the molting process naturally, if forced to do so prematurely it is deadly, which is why enzyme-based formulas are so effective on a wide variety of pests.
Two of the best enzyme-based pest control products on the market are Lice B Gone and Flea ‘n Tick B Gone -- and don’t let their names fool you (like they fooled us too at first) … they’re effective against much more than just head lice and ticks; they can control in-home pests including ants, bees, flies, mosquitoes, gnats and more.
These wonderful products are not widely known or heavily marketed because they are manufactured by a small natural business in southern Illinois.
Lice B Gone and Flea ‘n Tick B Gone are ideal alternatives to DEET-containing repellants because they’re enzyme-based formulas made naturally from plant resources without the heavy toxic DEET chemical smell or related health concerns for you, your family and friends.
Both are safe enough to spray-mist directly onto your skin, plus, you can use them as entirely non-toxic insect repellants for your backyard, home or picnic area. Just mist the area or your skin and you're bug-free for about three hours!
Lice B Gone and Flea ‘n Tick B Gone are a proprietary blend of water and non-bacterial enzymes (amylase, cellulase, lipase, protease) from plant origin. They are biodegradable and ecologically harmless to aquatic, plant and animal life … including you and your family!
Garlic: It’s an old wive’s tale that eating garlic will make you less appealing to bugs, but in reality eating garlic has never been shown to repel insects in any scientifically proven studies. However, garlic-based sprays are effective in keeping pests off of plants in your garden, and may help keep pests out of your yard.
Citronella candles help repel mosquitoes, but so do ordinary candles. The mosquitoes are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide the candles give off.
- Bug Zappers: Those noisy blue bug zappers that claim to attract and fry all insects within range do work ... but probably not to kill the insects that are bothering you. Bug zappers often attract beneficial insects while disease-carrying species, like mosquitoes, ignore them. According to a review by Mark S. Fradin, MD, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine:
“Backyard bug “zappers,” which lure and electrocute insects, are ineffective. Mosquitoes continue to be more attracted to humans than to the devices. One study conducted in homeowners' backyards showed that of the insects killed by these devices, only 0.13% were female mosquitoes. An estimated 71 billion to 350 billion beneficial insects may be killed annually in the United States by these electrocuting devices.”
- Ultrasonic Electronic Insect Repellents: These claim to emit sounds that repel mosquitoes and other pests, but according to the Annals of Internal Medicine review, they’re not effective. Dr. Fradin wrote:
“Citronella candles have been promoted as an effective way to repel mosquitoes in the backyard. One study compared the ability of commercially available 3% citronella candles, 5% citronella incense, and plain candles to prevent bites by Aedes mosquitoes under field conditions.
Persons near the citronella candles had 42% fewer bites than controls, who had no protection (a statistically significant difference). However, burning ordinary candles reduced the number of bites by 23%.”
- Plant Essential Oils: Numerous essential oils, including citronella, lemon eucalyptus, cinnamon, cedar, neem, and others, are effective against mosquitoes and other insects. The key to using these safe and natural oil repellents effectively is reapplying them often, at least every two hours and possibly more frequently. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine review:
“Plants whose essential oils have been reported to have repellent activity include citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cajeput, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint. Unlike synthetic insect repellents, plant-derived repellents have been relatively poorly studied. When tested, most of these essential oils tended to give short-lasting protection, usually less than 2 hours.”
SixWise Says ...
Some days some guys are “the bug”, some days you are “the windshield.”
“The difference between an Effective Natural Bug Repellant and DEET is like the difference between a lightning bug and being hit by a lightning bolt.”
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ABC News May 5, 2010
BMC Biology 2009, 7:47
ScienceDaily.com August 6, 2009
Annals of Internal Medicine June 1, 1998 vol. 128 no. 11 931-940
DukeHealth.org January 10, 2007
DukeHealth.org May 1, 2002
U.S. EPA, DEET