Reader tested: Bug repellents

Two Best Health readers dared to field-test a selection of popular bug repellents for us. Here’s what they found

Reader tested: Bug repellents

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2010

Every summer my pal Sherri Cleaves (pictured, left) and I pack up our kayaks and camp for a week at Lake Superior Provincial Park’where mosquitoes go zzzzzz in your ear morning, noon and night. Sherri takes a military approach, placing coils around the campsite and dousing herself with bug repellent. This allows her to wear a bathing suit yet remain calm and cool. I drape myself in light-coloured clothes and use very little spray. When the bugs are at their most brutal, Sherri opts to dive into her tent; I go crazy trying to outrun them while shouting, ‘Let’s get the heck out of here!’

I figure there has to be a better way to deal with these little buggers, hasn’t there? So last summer, we offered to test some options for Best Health. The results were a revelation.

Three traditional ‘repellent sprays

Off! FamilyCare Insect Repellent 5% DEET, two-hour protection pump spray: This is marketed as a family mosquito repellent since it doesn’t have a high percentage of DEET; it’s safe for use on kids age six months and up. (But on kids up to age two it should not be applied more than once a day.) The ‘Tropical Fresh’ variety we tried has a pleasant odour (sweet floral). Very good pump mechanism. Goes on light; can’t feel it on your skin.
First bite: 2 hours for Sherri; 4 hours for me.
Comment: Would need to reapply depending on how long you are out.
Recommendation: Effective.

Off! Deep Woods For Sportsmen, 30% DEET, six-hour protection aerosol: The label says it’s unscented, but it does have a sweet alcohol smell. Spray goes on wet but dries quickly.
First bite: 4 hours for Sherri. (I didn’t try it.)
Comment: The aerosol dispenser allows you to spray upside down (a big bonus in Sherri’s opinion).
Recommendation: Effective.

Muskol Insect Repellent Pump Spray, 30% DEET, eight-hour protection: Chemical smell goes away in minutes. Not greasy; can’t feel it on your skin.
First bite: 3 hours for Sherri. (I didn’t try it.)
Comment: Good protection, but for Sherri it didn’t work for as long as the product promised, so you may need to reapply depending on how long you are out.
Recommendation: Effective.

Two bug repellent tools

Coghlan’s Mosquito Coils (active ingredient 0.23% d-cis transallethrin): The smoke gives off a woody incense smell. After expressing concerns about accidentally burning ourselves, we strategically placed three coils: two at our feet and one on the table. We applied no repellent.
First bite: Neither of us was bitten until we ventured out of range of the smoke. (However, I did suffer a minor burn when I accidentally put my bare foot down on a coil during a wine-induced soliloquy about guys.)
Comments: Not recommended if kids or drinking adults are around. A bit hard to separate the coils from one another; Sherri’s advice is to push one coil and pull the other, starting at the centre.
Recommendation: Worth the burn. And on a particularly bad mosquito night it is a good second line of defence.

Off! PowerPad Lamp: Easy to set up and candle-operated, it releases a steady and impressive amount of smoke minutes after lighting. When the wind blows your way, you can detect a mild burnt smell. We tested this as our primary defence’no repellent applied.
First bite: 1 hour for Sherri. (Interestingly, as an experiment she moved out of range and was bitten after 5 minutes.) I suffered no bites.
Comment: Very nice-looking.
Recommendation: A good option around the pool or hot tub. Good second line of defence on a heavy mosquito night.

Three natural bug repellents

TheraNeem Herbal Outdoor Spray: This is a water-based alternative with mostly natural oils and some organic ingredients. ‘It has a strong lemon rind odour, not unpleasant. We found that the spray pump does not provide good coverage. Product comes out milky and you have to rub it in.
First bite: 6 minutes for me. Maybe I missed a spot so I hung in, and got my second bite 18 minutes later. Sherri had better luck: The mosquitoes landed on her but didn’t bite.
Comment: Because you have to touch the product to spread it on your skin, you will need to wash your hands after applying.
Recommendation: It may work for you.

Natrapel Citronella Insect Repellent Spray: I watched Sherri emerge from a cloud of citronella spray exclaiming, ‘Most excellent spray mechanism!’ The odour is overpowering at first. Mellows after one hour. Feels oily on the skin.
First bite: 15 minutes for Sherri. (I didn’t try it.)
Comment: Definitely apply outdoors.
Recommendation: It may work for you.

Bug suits: For anyone with chemical sensitivities or who is chemical adverse, mesh bug suits present an effective option. Sherri’s advice is to buy one that is oversized so the netting isn’t touching your skin; you want to prevent the mosquitoes from biting through the fabric.
First bite: It never came for either of us.
Comment: Not appropriate attire for the golf course.
Recommendation: If in the woods with your good friend, worth the fashion statement.

Two bug-repellent urban myths?

Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil: This is not intended to be a repellent, but some people swear by it. I poured some into a spray pump to apply. It goes on very oily. All sand and dirt stuck to me. It was very nice smelling, though.
First bite: 30 minutes for me.
Comment: Mosquito flew away well moisturized.
Recommendation: It may work for you.

‘ Unscented fabric-softener sheets: I rubbed several sheets all over my skin and clothes. It was hard to get good coverage, so I also stuffed the sheets in my pockets and in my flip-flops. The overall look? Unattractive.
First bite: 20 minutes for me.
Comment: I looked silly.
Recommendation: These aren’t worth the fashion statement.

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This article was originally titled "Tracy and Sherri vs. The Mosquitoes," in the Summer 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.