Deet remains the most effective, but new sprays may be less toxic and almost as good at keeping pests at bay.
By Gibbs Milliken
Being “bugged” by mosquitoes, flies, ticks and chiggers is never fun. At times these swarming hordes of tiny biting critters become so thick and nocuous that they cause us to abandon our outing and head, slapping furiously all the way, to the nearest enclosed shelter.
These seasonal pests are best controlled by using one of the hundreds of commercial repellents that come in the form of lotions, sprays or burning coils. Some are made with natural ingredients like citronella, cedar oils or pyrethrum, but many contain synthetic products. One of the most common of these is a chemical called deet, which is found in a wide range of scents and concentrations.
The easiest repellents to apply are sprays in aerosol cans or pump bottles. One of the most effective is Off! Deep Woods Sportsmen. This brand has been around for many years and the formula of 98 percent deet has proven to keep away every form of biting insect, spider or mite. Some individuals may be allergic to this strong chemical and a small test spot should be tried before coating larger areas of skin. Avoid getting deet in the eyes, scratches or cuts, as it burns. Also, it can permanently damage some plastic or rubber surfaces and, if applied with the hands, cause them to stick to and texture your gear. ($4.99, 1-ounce pump-spray, Off! Deep Woods Sportsmen, SC Johnson Brands, 800-558-5252, www.scjbrands.com)
Many individuals with sensitive skin or contact allergies have found that applying liberal amounts of Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus works well. Resisting most ticks and insects, this lotion contains a combination insect repellent/skin moisturizer with an SPF 30 UV sun protection rating. To show treated skin areas, it has a distinctive blue color that turns clear shortly after application. Other features include the addition of vitamin E and aloe vera for skin conditioning, plus a mild fragrance of flowers. ($10, 4-ounce bottle, Skin-So-Soft, Avon, 512-736-8923, www.youravon.com/nicoledixon)
Also available are natural bug repellents with sunscreen, like the Texas-made SmartShield. This product is water-resistant, and comes in either individual towelettes or pump-sprays containing cedar oils and lemon grass extracts for those preferring organic-based protection. A coating on exposed skin is long lasting, eco-friendly and will not harm live bait, your outdoor gear or the environment. ($12.49, 4-ounce bottle, Smart Shield SPF 30, 800-343-1504, www.smartshield.com)
If possible, wear long pants and shirts made of tightly woven but breathable fabrics. These garments can be pre-treated with a new non-toxic synthetic called Sawyer Permethrin Spray that is odorless and colorless with excellent repellency. It should never be used for direct skin applications. Bug-proofing any clothing requires periodic reapplication to exterior surfaces and air-drying for best results. In some locations — like coastal marshes — the mosquitoes and midges can become so thick that a fine mesh head-net and gloves may also be necessary to keep the aggressive swarms away. ($6.99, 6-ounce Sawyer Permethrin #56624, Campmor, 800-525-4784, www.campmor.com)
Tucking long pants into your socks and then spritzing your lower legs with repellent products discourages the entry of ticks and chiggers. Don’t forget that many of these bloodthirsty little “devil-bugs” carry and transmit dangerous diseases, so take all the necessary precautions to ensure your health in the outdoors.