Many of us love the summer season and warm weather destinations. But summertime and warm climates can have us contending with biting insects. While wearing clothing can help protect us from pesky insects, we most likely don’t want to be covered from head to toe when the weather is nice and warm. A good, safe insect repellent can allow us to bare some skin without being eaten alive. Here are my thoughts on insect repellents.
Why I Don’t Use DEET
Insect repellents containing the active ingredient DEET have been on the market for decades. Developed in the 1940s by the US army, DEET is one of the most effective chemicals on the market for repelling biting insects. However, I choose to not use repellents containing DEET for a couple of reasons.
One of the drawbacks of DEET is that it can damage synthetic fabrics, plastic, paint, and other substances. Product labels of repellents containing DEET warn of this problem. Here’s a snippet of text from the label of an Off! product containing DEET:
Do not apply on or near: acetate, rayon, spandex or other synthetics (other than nylon), furniture, plastics, watch crystals, leather and painted or varnished surfaces including automobiles.
I don’t want to have to worry about my insect repellent destroying my camping gear, the performance fabric of my outdoor clothing, or anything else I might bring on a trip. This one characteristic alone is a deal breaker for me.
Another concern for me is the questionable degree of toxicity of DEET. One should remember that chemicals can absorb through your skin and enter your blood stream. There are enough varying opinions on the toxicity and safe use level of DEET to make me look for an alternate repellent.
What I Do Use
Icaridin (also called Picaridin) is a relatively new insect repellent. Icaridin is a broad spectrum repellent developed by the Bayer corporation. Products containing Icaridin first went to market in Europe in 2001. Products containing Icaridin have been available in the US since 2005. Unlike DEET, Icaridin will not destroy plastic and other synthetic materials. Also, Icaridin is less toxic than DEET.
I look for products containing a minimum of 15% Icaridin (Picaridin). I’ve found that products with a lower concentration need to be applied more frequently and don’t offer adequate protection for my needs.
Some repellent products on the market use plant-based active ingredients. In the U.S. you can find repellents that use the active ingredient oil of lemon eucalyptus (also called lemon eucalyptus and PMD). Oil of lemon eucalyptus is not a robust repellent and must be used in very high concentrations to be effective. It also carries a strong odor. I find the odor to be unpleasant.
You may find some repellents using an active ingredient called IR3535. This is a chemical loosely based on an amino acid found in nature and also developed by the Bayer Corporation. While IR3535 is safe and effective, it suffers from the same problem as DEET in that it can damage a variety of synthetic materials on contact.
Technologies are always changing. So if you hear about the next great and safe insect repellent, let me know.