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How can you make yourself a less tasty target? We got tips from Taz Stuart, City Entomologist for Winnipeg, one of Canada's most mosquito-plagued cities. We also highlight some of the latest and greatest in insect repelling products you can use on your body or your property this summer.
And, if all else fails, we have some bite coping advice courtesy of Dr. Peter Vignjevic, dermatologist and assistant professor of medicine at Hamilton, Ont.'s McMaster University.
Bug repelling basics
Topical bug repellants come in two basic forms: chemical and natural-based products.
The most effective chemical insect repellant to date is DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), the active ingredient in most spray-on repellants. DEET has been on the market for about 50 years. It masks your scent so biting insects can't locate you.
"The maximum percentage of a 30 per cent DEET personal protection product will provide approximately six hours of protection from bites, when properly applied to an adult. There are varying concentrations of DEET below 30 per cent available and they would have various times of protection – so reading the label is imperative," says Stuart, adding that swimming, sweating and improper application can all lower a products repellency.
Today, many consumers are looking for chemical-free, natural insect repellants because they are concerned about the possible heath and ecological impact of chemicals. Natural products either use odours which keep bugs at bay or, in the case of citronella, odours that mask the bug-attracting scent of lactic acid on our bodies. Common active ingredients include essentials oils of herbs like eucalyptus, lemongrass and mint, as well as citronella.
Natural products do not have the same scientifically proven track record of success as DEET, says Stuart.
However, a recent University Of Guelph study backs the efficacy claims of a new natural product called All Terrain (see below), and the US Centers for Disease Control now recognizes a processed form of oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD, as an effective mosquito repellant.
You can boost the effectiveness of your chosen insect repellant by either eradicating pest flies from your immediate vicinity (with a bug zapper or traps), or, says Stuart, simply by covering up.
"Wear lightly coloured, loose fitting, long sleeved shirts and pants and if required, a mosquito head-net to prevent landing on the head and face. It's also important to minimize or not use any colognes or perfumes, and hair products, as these can act as additional attractants," says Stuart.
Page 1 of 3 - Read page two for products that will keep the bugs at bay!
After the bite
Dr. Peter Vignjevic, dermatologist and assistant professor at McMaster University, says black fly and horsefly bites are easily identifiable because the swollen bite area will have a tiny, bloody spot in the centre, where the critter's mandibles cut your skin. On mosquito bites there's no telltale mark.
While the aggravation factor may vary between bites, treatments are essentially the same:
• "Use a topical steroid cream. An over the counter hydrocortisone cream may help you, but if not, you can get a stronger one by prescription," he says.
• To decrease inflammation take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine.
• Lots of bites? Soothe your poor itchy self by soaking in a warm, soothing bath. "Try adding oatmeal or Aveeno powder," he suggests.
8 products to try
1. Anti-bugging product: All Terrain Herbal Armor Outdoor Spray ($14.50/120 mL, available online in Canada through lavishandlime.com).
How it works: This natural-based, DEET-free spray uses a essential oils of citronella, soybeans, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium to deter mosquitoes.
• A University of Guelph study commissioned by the brand found the product was 100 per cent effective for the first two hours, 96 per cent effective for three hours and 77% effective for four hours – unprecedented for a natural product, and on par with conventional products that use 5-7 per cent concentrations of DEET.
• Water- and sweat-resistant
• You put it on your body, not your clothes, minimizing stains
• Like synthetics, people with sensitive skin could have a skin reaction. (If so wash it off with soap and water.)
2. Anti-bugging product: OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellant Towelettes (Approx. $7 per 12-pack, available nationally at drug stores)
How it works: A 5.6 per cent DEET formula deters mosquitoes and other pests.
• Individually wrapped moist towelettes can be carried in your purse/back pocket/backpack
• Older kids can't go overboard when dosing themselves
• Pleasant scent
• Only lasts for two hours so think of it for light-duty only
• More litter: make sure kids don't leave wipes or wrappers behind!
Page 2 of 3 - On page three: more bug-repelling products.
3. Anti-bugging product: Muskol Pump Spray (Approx $8 per 50/ml bottle, available at camping goods stores)
How it works: A fave of Canadian outdoorsy types since 1951, Muskol uses a 30 per cent DEET formula to keep mosquitoes and other biting flies away.
• High DEET concentration formula deters biting insects for up to eight hours with just one application!
• Small bottle fits in backpacks and pockets
• Not safe for use on kids under age 12
• You MUST wash this stuff off your skin afterwards, using soap and water (not always fun after campfire at 10 p.m.!)
4. Anti-bugging product: Flowtron Insect Killer (Prices range from approx. $55 to $100 depending on coverage from ½ acre to 1 ½ acres, available at HomeDepot.ca and camping goods stores)
How it works: This outdoor, electronic device zaps mosquitoes and other bugs after attracting them with a synthetic lure called Octenol.
• No pesticides, nets or glue panels
• You won't need to spray yourself with insect repellant
• Relatively compact unit
• One happy reviewer on HomeDepot.ca describes an experience with the product as "like [hearing] a bag of popcorn in the microwave, one after the other…" If the beautiful sound of zapping bugs bugs you, this may not be for you.
• Unattractive glow of UV light (though this can be mitigated by placing it out of sightlines)
5. Anti-bugging product: Butterfly Weed Herbals In the Bush citronella oil ($14.99 per 2-ounce/bottle, available at natural health stores and online at thebabygarden.ca.)
How it works: Citronella oil deters pests, while lemongrass and lavender oils please your nose.
• Non-toxic and safe for kids and pets
• Mild formula, better suited to light duty
• Frequent re-application as with many light-duty products
6. Anti-bugging product: ThermaCELL Woodlands Mosquito Repellant ($36.99 at CanadianTire.ca and select stores)
How it works: The butane-cartridge fueled device heats up a mat that disperses allethrin, a chemical copy of the natural insecticide pyrethrin, deterring mosquitoes, black flies and other pests at bay within a 5-metre-by-5-metre outdoor area.
• Compact and cordless; set it up in your campground, backyard or by your seats when watching the kids play soccer
• Odour-free, undetectable to your pets
• You won't need to douse yourself with insect repellant
• Mats last for four hours, and cartridges for 12 hours, so avid outdoorspeople will be loading up on refills.
7. Anti-bugging product: Citronella candles (sizes vary, widely available at all price points)
How it works: Candles infused with the scent of citronella (or decorative fuel torches that burn a citronella-infused lamp oil) fill the air with a scent mosquitoes and other flying insects don't like.
• Products come in various styles and provide mood lighting and decorative touch in addition to insect-deterring benefits
• Less effective on a windy evening
• Multiples are more effective
• Possible fire hazard
For camping tips, expert advice and guides to some of the best campgrounds in Canada, visit our expert's guide to the great Canadian outdoors.