I have never been comfortable with insect repellent. Even in my backwoods camping days it took a lot for me to dab bug spray on my body to keep from being devoured by mosquitoes. But that was in the days before West Nile Virus and before most of us knew of Lyme disease or thought about ticks.
For the past few years we have relied on bug shirts (the mesh cover ups that zip right over your head and offer sanity in black fly season), pants and long sleeved shirts, and citronella oil if we’re going to be outside during the busiest biting times (early morning and dusk). But now that ticks are on the radar in our region I have been giving more thought to insect repellants that are effective against ticks too.
The thing is I want to avoid products containing DEET. Although DEET has been approved by Health Canada there hasn’t been a review of the product in years and research has shown that DEET exposure can cause neurological harm -- dizziness, headaches, nausea and psychological problems -- in people who used it often (once a day for five days or more). A bit more background: DEET is a member of the same chemical family as solvents used in paint removers.
There are plant-based repellents that have proven to be as effective as DEET, but just don’t last as long. (They offer up to three and a half hours of protection, depending on the product). Most contain one or more of the following: citronella, lavender, geranium, peppermint, soy bean oil. The challenge is finding them.
Druide citronella soap bar, available at Naturally for Life, helps to repel mosquitoes. Broody Chick Bug Be Gone is a safe product for babies, also available at Naturally for Life.
Buzz Away, a product containing soybean, geranium, castor, citronella, peppermint and lemongrass oils, is effective against mosquitoes but not ticks. You can find this in the natural food section at SuperStore.
Two DEET-free products that get the highest rating from the Green Guide (published by National Geographic) are All Terrain Herbal Armour (repels mosquitoes and ticks) and Badger Anti-Bug Balm (repels mosquitoes). Both can be purchased online.
In general, choose your repellent based on how badly you’ll need to be protected, for how long you’re going to need coverage and what you need protection from. Remember too that clothing offers good chemical-free protection (pants, socks, long sleeved shirts).
If you do choose a product containing DEET, keep this in mind: A 30% concentration of DEET (the highest available in Canada) offers six hours of protection, compared to two hours protection for products containing a 5% concentration. The higher concentration doesn’t offer better protection, just longer. Children (12 and under) shouldn’t use concentrations any higher than 10%. It should be applied sparingly and not to the face or hands. DEET should not be applied more than once a day. Also, be sure to abide by all of the instructions on the label.
Another great option is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus(OLE). It is recommended by the EPA and Center for Disease Control as the only plant based ingredient for use as a repellent. OLE is proven to be as effective as DEET in repelling ticks and mosquitoes. Cutter and Repel both make a Lemon Eucalyptus product and they work great!
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