Mosquito Wars:

Chemical Repellents Vs. Natural Repellents


Well, Spring has sprung once again and we have already seen evidence of mosquitoes in our midst.  These days when a mosquito bites, the consequences could be more severe than the usual red, itchy welt on your skin.  You could conceivably contract West Nile Virus or other mosquito borne viruses.

Last year Public Health Ontario reported 116 confirmed and probable cases of West Nile Virus in Ontario alone.  Manitoba was next with 20.  Quebec had 19.   Alberta and Saskatchewan each had 3.  The good news is there were no fatalities in Canada.   There’s more good news, only 20% of people bitten by infected mosquitoes will show symptoms.  Most of those people will have flu-like symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches and pain.  A very small number could develop neurological problems resulting in paralysis, coma or possibly death.  As you can see, the numbers are rising and there is a definite threat, so we all need protection when we’re outside this summer.

Mosquitoes have poor eyesight but can track you from 100 feet away by your scent.  They are attracted to the smell of carbon dioxide, perspiration, perfumes, colognes and, I’m sorry to say, beer drinkers.  That’s why we humans are magnets for mosquitoes.  The way most ‘mosquito repellents’ work is by flooding the mosquito’s receptors with scents it finds unpleasant.  This blocks the mosquito’s sensors so it can no longer find its prey and it flies away to escape this intolerable environment.

For the past 50 years, Deet™ has been the ‘go to’ product in mosquito protection.  Deet™ is a chemical compound available in 5% to 98.3% concentration.  However, there are health concerns regarding Deet™ because it is a chemical compound, it is also toxic.  It is available in topical lotions, sprays, creams and wrist wraps.  Your skin is your largest organ and anything applied to the skin will be absorbed into the blood stream, including toxins.  Another reason people shy away from Deet™ is because of the chemical smell, which some people find unpleasant and irritating, especially when applying to the face. 

The new kid on the block for chemical mosquito protection is Picaridin.  Although it is new to us in North America, it has been used in Europe and Asia for 20 years.  Picaridin is also a chemical compound and therefore toxic.  It is available in pump bottles or individual wipes in up to 20% concentrations.  According to the CDC, it is as effective as Deet™ but does not last as long. 

Thankfully, each year there are more and more ‘natural’ mosquito repellents available.  The natural repellents are made with Mother Nature’s pure essential oils and are also very effective.  The most popular essential oils that ‘repel’ mosquitoes are Lemon Eucalyptus, Citronella, Lemongrass, Peppermint, Rosemary, Lavender, Neem, Eucalyptus and Cedar Oil.  It is not advisable to use undiluted essential oils directly on your skin, as they can be irritating.   They must be blended into a base and are available in lotions, creams, oils and candles.  A Soy Bean product base is a great choice because Soy Bean Oil, on its own, is a mosquito repeller.   When blended with one or more of the above essential oils, it has a synergistic effect.

Another exciting development on the natural front is the use of Catnip in mosquito protection.   A research group from Iowa State University led by Entomologist Chris Peterson, Ph.D. and Joel Coats, Ph.D. and chair of the university’s entomology department, tested catnip’s ability to repel mosquitoes. They found that Nepetalactone, an essential oil found in catnip, is 10 times more effective than Deet™ and is natural and not toxic.  Before you ask, the answer is “No” it will not attract cats to you or your yard.  The concentration required for mosquito protection is not high enough to draw the attention of felines.  So far, I have only seen catnip available in mosquito repelling candles.

Natural repellents can be as effective as their chemical counterparts but each application does not last quite as long as the high concentrations of chemicals in Deet™ and Picaridin.   Natural repellents must therefore, be reapplied when skin is exposed for long periods of time.  Most people do not mind reapplying these products because they smell great, feel good and are beneficial to the body.

Pure essential oils are used in Aromatherapy.  Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils to improve the health and balance of the body, mind and soul.  So, not only will you enjoy mosquito protection, you will also benefit from the mood enhancing essential oils and their beautiful scents.  My favourite is lemongrass, a calming and uplifting scent.

Now you have an arsenal of mosquito protection at your fingertips.  Choose your weapons wisely and have a wonderful, bug free summer.