Fifty consecutive days of rain is reaping a whirlwind of pesky insects ready to put a dent into YOUR summer fun. With black fly/mosquito/deer fly/cluster fly season upon us all at once, many people are reaching for those bug off sprays. What ARE insect repellents and how do they work? And how concerned should I be about the occasional reactions people have to commercial products?
Insect repellents are a type of pesticide that must be registered with the EPA at both the State and Federal levels. Even 100% natural bug-off sprays made without artificial chemicals are considered registered pesticides by our Federal government. Insect Armor, a much beloved natural product made by Vermont Soap was unceremoniously recalled and pulled from the market for not being a registered pesticide. “Insect Armor is like an herbal suit of armor to protect you from pesky flying insects…”
We renamed it Citronella Camping Spray, “Camping Spray is an herbal perfume to keep your campsite fresh…” and have had no issues with the EPA since.
Flying insect repellents work by addling CO2 and heat sensors attached to antennae on the insect’s head. They work by temporarily blocking the receptors, over stimulating the receptors, or tricking them into “seeing” CO2 everywhere.
I like the word addle. It is an old-fashioned word that means “to confuse or to render one unable think clearly”. And that is exactly what volatile odorificants (translation: molecules that have aroma) often do to flying insects and ticks. They addle those sensors so the bugs can’t find you. Thing is, natural odorificants usually only work for about a half hour or so before they need to be renewed. Good for the manufacturer, but less so for the user.
I’ve been Africa Testing a new Vermont Soap product called Camping Lotion, scheduled for release next year. This takes the exact same time tested blend of essential oils we perfected in Insect Armor and put them into a slow release organic coconut oil base. It seemed to remain effective for about 3.5 hours in my experience with the malaria and dengue carrying mosquitoes of Monrovia, Liberia.
DEET or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, a former insecticidal spray used in the 50’s, is a Vietnam tested and proven insect repellent. It appears that insects simply do not like the aroma of DEET and go away. Similar molecules are also found in Lavender, Eucalyptus and thujone containing plants such as Wormwood.
Hyper-active or ADHD people, or those prone to nervous system disorders or seizures would do well to avoid prolonged skin contact with DEET as should anyone with asthma or toluene sensitivities. If you are on medication ask your Pharmacist or Doctor if DEET reacts with your meds. If you are pregnant PLEASE avoid using DEET! Apply DEET to non synthetic clothing only as it is a solvent that can dissolve a number of materials; including many plastics.
Children are more particularly at risk from overexposure to DEET. The younger the user, the more caution one should take to avoid skin and lung contact.
I like the smell of essential oils but my asthma rebels at the mass market bug off sprays. This may or may not be due to the DEET, but it most certainly is tied to the solvents and carriers used to deliver DEET to the user. This alone provides ample motivation for Vermont Soap to formulate the most powerful and effective camping products possible.
It is important to remember that Nature is the consummate chemist. Nothing is created without its antithesis. Dinosaur poop get processed by dinosaur poop bacteria. Good thing or we would still be knee deep in dinosaur poop! Insects have been around for 250 million years or more and plants have been creating molecules to repel them for just as long. Only humans are foolish enough to create new and novel chemicals with barely a thought to their long term effects on our eco-system world that sustains us. Maybe we should change our species name from Homo Sapiens Sapiens humans the most wise to Homo Practicus humans that make stuff.
This is the Soapman reminding you that Nature has all the answers; but you have ask the right questions and then be quiet enough to hear the reply.