As a lover of the outdoors, I have been searching for a long time to find a non-toxic, DEET-free insect repellent that actually works. While mosquito season is starting to wind down in some parts of the country, I want to share the research I’ve done on repellents.
I had a few opportunities to test out bug sprays this summer – a camping trip to Stanley, Idaho, a river trip down the Desolation Canyon in Utah and a backpacking trip to Young Lakes in Yosemite. All of these places are well-known for having a lot of mosquitoes, and if you aren’t prepared, expect to be eaten alive. In addition to this, I’m one of those people who is especially susceptible to getting mosquito bites. The bugs really love me for some reason. On my Yosemite trip, my fellow trip-mates nicknamed me Mosquito-Bait as I attracted most of the mosquitoes, leaving less bugs for them.
I started my search at my local, natural grocery store, Sprouts. After talking to the person working in the vitamin and skin care section about their bug repellents, I opted for a botanical-based spray that she had successfully used herself. While I tested a few others over the summer, the spray she recommended was still the best – All Terrain – Herbal Armor. The Herbal Armor spray did give me an initial warming sensation due to some of the oils, but I used it for several days straight with no rashes or allergic reactions. I thought it was just as effective as my friends’ DEET sprays. However, it didn’t last nearly as long. I found myself applying every hour or so, and had to be generous with the product. It also attracted some curious bugs that decided to swarm around me in a confused state, but wouldn’t touch my body. If you’re okay with those two minor cons, this may be the spray for you. Note: While these botanical sprays are natural, they can contain allergens, so make sure you do a little test on yourself to make sure you’re not allergic before you try it out in a live environment.
If possible, your best bet is to skip the repellent altogether and cover up. Wear long sleeves and pants that are loose fitting or have thick material. If you need more protection, invest in a head net and/or bug suit. I wore a bug suit on the river trip and it was a life saver! Of course, my friends gave me crap at first because I looked a little ridiculous, but it was 100% effective. About an hour into the mosquito-feeding frenzy, they all wished they had their own bug suit. You can find the exact suit I used on Amazon: pants and jacket.
While no bug spray is 100% effective for all bugs in all places, repellents containing DEET are still widely recommended as the most effective. However, I did a little research on DEET, and here are a few reasons why I am cautious:
- Dissolves plastic, and can damage rubber, vinyl and other synthetic materials
- In high doses, can cause neurological damage, including seizures, tremors and slurred speech
- If used on a regular basis, can cause rashes, dizziness, difficulty concentrating and headaches
- Some scientific studies show it is not recommended for safe use by children
- Although the EPA and CDC deem DEET to be safe, there is a fairly long list of safety precautions
While the EPA does allow 100% DEET products in the U.S., the concentration does not increase how effective the product is. If you’re going to use DEET, avoid higher concentrations and never use 100% DEET. In fact, no more than 30% DEET is allowed to be sold in Canada. Try using a spray that is not in an aerosol can, as the continuous spray can increase the likelihood of inhaling the repellent or getting it in your mouth and eyes.
I’m always interested in trying other products that work for other people. If you have found a natural insect repellent that has worked for you, please comment below. I’d be happy to try it out and report back on my findings.