Daniel Enox, UAA Pharmacy Student
Starting at your local retailer store shelf you see a familiar sight of mosquito repellants. You’ve always been an “OFF” brand user, but your store suddenly decided that it was going to offer you a lot more choices and now you’re not sure what to get. There’s OFF with DEET in various forms, such as sprays and lotions. But what’s this picaradin that’s promising to be just as effective as DEET? There is also this brand stating they’re using all natural oil of lemon eucalyptus that is just as effective.
There are many choices in the market these days, and it can be quite overwhelming. Let’s hone in on some facts about these products so that you can be a more informed shopper as you navigate this arena of abundant choices.
DEET has been in use since the mid 1940’s and not much has changed. The range of concentration can run from 1% to 100%. The higher the percentage the greater the ring of protection, with many products sitting around the 20-40% range depending on brand and application. It is the go-to for many users, with 3 to 6 hours of protection for 20-40% concentration and up to 12+ hours for 100% concentration. However, it does tend to stain clothes, have a noticeable odor and leave greasy feeling on the skin. There is also that annoying fact that it can damage rayon, nylon and other plastics. I’m sure many of us remember new divots forming on our sunglasses after applying a nice mist of DEET. There is also a chance for skin irritation and headaches, so be mindful after applying. DEET is not recommended for children under 2 months old and only 1% to 30%, maximum concentration if over 2 months. By the way this warning applies for all repellants whether DEET or not, always check with your doctor before applying these products on young children for the first time.
Picaridin is a relatively new product that appeared in the 1980’s and has started appearing in more stores. Strength goes top to 20%, with 20% being recommended to get maximum protection time of 4+ hours. The 20% is comparable to 40% DEET without the greasy feeling and is in products such and Skin-So-Soft and Sawyer. It also doesn’t have that unusual side effect of melting plastics. Stronger doses are not available so multiple reapplications may be needed if exposure is going to be constant throughout the day, so keep that in mind, especially if you intend to go swimming. So far there hasn’t been any significant reactions reported but it’s still relatively new.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been around for some time, reaching scientific curiosity sometime in the 1960’s and its effectiveness is not questioned seriously but rather the question is how long it lasts at what strength. A researcher from a New Mexico university found that a solution with 30+% “oil of lemon eucalyptus” (over 65% of the active ingredient in the complex mixture) had effectiveness of mosquito repellant quality for roughly 4 hours against certain species. You may have to do some trial and error to see if this will keep away the specific mosquitos in your region. This natural product. May be an option if you’re looking to do something DEET or Picaridin free. Always be mindful of skin reaction when trying new product though.
Overall, DEET still remains king, but it’s not the only game in town. If you suffer from skin irritation or can’t stand the smell/stain, then you have many more options to consider.