From the Vine – Insect Repellents

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This year has certainly flown by. It seems that we were just pruning dormant trees and grapevines in late winter, and now it is summer. With the warm weather, more people are spending time enjoying the outdoors; at the beach, fishing, gardening, or sitting on the back deck. However, one thing that you may not enjoy while outdoors are all the mosquitos, biting flies, and other blood sucking insects.

These insects are attracted to people by the carbon dioxide from our breath, body heat, and chemicals released in our sweat and on the surface of our skin. An easy way to prevent painful bites from these insects is with personal insect repellents. When used sensibly, and according to the label, repellents will provide some protection from these aggravating pests. A variety of chemicals have historically been used to repel biting insects. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of recommended repellents that include DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535.

DEET, which is generally recognized as the most effective active ingredient in repellents, will repel mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, and biting flies. Scientist label DEET as the “gold standard” of insect repellents. Still, there are many questions as to the safety of DEET or DEET related accidents. Almost 25% of Americans say they avoid using insect repellents with DEET, so is it safe? DEET is a yellowish liquid that was created by the USDA in the 1940’s for military use. It has been commercially available since 1957. Scientists are still unsure how DEET works, but the long-held theory is that DEET blocks an insect’s ability to smell human’s breath or sweat. A study conducted by Consumer Reports found the overall incidence of DEET poisoning is very low. Most of reported cases involved a misuse of DEET products, so ensure you are using repellents according to the labeled instructions.

Picaridin is comparable with DEET products and has been used in Europe for several years. It is a synthetic compound first made in the 1980’s. It was made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. It became available in the US in 2005. Picaridin repels insects and makes them less likely to bite by blocking their sense of smell.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is made from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees. It repels mosquitos and ticks and is comparable to low doses of DEET. It is labeled to repel insects for up to 6 hours. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for children under 3 years of age.

IR3535 is a synthetic insect repellent developed in the 1980’s. It obstructs an insect’s ability to smell their host. It has an excellent safety record in Europe, where it has been in use for over 30 years. Studies have shown IR3535 to be effective at repelling mosquitos, deer flies, and ticks.

Some key points for using repellants are to use products that contain between 10 – 30% active ingredient. Use aerosol formulations for clothing and moist towelettes or lotions for the face, neck, and other body areas. Apply only to exposed skin and clothing that insects may bite through. Don’t overdose! Use the minimum amount needed to cover your skin or clothing. Lastly, read and follow the label and instructions, especially when applying insect repellents to children. Using insect repellents correctly can help you enjoy the outdoors while avoiding the nuisance and painful bites of many insects.