Green Insect Repellents Come Up Short

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

(AP) Anyone looking to use a greener bug repellent may also want to invest in a swatter.

There are natural repellents - citronella, lemongrass and rosemary, among them - but when it comes to effectiveness, at least for personal use, the chemical compound DEET is the standard-bearer.

Living in California, California Baby founder Jessica Iclisoy says a generous squirt of lotion with the essential oils of citronella, lemongrass and cedar keeps the pests away during her daily hike in the woods. California Baby is a personal care company with all-natural products including bug sprays.

If Iclisoy were going somewhere buggier, however, she'd probably pack the DEET.

"If I went to Africa, I'm not sure I'd want to go with just my herbal spray, but for what I need here, it's a daily-use thing. This is safe and effective for my purposes," Iclisoy says. "DEET is like antibiotics. I don't take them for a cold, but if I really need them, I take them."

With herbal concoctions, the key is putting enough on and then being sure to reapply as it wears off, says Iclisoy. Citronella works because of its scent; if you can't smell it, the bugs can't either.

"You will develop a tolerance to the scent over time. You should make a rule to reapply every 30 minutes or every hour," Iclisoy says.

Don't worry, though, this isn't your mother's synthetic citronella candle from 30 years ago. Natural citronella is the strongest protection against insects that comes from an essential oil, Iclisoy says, but the smell isn't overwhelming, especially when blended with lemongrass.

Dr. David E. Bank, a dermatologist, recommends a citronella candle if you're staying in a stationary spot because insect repellents - especially chemical ones - can irritate the skin, causing redness and itchiness.

If you do opt for a DEET product, one option is to apply it to your clothes instead of your skin, says Bank, director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

DEET was originally developed in 1946 for military use and overall has a good safety record, yet some people still worry about its safety and dislike the odor. It has been implicated in seizures in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but there is not enough information to confirm it as the cause of the incidents.

Down the line, there surely will be stronger environmentally friendly repellents. For example, TyraTech, a Florida-based company, is developing eco-friendly pesticides, mostly for commercial use at this time.

William Baxter, the company's director of sales and marketing, says his company sells an all-natural mosquito repellent, known as Nomos, through its partner in India. Tyratech worked with the military there because of the country's high mosquito population and the concerns that brings about public health.

Americans companies are also starting to use plant-derived treatments, Baxter reports, especially in restaurants.

Alternatives to DEET-based products:

-Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition SPF 30. Avon discovered years ago that its Skin So Soft moisturizer doubled as an insect repellent and the brand now embraces its multitasking.

IR3535, a nontoxic synthetic biochemical, offers eight hours of protection against mosquitoes, as well as gnats, sand flies and biting midges, according to Avon.

-Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent. This blend of rosemary, lemongrass, citronella and five other oils is all natural, so the company encourages use on children and pets.

-California Baby Citronella Summer Lotion. Citronella essential oil is mixed with vitamin E, aloe vera and cold pressed vegetable oils for a quick-absorbing, non-greasy lotion that moisturizes while discouraging bugs.

The essential oils in California Baby products are guaranteed to be pesticide free and sustainably grown.

-BugBand wristbands, sprays and towelettes. The company's products contain Geraniol, a component of citronella oil.


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