No repellent is 100 percent effective and some can be harmful to small children and pets. The good news is that one has choices. Products containing DEET – diethyltoluamide — have always been the go-to, but we are now learning that DEET can build up and cause toxic health levels in small children. To avoid this, always wash repellent off every day and before reapplying. There are lots of other repellent options one can to go, both at home and on the shelf.
Products containing picaridin: Picaridin repels insects, ticks, and chiggers. It is a synthetic compound first made in the 1980s. It was made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. Studies have shown that picaridin is effective and safe, and has fewer unpleasant qualities than DEET. Picaridin is odorless and does not melt plastics or feel oily on skin; it is just as effective as DEET when used at the same strength.
Lemongrass-eucalyptus essential oils: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the use of products containing lemongrass and eucalyptus essential oils are just as effective as DEET. One can buy products that contain these oils or buy the oils and mix it up oneself with a carrier oil such jojoba or coconut oil.
Vinegar: Of course, we can always use things that we have around our house. We could mix up some water and vinegar because the smell of vinegar absolutely repels ticks.
We are beginning to see more and more companies producing safer, more natural, and better-smelling products that are family-friendly and effective in the form of sprays, lotions, balms, and herbal salves. The bottom line is that one has options. But please read the precautionary statements on the back of every product purchased and use as directed.
Note: Last week, I wrote about permethrin and I want to reiterate that permethrin is only to be used on clothing and outerwear/outergear. Apply it in a safe area away from pets and children and allow to fully dry before handling. There are more than 1,400 U.S.-registered FDA-approved products that contain permethrin in various forms and every product containing permethrin has a precautionary statement about the hazards to humans and animals. Please use as directed.
Next week, I will talk about tick checks and habits to form during tick season. Be sure to check back each week as I cover topics on children, pets, and yards, and how to have a tick-free summer!
(Paula Jackson Jones is the president and co-founder of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education, the Maine partner of the national Lyme Disease Association and member of Maine CDC’s Vector-borne Disease Workgroup. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to mldse.org for more information.)