Make DIY bug juice from lemon eucalyptus essential oil.
Q: What's the greenest bug repellant?
A: Something about me is fresh-baked-cinnamon-bun delicious to biting creatures. When my partner gets five sand flea bites after a week on a beach, I count (true story) 150. When the cottagers two Muskoka chairs over from me peel into their skivvies for a swim, they've got, oh, maybe three bites to my 30.
And, yes, I'm following all standard protocol. That means using totally unscented body care products in bug-heavy zones and wearing loose light-coloured clothing at dusk. I even do all the unofficial stuff that hasn't been backed by much in the way of double blind studies, like pumping up on B vitamins and garlic. And I'm already, as luck would have it, doing the right bug-warding things by eating no meat, no sugar (well, mostly) and little dairy. (Does goat cheese count?)
I'm not even a big salter (salt, as well as potassium-rich foods, including bananas, are said to boost your body's lactic acid levels, making you even more tantalizing to insects). But hey, if you want to test any or all home remedies to see if they work, there's no harm in trying.
In the meantime, you may need extra help from bug repellents, especially if you're amongst the one in 10 who are mosquito magnets and/or you're heading into the deep woods.
What works and what doesn't is a sensitive topic. We know DEET works, and Health Canada maintains it's safe if used as directed, but that shit is toxic to the central nervous system, and heavy use has caused headaches, tremors, lethargy, even seizures and death in some. (Just look at DEET Health Effects In Humans at cdc.gov.)
So what about those Off! Clip-on thingies advertised on billboards/TV as the big alternative to misting yourself in DEET fumes? You're supposed to attach it to your belt, and a fan blows out the active ingredient for 12 hours of protection. Shame the active ingredient is metofluthrin, another neurotoxin.
No wonder the fine print says "avoid breathing vapour." Should I just hold my breath for 12 hours, then?
Consumer Reports put the clips' longevity claims to the test but had to suspend the trial after two hours because the participants started getting too many bites. Add a gentle breeze and anecdotal complaints of ineffectiveness spike. And don't even think of moving, the label says you have to wait a few minutes for the unit to rebuilt your chemical bubble zone.
What did score nearly as well as DEET is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus spray (whose active ingredient is p-menthane-3,8-diol, derived from eucalyptus). This stuff, 30 per cent lemon eucalyptus oil in an ethanol base, scored a 97 out of 100 and lasted upwards of eight hours. Too bad you can't find it in Canada.
Off! Botanicals has the same active ingredient, but it also has propyl parabens, banned from kid's body care in Denmark, and formaldehyde-releasing diazolidinyl urea.
You can make your own DIY version by mixing lemon eucalyptus essential oil in with a base oil of your choice.
Health Canada says soy oil repellents protect against mozzies for 3.5 hours, but tracking down a data-backed soy product in Canada is tough, too. Bite Blocker and Buzz Away Extreme (with soy) have won lots of accolades in medical journals but are still, years after their market appearance, not on shelves here. But you can try soy-based Green Beaver's Outdoor Lotion or my DIY recipe at ecoholic.ca.
Neem oil gets the thumbs-up, when mixed with coconut oil, from the National Institute of Malaria Research in Dehli, India. A 2006 study published by the American Chemical Society concluded catnip oil is a "potent mosquito repellent" though not as long-lasting as DEET. Much-praised Porcupine Creek Farm Canadian Bush Spray has catnip, eucalyptus and other bug fighters.
Now, I know studies have shown that citronella doesn't work all that well, but after years of warnings, Health Canada is now in the midst of taking our right to choose away by yanking it off the market by 2014. Why? HC says it's been asking for years now for some proof that citronella is safe, but no one's stepped up with data (though HC knows of "no immediate health risks"). Companies say they just can't afford the pricey lab testing.
So if you really dig citronella sprays, start stockpiling.
Wanna stick to remedies backed by hard data? Spray your yard with crushed-garlic-infused water. It's a proven mozzy larvae killer.