Mosquitoes, biting flies, spiders and ticks can be annoying to anyone outdoors but most importantly they can also be deadly. A mere bite from a mosquitoes here in the United States can transmit diseases like equine, West Nile Virus and St. Louis encephalitis. Other insect bites can not only be painful but can persist for days, with swelling and the chance of infection. Even a small tick bite can transmit serious diseases like Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Insect repellent discouraged the chance of dealing with biting insects.
So with so many choices, how do you pick the right insect repellent for your needs? First let's examine the different types of repellents that can discourage biting insects from landing on treated skin or clothing.
A common type of insect repellent is known as DEET. First used by the US Army in the 1940s it was adopted for civilian use by the 1950s. The chemical name is N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethly-3-methyl-benzamide. DEET insect repellents range from 10% concentrate to 98% offering 2 - 10 hours of protection. This is achieved by controlled-release formulas where the DEET is encapsulated in a polymer, which permits its gradual release.
DEET is endorsed by the Center for Disease Control and has been extensively tested for safety. The use of DEET on some objects such as rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, auto paint and spandex may cause damage. For example plastic sunglass frames or golf club grips might be damaged if the DEET contacts the surface. For children no greater than 30% concentrate should be used and DEET should be avoided completely for infants under 2 months.
DEET is highly effective when used on clothing and considered a good defense to ticks and other annoying insects.
Picaridin was adopted in Europe in the late 1990s and has been used in the US since 2005. The chemical name is 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester. and also known as KBR 3023.
Currently the maximum concentration available is around 20% which will protect you for approximately 8 hours. As Picaridin is tested further, higher concentrations will be available in the future.
The chemical does not damage fabrics, surfaces or materials. Picaridin is considered more effective than DEET.
Some use synthesized plant oils as a form of insect repellent. These items are often marketed as botanicals or plant-based repellents. Common synthesized oils include lemon eucalyptus which offers 6 hours of protection.
IR3535 was developed in Germany in the 1980s and adopted in the US in 1999. This has been a popular insect repellent in the US for the past 20 years with no substantial negative effects. According to all the current studies IR3535 is not harmful when ingested, inhaled, or used on skin.
Natural (nonsynthesized) plant oils such as soybean, lemongrass, citronella, cedar, peppermint, lavender, geranium or geraniol are considered safe for human use but there is no concrete data regarding their duration of effectiveness. Some oils often cause the skin and eyes to become irritated. Most natural oils only work for a short duration of up to 2 hours.
Permethrin is often used on clothing to repel insects. First registered in 1979 for agricultural use it was widely used by the military on their clothing as of 1990. Although the chemical does not harm or irritate the skin, there are no known benefits when applied directly on skin. The solution is known to kill insects such as ticks that linger on treated fabric. Spraying it on your clothing will last 5 - 6 washings while pre-treated clothing may last up to 70 washings. The chemical is odorless after it dries.
For children it's recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that no repellent be used on infants younger than 2 months. Concentrations greater than 30% should not be used on children and lotions are generally better for children as they are milder on the skin.
No matter what your outdoor plans are, we highly recommend staying protected with the use of a proven method. Depending on your location, West Nile Virus, St. Louis encephalitis, Lymes disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, Malaria and the Zika virus are a legitimate threat to your safety.