Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Jun

The Best Bug Repellent?

There’s an unofficial but infamous season this time of year in New England (my native homeland, for those of you who don’t know). In the weeks roughly between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is a period the locals call black fly season. For those of you unfamiliar with these creatures, there’s no overdramatizing their menace. They’re deceptively minuscule but ubiquitous, and their bites can mutilate. I remember a couple from the Midwest moved to our neighborhood just before the school year. Come spring, they’d heard the many jokes and well-intentioned warnings but scoffed when they first saw the flies themselves. “Those gnats?” they asked incredulously. About a week or so later they were both covered in welts after spending the weekend doing yard work with no protection. The woman’s hairline was chewed to oblivion. (These things tended to get around the neighborhood.) I still think of black fly season after all these years especially when I get questions from readers about bug season in their parts of the country. Increasingly, folks ask about a Primal alternative to chemical bug repellent.

The principle behind bug repellents, of course, is to repel. Whether chemically or naturally-derived, a repellent’s job is to make you as unappealing to bugs as possible. And, yes, some people are more enticing. Mosquitos, for example, target their blood donors (actually it’s the blood proteins they’re after) by their smell in addition to lactic acid (mmm…human sweat) and carbon dioxide output. The respiration part explains why the little ones (and pregnant women) tend to get eaten alive out there while others in your party escape with nary a bite. Using genetically modified insects, researchers have also found that taste plays a part as well as smell for mosquitos.

The two most popular conventional repellents are DEET and picaridin (a.k.a. Bayrepel). The vast majority of what you buy in the store today use these as active ingredients. DEET, the most common repellent in the U.S. has been used since the late 1950s. Picaridin is far newer on the block, introduced in Europe in 1998 and in the U.S. in 2005.

In the U.S., DEET remains the repellent of choice, but there’s plenty of reason to choose otherwise. Transdermal absorption of DEET in studies has ranged from 5-17% in humans, and absorption continues as long as the product remains on the skin. DEET has been linked to some fatalities in children who received multiple and extensive applications. It has also been identified as a neurotoxin, in that it inhibits the activity of cholinesterase, an enzyme of the central nervous system in both insects and mammals. A Duke University pharmacologist found evidence in rat studies that DEET exposure resulted in “diffuse brain cell death” in regions governing “muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration,” poorer performance in physical and cognitive tasks, and “behavioral changes” when used long-term.

Although governmental and medical organizations like the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics offer no conditions in their recommendation of DEET, I’d say the risks are enough to give this Primal mind pause.

Obviously, the more often and higher concentrations you use, the higher the risk. I’d suggest reserving DEET products for limited occasions if alternatives don’t work for you in a given situation. Also, more vulnerable members of the population like children, pregnant women, and those with autoimmune/neurological disorders should avoid using DEET. On a side note, some mosquitos are developing a resistance to DEET, including those associated with yellow fever.

There’s also a repellent called permethrin, which is approved for use on clothes only. Permethrin actually kills as well as repels mosquitos and ticks, which means it’s clearly nothing to fool around with. Be advised that even after your wash your clothes, the insecticide remains. For the average person, there’s probably little if any need for the risk inherent with this strong a product.

Less is known about Picaridin. So far, studies demonstrate low toxicity (PDF), and it appears to be the safest choice among conventional repellents. Check out the fact sheets, but little is published (in this country anyway) regarding ongoing study and safety reports.

According to clinical research, your best bet for minimizing bug bites with naturally derived repellents are those with active ingredients taken from essential oils. Oil of lemon eucalyptus appears to be the most effective, but this can be irritating to the skin of young children, particularly in higher concentrations. In a USDA study (PDF) comparing natural repellents against DEET products, a commercial repellent containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (Repel) was more effective than the low concentration DEET product marketed for children. Geraniol, a compound found in geranium plants, also looks promising as does peppermint oil. Geranium and peppermint oils at 100% concentration offer full protection, but the effect remains for a relatively short amount of time (2 hours and 45 minutes, respectively).

In terms of area as opposed to skin repellency, research has demonstrated that candles containing geraniol offered 81.5% protection within a meter’s distance in an outdoor environment, considerably more than the 35.4% protection offered by traditional citronella candles.

Other studies suggests the American beautyberry plant as another promising option for repelling both mosquito and blacklegged ticks (primary carriers of bacteria responsible for Lyme disease). The plant has been used as a folk remedy for decades. Pine oil apparently contains a compound called isolongifolenone that was more effective than DEET at repelling both mosquitos and two kinds of ticks. The compound has been patented for commercial production.

Some research suggests that natural repellent compounds may work more effectively in conjunction with one another. Formulations that contain multiple natural compounds or contain vanillin, which appears to offer a potentiating impact on other repellents, might be the most potent option. (On a side note, I should mention that Skin So Soft didn’t register as effective in any clinical study. Sorry to disappoint any Avon fans out there.)

The more concentrated the dilution, the longer it will last but the higher the potential for skin irritation. Keep in mind that herbal products need to be applied more often than conventional repellents, particularly the higher concentration products like Deep Woods Off, etc. If you’re going to be out for more than a couple of hours or if you’ll headed to a heavily wooded area, I’d suggest bringing extra applications with you.

Besides essential oils, there are the common sense measures. Clothing – especially densely woven fabrics – offer ample protection. (Hunters know what I mean here. Some of the best outdoor clothing for this purpose is designed for hunters.) Long sleeves and pants, scarves/bandanas, high collared shirts, and socks go a long way. Remember hats being required at summer camp? For me, it’s the hairline and the ankles that get it, and those are the area I either cover or apply oils to. As for the yard, consider candles containing geraniol for repellency.

Finally, there’s the question of diet and natural appeal/repellent. Does a particular diet makes you more or less sweet-smelling to a bug? Some people believe changing their diet makes a difference. With the knowledge that lactic acid attracts mosquitos, many fermented foods (as healthy as they are) would seem probable culprits. (Personally, I’d stick with the fermentation and just take more Primal minded precautions.)

I believe the diet and attraction connection likely has merit, but I haven’t seen conclusive evidence for it yet. I’m all ears for anyone who’s found studies on this one or who’s experienced personal success with it. More than anything, showering before that backyard BBQ might be your best bet by minimizing sweat on your skin. Just skip the cologne.

With that, I’ll turn it over to you, MDA readers. What have you tried and found to be effective? Do you make your own or rely on a particular brand?

To those in New England, the best of summer is yet to come. How was black fly season this year anyway? I remember some being worse than others. To everyone out there regardless of regional pest, thanks for reading, and enjoy your summer.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Well, I happened to be up in New Hampshire helping a buddy open his lake cabin. The flies ate me alive. Those burning itches and gigantic welts took probably a week or two before they were gone. In Southern CT where I live, there are far less of these flies. We just get a higher concentration of mosquitoes spawning in the salt marches.

    Jeff wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • What about eating Garlic….? It has always worked for me….no one ever tells me I smell and believe me my friends would tell me…REPEATEDLY!!!

      ***Be careful using essential oils around young children and infants…some can actual cause respiratory distress or worse….As always do your OWN research [its better to lead alone than to follow a pack of fools]*** not calling anyone on here a fool its just a quote from something I wrote a long time a go….

      cat wrote on June 18th, 2011
  2. Mosquitoes love West Michigan. In the spring and summer they are abundant! At least in our backyard…

    Thankfully I found a special Bug block that worked like a charm the other night. I’ve only tried it once but oh how awesome it is!!! I smeared it on and watched mosquitoes literally fly near my arms only to land on my MAC. They would fly by my face as well. They would occasionally land on my arm and a little movement caused them to move right away and never come back.

    It was amusing and an incredible discovery. I’ve only used this one time but the experience I had with it was incredible. I got one teeny tiny bite… guess where? My left calf… I DIDN’T PUT ANY ON MY LEGS!!

    So, what is this amazing bug block?

    The “brand” is Made On. This lady also sells an amazing lip balm that works wonders for me. The ingredients in the bug block are…

    beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, essential oils of citronella, cedarwood & lavendar….

    Go to Hardlotion.com to check it out!!

    Primal Toad wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Thanks for the link. Their products look wonderful.

      Nancy wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • That looks great! I make a similar one with essential oils, but use Witch hazel and essential oils instead. I actually just posted the recipe last week! I like the idea of using the beeswax though, as this would provide a type of physical barrier also and be good for the skin.

      Katie @ Wellness Mama wrote on June 16th, 2011
    • The best all natural bug spray out there by far is made by a company called Mission Essentials (www.mission-essentials.com) – it’s called Fight Back 2…it smells great, works fabulous and has no alcohol so it feels good.

      Steve wrote on May 26th, 2014
  3. My mom used to always tell me to leave the toilet cover down and close the bathroom door to avoid mosquitoes. I think they lay their eggs in water? She also used to tell me to put some vaselin on my exposed skin before I sleep.

    That got greasy after a while.

    WD wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • LOL your mom was pulling your leg, on both counts!

      mikehell wrote on June 21st, 2011
  4. I live in one of the buggiest places in the country (central NC) and fight with insects constantly. I actually found a plant at the farmers market in town that they just called a “mosquito plant” that I keep out on the porch and haven’t had a problem getting bit much at all. I couldn’t get any more information out of the guy at the stand but if you rub the leaves between your fingers it smells just like a citronella candle. It could just be a citronella plant but either way, it works. I’m all for using plants and natural stuff to keep away those biting bastards!

    Nutritionator wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • I used to have a big one, they are Citronella plants, the official name is Citrosa Geranium. They work well against all sorts of bugs and flies.

      Mary wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Sounds like the citronella plant to me… Does it look like either of these? http://gardeningdreaminspire.blogspot.com/2008/11/citronella-plants-for-repelling.html

      Robin wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • Yup, you two are spot on, I figured they were and the dude didn’t know what he was talking about haha. Works like a charm and completely natural. Thanks for the clarification!

        Nutritionator wrote on June 15th, 2011
  5. I noticed that when I started eating Paleo, I was much less likely to get bitten than the people around me. I always attributed it to having a lower respiratory quotient (RQ) and therefore producing less CO2 than people on high carb diets.

    RQ is a measure of the amount of CO2 produced by the body per unit of oxygen consumed (ie. RQ = CO2 eliminated / O2 consumed). The higher your RQ, the more CO2 you produce for any given activity.

    Growing-up, I always heard of this folklore about people getting bitten more when they ate sweet foods because “they have sweeter blood”. I’m of the opinion that this must be related to the higher RQ of carbohydrates (1.0) compared to proteins (0.8) and fats (0.7), and therefore higher CO2 production after eating sweet foods.

    If this theory holds true, intermittent fasting during the period where one is exposed to bugs may be even more effective than a low carb diet, as one’s RQ and therefore CO2 production may be even lower during fasts than on a low-carb, high fat diet (0.66).

    MR wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • The amount of CO2 you produce for a given activity will vary with how efficiently the food is burned. Only aerobic metabolism produces CO2.

      Sugars will give you energy via both glycolysis (anaerobic) and oxidative phosphorylation (aerobic). In contrast, fats are only metabolised aerobically.

      Therefore I think I’d predict that the effect (if any) would be the opposite of the one you’re thinking of.

      Tim wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Looking at the meaning of RQ, I think this only measures how much oxygen is in a fuel. For the same amount of s sugar and a fat, the fat will yield much more energy (since it has less oxygen and therefore has more reducing energy).

      Therefore despite generating more CO2 per unit, the fat will yield more energy – balancing out the effect.

      Tim wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • Without meaning to offend you, it seems pretty obvious that you don’t really know what you are talking about.

        The idea that macronutrient composition changes one’s RQ and therefore their CO2 production is not new, and is a well established concept that has been studied extensively in COPD patients that have trouble with CO2 elimination.

        The only thing that is new and uncertain about what I was talking about is whether the potentially lower CO2 production would lead to less black fly/mosquito attraction if, as Mark stated, “mosquitos target their blood donors…by their CO2 output”.

        MR wrote on June 15th, 2011
        • That’s cool, but could you refer me to a good review on that COPD research? (just post the citation, since links can be tricky here)

          I had a look in this review, but it didn’t mention what you were talking about.

          Aniwidyaningsih W et. al. “Impact of nutritional status on body functioning in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and how to intervene.” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Jul;11(4):435-42.

          This talked about an increased basal metabolic rate in COPD patients, but said this was due to their difficulty in breathing, not their diet.

          Tim wrote on June 16th, 2011
        • Never mind, I found this article about indirect calorimetry that explains the issues nicely. Seems like you do have to correct the RQ for the energy content of macronutrients, but that a small difference remains (Table I).

          Brandi et. al. Nutrition. 1997 Apr;13(4):349-58.

          This doesn’t seem like it would be significant, compared to varying levels of physical activity.

          Tim wrote on June 16th, 2011
    • In my teens and twenties I never got bit by any bugs. I’d go to the mountains, rivers, waterfalls, anywhere and not get bitten. Back then I was vegetarian, ate a high carb diet, ate gluten and had celiac. I was not healthy at all. It seemed the bugs could smell me from a distance and knew I wouldn’t taste good. My friends would walk away scratching from head to toe and there was me with not so much as a a single itch. I’ve eaten paleo for years now and now seem to get bit by bugs just like everyone else. Don’t know that this refutes your theory but maybe there’s a little more to it anyway.

      Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • Your hormones have changed the way you break down proteins. It’s the same reason people get allergies later in life.

        Jack Madison wrote on June 10th, 2014
  6. I was already sold to ClimbOn! products for their skin care (kind of essential when you rock climb) but I tested their bug repellant (https://climbonp.accountsupport.com/cgi-bin/cart/agora.cgi?p_id=43) on a weekend in the mountains in Colorado – Seemed to work decently for both humans and the dogs.

    Mike wrote on June 15th, 2011
  7. Surprised no one mentioned pyrethrin. Look it up on Wikipedia. It’s a completely natural, organic repellent and works great. Of course, I’ve used it as a timed indoor spray. I don’t think there’s any kind of application you can put on your skin.

    CaptSaltyJack wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • While pyrethrin is naturally derived and probably safer than most instecticides, it is still a nerve toxin and any commercial product will expose you to a much higher concentration than you would encounter naturally. I would definitely avoid it. My mother has had a very bad reaction in the past.

      DenverD wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • I believe Pyrethrin can cause seizures in pets. Google “Hartz victims” to see videos that owners have taken of their pets having seizures after applying Hartz Flea and Tick which contains Pyrethrin. I discovered this only after applying some to my Chihuahua and then saw a video on Facebook about the problem. My pup was fine but I was amazed to see how many pets did not fare well with it. I imagine it can’t be all that safe for humans either.

        Kellie wrote on June 16th, 2011
    • My Mum swears by the daisy (Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium or Chrysanthemum coccineum) as a bug repelant, and I believe it is pyrethrum which is the active substance. She always planted them around the back door to keep the flies out of the house. Lots of flies in Australia.

      Forrac wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Arsenic is natural too… Gotta watch out for things like that.
      I am working on a blend with essential oils for my horse. I’m tired of using chemicals. Gotta tweak it though, pesky flies are still bothering him!

      Ginny wrote on June 18th, 2011
  8. As a veteran of New England summer camps, I learned through experience that dark green and brown colored clothing does not attract mosquitos nearly as much as yellow, orange, and red. We hung rainwear out to dry in the woods and the number of mosquitos lounging on the Y, O, and R rainsuits far outnumbered those on the green and brown!

    Black flies like the eyes and hairline especially. Use a bandana worn around the neck and a cloth hat with brim – douse your bandana and hat brim with the toxic bug repellant, not your skin. For truly effective bug protection around the face, use a dorky-looking mosquito net hat. Wear tightly woven but loose fitting long sleeve shirt and long pants. Then you can minimize bug repellant use on the skin to just the hands/wrist area.

    Barb wrote on June 15th, 2011
  9. I would light my skin on fire if I thought it would kill the damn things.

    Mark wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • You’re not alone. I’ve often daydreamed about possessing Jedi capabilities and vaporizing all the bugs in my immediate vicinity with Force lightning.

      Steven wrote on June 15th, 2011
  10. It wasn’t as bad as year’s past but still a pain! Have dealt with the Lyme disease as well. I would be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on how to repel these annoying insects besides simply covering up.

    Mainer wrote on June 15th, 2011
  11. Aloe vera always does the trick for me. Applied either as a cream or gel (intended use for people with irritated skin) or in a bath soap.

    Alistair wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Aloe vera repels mosquitoes for you? Mosquitoes used to leave me alone for the most part, until I started using aloe to help control my eczema. After that, they loved me. My husband and I joked that I was marinating myself for them. Once, after I’d put some aloe on my daughter to help with a skin rash, the mosquitoes loved her too. The reason aloe repels mosquitos for you and attracts them for me could be a difference in the brands. I use Fruit of the Earth brand because it’s clear (no dyes) and does not contain alcohol. Many of the brands that are green in color contain alcohol and other chemicals, some of which aggrivate my eczema. Mosquitoes haven’t bothered me much the last few years, but based on comments below, it may be because I’m taking Vitamin B6 and eat more garlic.

      b2curious wrote on August 6th, 2012
    • Thank You, thank you, a thousand times, thank you. Mosquitos have been so bad this summer that I have cabin fever from staying inside. Any time I go out, I’ve had to use something with deet. I had some aloe vera (Fruit of the Earth 100% Gel) and thought I would give it a try. Not really expecting much, I sat there drinking a cut of coffee, and was not bothered at all. I just sat there and could hardly beleive it. I’m going to facebook this to all my friends

      Brenda wrote on August 26th, 2012
  12. Hmmm, so that military grade 95% DEET repellant I was using in the northern Canadian bush (also good to light fires and remove paint) may not have been totally healthy? Who knew.

    John wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Yeah, I used to use that stuff too. Melted a couple of plastic tablecloths when camping. I was a teenager so I just thought that made it “extra awesome”.

      Shaun Somers wrote on June 15th, 2011
  13. Skin So Soft may not pass “clinical” trials, but my wife and I have used it for years with total protection. If we don’t use it, my wife gets eaten alive by mosquitoes, me not as much. But with the Skin So Soft, nary a nibble. So much for the “experts” and their “clinical” trials.

    Bull wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • do you simply smear it, full strength, on the skin? i seem to remember hearing about the trials years ago, and noting they were not doing that, but using it as the label directs….

      tess wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • We use the spray. Spray on bedding, clothing and skin. It has always worked for us, even when the “Off” failed. And, the smell is not so offensive.

        Bull wrote on June 15th, 2011
        • I use the spray too, and it’s always worked really well for me. I’ve used a lot of different forms of DEET and a lot of “natural alternatives” but nothing has ever worked as well for me as SSO.

          I was not aware of picaridin, I think I’ll have to compare it to SSO the next time I’m out in nature where I need the protection.

          Zach wrote on June 16th, 2011
  14. I’ve heard that taking Vit B1 will help with mosquitos.

    Laura wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • I think taking vitamin B1 will help everything!

      nikkicheck wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Have been doing the B1 things (100 mg 3*day) since my days in South America (1954-1972) and it works like a charm. If you sweat like a pig (like myself) or just glow (like my wife) a slight odor is noticeable due to the vitamin. It is not unpleasant.

      T J Huber wrote on June 16th, 2011
  15. Mosquitoes eat my wife and daughter alive. For some reason they hardly touch me, and I don’t use any repellant. Don’t know why that is…
    I have heard that B1 can act as an effective repellant taken internally. I know my B vitain intake is much higher than theirs, so maybe that’s why I dont’ get bitten (thanks liver!).
    Off the subject, while googling B1, I ran in to this: http://www.arthritistrust.org/research/DaleHumpreys/MultipleSclerosis.pdf

    Dave, RN wrote on June 15th, 2011
  16. I can’t stand the smell and feeling of bug repellant on my skin. But I have had great results using Burt’s Bees natural bug repellent. No harsh chemicals, smells pleasant, and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve just gone through a chem-bath. It is a little bit oily, though.

    Christopher wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • I also use Burts Bees! it is oily and strong…but I feel so much better putting that on my kids. I have put it in a spray bottle and cut it with some witch hazel too to spray on clothes and hair. Still smells strong, and still works great! Michigan mosquitos are BRUTAL this year! we got tons of rain this spring.

      Julie wrote on June 20th, 2011
  17. They say taking B complex vitamins makes your blood “unpalatable” to them.

    Teresa wrote on June 15th, 2011
  18. Black flies sucked this year. Literally.

    Mosquitoes and the like have always been attracted to me, especially when I was pregnant I would get bit by EVERYTHING. Super annoying. This year I upped my garlic intake and take a B-Complex vitamin religiously and have thus far seen a massive improvement. Now my poor son gets hit the hardest, he definitely inherited my knack for attracting those suckers.

    Ashley North wrote on June 15th, 2011
  19. My big fear is ticks. :P

    I have a dedicated set of old clothes for yardwork…jeans, long socks to pull up OVER the bottom of the jeans, fishing hat, long sleeved shirt, gloves, and bandana. I use DEET sometimes, but only as an overspray for the clothing. (Ever read the directions? It’s OK to apply to your skin, but you’re not supposed to get it on fabric. What the…???) Any remaining exposed skin gets a natural repellant.

    The color of clothing does matter, too. I have yellow biking shirts I bought because I wanted to be highly visible. Turns out I was also highly attractive to anything flying by.

    And we had blackflies one year that were so bad I really did make a netting for my hat. Use a dark color if you do…I used white and it was hard to see what I was doing.

    Nannsi wrote on June 15th, 2011
  20. All things considered, I’ll stick with my Deet. The occasional use is not anything I’m worried about.

    Angie wrote on June 15th, 2011
  21. Ooh ooh! I blogged about this after I went camping and noticed I was the only one not getting bitten. I was also the only one not using a spray repellent, and I was *also* the only one in ketosis. Unfortunately I misspelled “repellent” on the original post, so the url is a mess:

    http://www.lowcarbforhealth.com/2010/07/mosquito-repellant.html

    Rocco Stanzione wrote on June 15th, 2011
  22. yep, clothing is my choice. with a .45 cal back -up.

    Dasbutch wrote on June 15th, 2011
  23. Mark,
    Well come on back east !! :) NH/ME seacoast has been alright for the midgies this year. My mom swears by brown soap and calamine lotion if the little buggers do get to you…

    Lisa wrote on June 15th, 2011
  24. Anyone ever use the propane fueled repellers?

    Mark wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • I use a thermocell while hunting in SC in August, which is a propane fueled repeller. It is so hot and humid that you would sweat off anything applied to your skin. The thermocell works perfectly once you get it going.

      Steve wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • My parents have a propane fueled repell that works well. Don’t know the model, though.

      DenverD wrote on June 15th, 2011
  25. My wife and I both use vitamin B supplements before going anywhere with a lot of mosquitoes. We certainly get fewer bites, although that could also be a result of eating more primal.

    Adrian Betts wrote on June 15th, 2011
  26. The note about permethrin being approved for clothing use only isn’t entirely true. It is a medical treatment for scabies, head lice and other parasitic infestations in humans. It has quite low mammalian toxicity in general, with the exception of cats, and absorbs poorly through the skin. It is a synthetic variant of a natural insecticide/repellent that is derived from Crysanthemums, known as pyrethrins.

    Ian Wendt wrote on June 15th, 2011
  27. I used to get bitten all the time. I started taking a garlic supplement/eating lots of garlic when I was travelling somewhere that had a lot of mosquitoes and they don’t bother me now.

    Also, my grandparents gave their dog a garlic pill every day and it never got fleas or ticks with no other flea collar/repellent.

    Patience wrote on June 15th, 2011
  28. Thanks Mark, it’s nice to see that there’s research backing those other products! I’ve long believed DEET can’t be good for you, but when you find something that works you tend to stick with it.

    I’ll definitely be trying some of the natural oil products out there. When you have to swipe off sheets (literally, that many) gnats covering your arms and no one else around is getting touched, you know you’re one of the tasty ones to bugs!

    Matt C. wrote on June 15th, 2011
  29. Coming from South Carolina, where the mosquito is the state bird, I have found 2 ways to fight them that I have not seem mentioned. The first is the thermocell, which simply heats a pad embedded with a mosquito repellant. This great for hiding human scent while hunting. I also have found that the lowly chinaberry tree repels mosquitos. You can also rub the crushed leaves on your skin for total protection.

    Steve wrote on June 15th, 2011
  30. When we go in forest, deep Canadian forest, a good choice is beer, not to much 1 to 2. My father in law use this technic all the time. Anyway, if we find the active ingredient that repel bugs, we could take it without alcohol. Maybe that’s the B vitamine that do it, I don’t know.

    dave wrote on June 15th, 2011
  31. Yup, my family is from Maine. It always seems the worst from June 1st – July 1st. I now live in VA and never visit ME during black fly season. :)

    Susan wrote on June 15th, 2011
  32. From my own experience, coconut oil works wonders. I was in Costa Rica a few months ago and tested out the idea of the oil being a repellant because I came up on that info somewhere. Hands down the best thing ever for bug bites. Both my boyfriend and I were bite-free for the week we were in the jungle.

    We had the same reaction as Toad did with his repellant. They would land and then fly off.

    Imrotu wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Did you use the coconut oil exxternally or just ate the coconut oil?

      Jane Horning wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • We used it externally head to toe like body lotion. It’s expensive to do that repeatedly, but I’m guessing putting it on only exposed skin would work, too.

        Imrotu wrote on June 15th, 2011
  33. When my family moved from Ireland to Australia, we were eaten alive by mosquitoes (‘mozzies’ in Aussie) lingo, and we also reacted really badly to the bites. We figured it was because we had ‘exotic’ Irish blood (that’s the first time ‘exotic’ and ‘Irish’ have been used in the same sentence!) My youngest brother managed to get bitten on the ear and ended up looking like Big Ears from ‘Noddy’… I have heard that Australian Aboriginals traditionally used Eucalyptus oil to repel mozzies. They probably had a high fat/low carb diet in the past too. I haven’t tried eucalyptus oil myself, and my mother instilled in me a healthy fear of chemical repellents, but I did notice that the mozzie bites weren’t so bad as I got older. I wonder if you can become acclimatised to them in some way?

    kerrybonnie wrote on June 15th, 2011
  34. I grew up in Louisiana. At times when I cooked a lot (I use a TON of garlic and onion, and a lot of capsaicin, too, I didn’t really get eaten. When I stopped consuming high levels of garlic and onion I started getting bit by mosquitos. Just my experience, but my ex wife picked up on it and told my kid the same thing. YMMV but it works for us.

    Joseph wrote on June 15th, 2011
  35. I saw on a show once about the broadleaf plantain.

    Broadleaf Plantain
    Plantago major

    Photo by Dr. John Meade, weed scientist emeritus
    Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension

    Broadleaf plantain, normally a perennial, sometimes behaves as an annual. It is a problem in lawns and sometimes in thin alfalfa and pastures as well as christmas trees. It is a low growing plant with large leaves. The leaves are purported to relieve the pain of insect stings if crushed and rubbed on the affected area. In the past the indians called it “White mans’ foot” because it was not native to the USA and since it has a sticky seed it was carried by the early settlers on their shoes.

    Pam wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • I taught my kids to use these for bug bites. They really do work. Pick ‘em, then roll and crush them over the bite until they fall apart and the area is green. Repeat as necessary.

      Nannsi wrote on June 15th, 2011
  36. When we first got our cabin in the wilds of Quebec, we gassed ourselves out with bug-dope. Then one weekend I ate a whole lot of pickled ginger and no bites! Pennyroyal (a mint), the essential oil diluted in water and sprayed on works great too.

    christine wrote on June 15th, 2011
  37. What about the iPhone app Repellent? It’s supposed to emit a sound that repels pests? I’ve gone hiking with it before and it seemed to work pretty well. But, could have just been a coincidence…anyone else tried it?

    Katie Stephens wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Interesting. I would worry about it draining battery life, myself

      cTo wrote on June 15th, 2011
  38. I live in California, so it’s not exactly the buggiest place on Earth (although I did study abroad in tropical Australia and man, some rainforest skeeters are like as big as your thumbnail). I have noticed, although never tested, that when I wear sunscreen, I get bitten far less often, if at all. ‘Course there certainly a lot of negative things to say about sunscreen too, but there you go.

    cTo wrote on June 15th, 2011
  39. Here in western NY the number of mosquitos varies with the amount of rain. I hate wearing repellants so usually just stay indoors at dawn and dusk when they are most active.

    We also have black flies but not as bad as Vermont or NH. For some reason, even if I get bit, the bite is no big deal contrary to the first year I was exposed to them when large, hard, itchy welts would appear. Why this change, I do not know.

    Lots of good suggestions here. Think I will plant an American beautyberry. Do you think it will also repel groundhogs?

    Sharon wrote on June 15th, 2011

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