The stinging guide to bug sprays

All it takes is a little heat and humidity and mosquitoes start breeding like bunnies. So how do you protect yourself against the biters without misting yourself in toxins?


DEET may be the number-one pick of campers and hikers. It’s also a neurotoxin that the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances confirms has caused, since the 1960s, 17 cases of “significant toxicity” mostly in kids, with symptoms including lethargy, headaches, convulsions, as well as a few deaths. Hence why Health Canada says prolonged use isn’t recommended for kids under 12. It also banned DEET in concentration of more than 30 per cent. Use it sparingly if you have to, but lab tests show mosquitoes can quickly develop resistance to it.

Score: N



Can’t believe these guys haven’t been slapped with false advertising charges for claiming their clip-on repellent actually works for 12 hours when Consumer Reports trials showed it’s a dud after two. Plus you somehow have to “avoid breathing in vapour” while wearing the neurotoxic metofluthrin mister. No thanks.

Score: N



The most promising option in the drugstore since it’s DEET-free and uses p-menthane-3,8-diol from eucalyptus instead to repel mozzies and blackflies. Too bad it still contains propyl parabens (outlawed from young kids’ body care in Denmark because of endocrine disrupting potential) as well as formaldehyde-releasing diazolidinyl urea. You’d be better off with DEET-free Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus with safer, non-irritating Icaridin.

Score: NN



One of the rare natural bug sprays that, after a long slog, managed to get registered with Health Canada as an official insect repellent (see story below). It’s got 10 per cent citronella, 5 per cent citronella terpene as well as cedar wood/tea tree/geranium/sage oils. Druide says lab tests show you can go an hour before reapplying. Not recommended for children under three. Use with their citronella soap, shampoo for best results.

Score: NNN



Certified clinical aromatherapist Colleen Hague recommends putting 20 drops each of peppermint, lemongrass and cedar wood essential oils in 100 ml of either water or jojoba oil as a base. Others make DIY sprays with apple cider vinegar, which does the job, though the aroma is a little, well, particular. A couple of drops of neem oil in 100 ml of coconut oil works well against pesky sand fleas, aka no-see-ums.

Score: NNN

Green Gadget Of The Week



Wanna crank some tunes without hauling speakers with you? This über-cool Rock-It portable vibration speaker amps up music from your device via vibrations. Just stick it onto something… anything – a cardboard box, your portable mug, a canoe – and it’ll instantly turn it into a speaker. The bigger the item, the louder the sound. Available at Grassroots, $34.99,


Black bug down

How health Canada buzzed natural repellents off the shelves

I’d tell you all about my very favourite natural bug sprays, but then I’d be giving them the kiss of death. Ever since Health Canada’s crackdown on natural products, tracking down DEET-free protection against mosquitoes feels like a covert op. Call it Black Bug Down.

If you’ve walked into a health store this summer and wondered where all the natural repellents buzzed off to, you’re not alone. At this time last year, you could still find a small handful of options, but word was that all things citronella would be phased out by the end of 2012 because of “insufficient data to address concerns” about their safety. Basically, HC says it hasn’t found any major risk, but wanted more proof that citronella products are safe and effective before keeping them on the market.

Fast-forward to the present, and the only repellent approved to stay on shelves of my local health store, the Big Carrot, is Druide Citronella spray. One of Canada’s biggest natural body care companies, Druide forked out the funds for big-budget toxicological testing and clinical trials and eventually got registered – a process Druide tells me took a daunting 10 years.

So where did all the non-citronella sprays go? Turns out Health Canada is taking the same approach to any and all repellents, “outdoor sprays” and anything with a picture of a bug on it.

That’s a hurdle many small companies I check in with, including Awaken My Senses, just can’t afford. Co-founder, certified clinical aromatherapist and product developer Colleen Hague says AMS looked into registering its Slug The Bugs Spray with Health Canada, but “when we started adding up the costs, we realized we’d go broke. We’re too small a company.”

Even larger naturals like Green Beaver, which made a popular outdoor spray, have decided it’s not worth the trouble winning over Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Green Beaver co-founder Alain Ménard says it now sells its DEET-free outdoor spray in the U.S. without hassles.

Even a product Health Canada initially listed as being officially registered for use as an insect repellent, Buzz Away by U.S.-based Quantum, is no longer on shelves.

Quantum’s Chris Minniear says, “It becomes really expensive to prove your formula repels insects.” Ironically, another unavailable Quantum product, Buzz Away Extreme, has more third-party proof than most. Clinical testing at the University of Guelph found all-natural soy-based Buzz Away Extreme as effective as OFF! Skintastic with DEET.

Health Canada stands by the efficacy of soy-based repellents and insists it’s approved “a number of” soy-based formulas for use against mosquitoes and blackflies, but those, too, are MIA in stores.

Health Canada rep Blossom Leung says its “primary objective in regulating pesticides is to prevent unacceptable risks to people and the environment from their use.”

Okay, great, but what about those looking to avoid the risks of DEET? If Canada’s natural product community can’t front the costs associated with keeping their bug sprays on the market, looks like the OFF! Deep Woods and Muskol sprays of the world will keep taking the biggest bite.

Nature Notes



The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has smacked down three mattress companies for making false green claims. Shockingly, Canadian-based Essentia made the list. Essentia claims to use the world’s only 100-per-cent-natural memory foam, totally chemical- and VOC-free with no off-gassing or odour. The FTC deemed the claims unsubstantiated, and its own tests found the mattresses in fact do contain VOCs and formaldehyde. Relief-Mart’s Biogreen memory foam was also fibbing about being VOC-free, as was Cali-based Ecobaby Organics.


Looks like Alberta is having a wee bit of difficultly proving it’s a responsible oil developer. An investigation by Treeline Ecological Research and Global Forest Watch Canada found that less than 1 per cent of environmental violations in the oil sands region received penalties from the Alberta government – an enforcement rate 17 times slacker than the U.S.’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act. “Examination of the records in the Alberta government’s Environmental Monitoring System (EMS) demonstrates a legacy of over 9,000 environmental incidents over the 1996-2012 period while environmental legislation remained virtually unenforced. Over 4,000 of the incidents were violations of Alberta’s environmental laws and regulations.” Also in “gee, that’s comforting” news, reports have emerged that an underground oil spill three hours north of Edmonton has been going on for months, and neither the feds nor the company, Canadian Natural Resources, know how to stop it.

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