Two days ago, everyone’s least favorite part of summer landed here in my town – and is probably starting to creep up in muggier climes all around the country. What do I mean? Why, mosquito season, of course! And if itchy red bumpy bites weren’t bad enough, mosquitoes are dirty, disease carrying little bugs, and the “danger zone” for West Nile Virus is growing every year. So, while those hateful little bloodsuckers start to spawn in a pond or puddle near you, or your local campground, make sure you know the best way to protect yourself.
Now, it’s important to remember that the most effective mosquito repellents are effective because they’re poison. The pesticides DEET and Picaridin are the most effective, but if used improperly (too much, too often, or if you get it in your eyes or mouth) can be harmful to humans. As a rule of thumb, the higher concentration of the active ingredient, the longer it will stay effective (so you can stay outside longer without having to reapply) . Off! FamilyCare is a great middle of the line repellant, with 15% DEET – enough to last for 7 hours, and safe to use on anyone over 2 months old.
If you spend a lot of serious time outdoors, especially in heavily wooded or swampy areas, 3M Ultrathon repellent is super heavy-duty at almost 35% DEET, but works for up to 12 hours, as the lotion is designed to release the active ingredient slowly over time. Any repellant spray or cream, though, with 30% or higher concentration of DEET shouldn’t be used on children or pregnant women (creepy stipulation, I know!).
Cutter Skinsations, on the other hand, has a much lower concentration (7% DEET) and can be used on anyone except infants, but is only effective for about 2 hours at a time, so you want to be sure to reapply as soon as you notice the mosquitoes starting to get friendly again. Something you want to remember, though, with ANY mosquito repellant, is that it can be damaging to clothes or any synthetic material (sunglasses, watches, painted surfaces, etc.) it gets sprayed on, so make sure to remove whatever you can before you apply, and apply it in an open, well-ventilated area, away from anything it might damage. And don’t spray it directly onto your face – instead, spray your hands, and rub onto your face, carefully avoiding your eyes and mouth (remember, poison!) and flush thoroughly with water if any does get in your eyes.
Of course, DEET and Picaridin are both approved by the EPA and the CDC, and any restrictions should always be clearly marked on the labels. But if the idea of spraying pesticides directly on your skin bugs you a little (pun intended), or if the long list of warnings on the label makes you nervous, there are natural alternatives. Lemon Eucalyptusis a common natural mosquito repellent, which is about as effective as lower concentration DEET formulas, and tends to last for 6-7 hours. The only problem is that, because it’s a natural ingredient rather than a synthetic one, it reacts with individual body chemistry, so it can be more effective for some people than others. Also, this kind of repellent isn’t entirely free of warning labels, either – you don’t want to apply it more than twice a day, which can be a problem if it’s less effective for you. And on top of that, it isn’t safe for kids under 3.
Bite Blocker is another all-natural repellent, but this one doesn’t use lemon eucalyptus. Instead, it uses a mixture of natural ingredients that are safe to be used on kids of any age (well, at least over two months) and pregnant women, and can be reapplied throughout the day. Like lemon eucalyptus brands, though, the natural ingredients can react very differently to different people, which means that it can be effective anywhere from 90 minutes up to 8 hours – but unlike other natural brands, you can keep applying it as many times as you need to.
Of course, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside, whether you’re canoeing or kayaking, camping, or just happen to be taking a stroll through your mosquito infested home town, you want to protect yourself against the sun as well as insects. Sunblock and mosquito repellent can both be applied at the same time without any negative interactions, but since you should follow the same rules for both (apply to any exposed skin, and reapply often to maintain coverage), dual sunblock/repellants, like this Bullfrog Mosquito Coast are a great two-birds-with-one-stone kind of product that might keep you from skimping on one or the other, or at least save some time!
Remember, whether you’re planning on taking up an extended residence in a tent down in the bayous, or if you just have to leave the warm glow of your bug zappers for an hour or two, you want to make sure you’re protected. If you live in a really buggy area, have very small children, or if you’re really fundamentally opposed to the idea of repellents, chemical or natural, think about investing in a mosquito net for your bed or stroller. Whether or not you’re the kind of person who worries about West Nile, mosquito bites are a pain (and an itch) I wouldn’t wish on anyone – not you, and not your little ones!
Have you had any great or terrible experiences with insect sprays? Do you prefer chemical bug spray, all-natural insect repellants, or none at all? Let me know in the comments – I’ll be making good use of my fly swatter!