Summer offers many options for outdoor recreation in the United States, such as hiking, running, camping, or fishing. However, it also poses a threat of insect bites from mosquitoes, horseflies, beetles, and ticks, which can cause irritation or disease. This article will explain how to choose an effective insect repellent to make outdoor activities safer.
Insect repellents: how to choose?
Choosing an Insect Repellent
Active Ingredients DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide) is the most widely used repellent in the world. Developed by the US Army in the 1940s, it is effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and some types of flies. DEET concentrations range from 10 to 100 percent, with the most effective protection at 30% concentration. Higher concentrations provide longer protection, but should be used strictly according to the product instructions, especially with children. DEET can damage plastic and synthetic equipment components, so wash hands thoroughly after use. It is not suitable for people with sensitive skin or small children. A concentration of 50% or more is intended for high-insect-concentration areas, while less powerful products can be used for a walk in the forest or mountains, especially if you have sensitive skin.
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Picaridin is a synthetic compound that mimics piperine, found in black pepper, and is effective against ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. A concentration of about 20% picaridin provides up to 12 hours of protection and is suitable for adults, children, and infants over 6 months old. Picaridin can be applied to both clothing and skin and is generally less greasy than other repellents.
Synthesized vegetable oils are effective against mosquitoes and some types of ticks, but are still considered chemicals and regulated by relevant agencies such as the EPA. Lemon eucalyptus oil can repel mosquitoes for up to six hours, and IR3535, a synthetic agent based on a natural amino acid, can last up to eight hours.
Permethrin is a synthetic version of a chemical found in chrysanthemum flowers and is intended for clothing and equipment only. It kills insects on contact, providing additional protection against ticks and mosquitoes. It has been registered with the EPA since 1979.
How about “natural” alternatives?
“Natural” alternatives such as unsynthesized vegetable oils (soybean, lemongrass, citronella, cedarwood, peppermint, lavender, geranium, or geraniol) are less effective and need to be reapplied more often than chemical alternatives. They are not regulated for safety and effectiveness by relevant authorities.
What if you’ve already been bitten?
Even in this scenario, manufacturers have solutions to offer. They might provide a balm that soothes itching, like this one, or a special device called the Bite away Insect Sting that can soothe already irritated areas and treat more than 1000 bites. The device works by using an electric current that reduces the release of histamine, which causes itching.
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Another common problem during outdoor recreation is encountering unwanted inhabitants of forests, meadows, and mountains, such as ticks. To remove these unwanted guests from your body, there is a whole arsenal of tweezers available.
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Clothing and accessories with repellents
Clothing and accessories with repellents can also be effective alternatives to applying insect repellent directly to the skin. These items can be impregnated or contain natural vegetable oils in a liquid state, such as bracelets, pendants, or clips that can be hung on clothing or equipment. Most of these products are effective against mosquitoes. While these accessories may be more pleasant to use than applying oil or chemicals to the skin, they have a limited range and may not fully protect your arms and legs from insects.
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Clothing impregnated with permethrin can also repel mosquitoes and ticks. You can purchase clothing that has been pretreated with the repellent or spray permethrin on your own. Regardless of whether you buy pre-treated clothes or spray permethrin yourself, always wash them separately. This method is reliable and has a long-lasting effect, providing safety for at least several uses. Pre-treated clothes remain effective for up to about 70 washes.
Airborne insect repellents
Airborne insect repellents are another option when staying in a group in one place, such as a campsite. These products disperse (evaporate) insect repellent into the air and come in the form of spirals, candles, or battery-powered dispersal devices. They provide protection as long as the device is charged and turned on, and do not cause discomfort when applied to the skin. However, this method is only effective against mosquitoes and will not work if you are moving or if it is windy outside. Alethrin is the most common active ingredient used in replaceable plates.
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When using repellent, how you apply it matters
Dabbing back and forth or spraying the repellent into the air like a perfume will not provide much protection. The product should be applied in a thin, even layer to all exposed skin. There is no certainty as to which formula is better, cream or aerosol, as the choice is entirely up to you. When selecting a formula, consider which one you can apply most easily and comfortably.
Despite the high efficiency of modern repellents, none of them can guarantee 100% protection against all types of flying and crawling insects and arachnids. When planning a trip that involves a long stay in the woods or near a river, particularly in places with an increased concentration of insects like mosquitoes, make sure you have mosquito nets among your equipment. Mosquito nets can be used with a hat, tent, or hammock, creating a “no-fly zone” around you.
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