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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Natural Protection Against Biting Bugs

Lavender. Photo by Ken Irwin, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 2.5 Generic

George Harvey

In May, we saw an article from the Sierra Club, “5 DEET-Free Ways to Protect Yourself From Bugs” (http://bit.ly/DEET-free). While that was good, we decided it might be worthwhile to look into the matter further.

DEET is a chemical that was developed about seventy years ago by the U. S. Army. It is not an insecticide, but it interferes with the sense of smell some insects use to find their prey. Mosquitoes, for example, can smell carbon dioxide and lactic acid, and they follow these scents upwind to potential victims. DEET, which is said to be our most important mosquito repellent, interferes with their ability to smell, and so a person wearing it does not attract so many of them.

Like many chemicals, there is some controversy with DEET. Our government says it is safe for nearly everyone, with some cautions about using it on small children. Some countries have banned it as an irritant. Of course, there are people who claim it is worse than that, but the science to support the claim is not widely accepted. This leaves some people wondering what to use.

The Sierra Club article examined five products that could discourage bugs from biting. When we looked into the matter, we found others suggested several more. Some of these are of particular interest, because they are natural, of little or no known toxicity, and unlikely to persist in the environment. The repellent ingredients we found include the following: oil of lemon eucalyptus, neem tree oil, catnip oil, grapefruit seed extract, citronella, tea tree oil, geraniol, soybean oil, thyme oil, cinnamon oil, lavender.

Information can be found at numerous web sites about these ingredients. Some of them describe how to prepare do-it-yourself insect repellents, for example “10 Natural Ingredients That Repel Mosquitos” at healthline.com (http://bit.ly/DIY-repellents). Some natural repellents are considered to be as effective as DEET.

A number of the ingredients listed above are in two sets of products highly recommended by our editor, Nancy Rae Mallery. One product line appeared in a product review, “Dealing with Summer’s Not-so-welcome Bugs,” in the June 2014 issue of Green Energy Times (http://bit.ly/VS-insect-repellents). That review covered three related Vermont Soap products, citronella camp and garden lotion, citronella camping spray, and camp and garden soap. Mallery says she still buys the spray “by the gallon,” and she clearly intends this to be taken as literally true.

Another brand Mallery praises highly is Natrapel®, a product line of Tender Corporation, whose main office is in Littleton, New Hampshire. Though it is a very different product from what Vermont Soap produces, she says that Natrapel® picaridin is very effective for avoiding being bitten by ticks. She has stories about being with other people who return home covered with ticks when she finds none during careful searches on herself, a fact she attributes to her use of Natrapel®.

It is important to buy local products awhen possible, so an added attraction of both Vermont Soap and Tender Corporation products is that they are local in the G.E.T. distribution area. Many of our readers are familiar with Vermont Soap because of Larry Plesent’s “Ingredient of the Month” series. Tender Corporation has some very interesting products and policies, so we may look deeper into it in the future.

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