Ever wonder which is the best insect repellent? Natural vs. DEET insect repellent? Whether you can use repellent on babies? In late June we held a Q&A forum on Healthy Summer Skincare on our Facebook page. Fans of our page asked these and other great questions about insect repellent.
Their questions were answered by Bruce Shennum, vice president, Quantum, Inc., makers of our Buzz Away natural bug repellent. Bruce has been in the natural health industry for 25 years and is published widely in both Canada and the US. There was so much good information generated through this exchange we felt it might be helpful to share it. This is essentially a transcript of the insect repellent portion of the forum.
Q. [Debbie B.] I like the the bug spray but I see it may need to be applied every hour depending on the region and body chemistry. Is this dependant on how humid the region is and that you would perspire?
A. [Bruce Schennum] In clinical studies, Buzz Away is effective for 2 hours. However, if it is hot and humid, perspiration can limit the efficacy and maximum repellency can be attained by applying every hour.
Q. [Kristina Z.] Why is Buzz Away better than other bug repellents?! (Now you can brag about your product!)
A. [Bruce Schennum] Buzz Away is certainly safer to use on infants than DEET is. However, it's made from essential plant oils and alcohol, so if an infant gets it on his or her hands and rubs his eyes, it may sting. We recommend Buzz Away for ages two and up -- I'd say that it's up to the parent's discretion for one year olds, and I wouldn't use it on infants less than one year old.
Q. [Kathy W.] I have a question relating to using sunscreen along with insect repellent. I've heard that one or the other isn't as effective if combined. Is there any truth to this?
A. [Bruce Schennum] DEET-based repellents are absorbed into the bloodstream more readily when used in combination with sunscreen. That's why you've heard that it's not always good to combine the two. In fact, the research on how DEET-based repellents and sunscreens can be a toxic combination was done in Canada, at the U. of Calgary.
By the way, I looked up my reference, and the research was done at the University of Manitoba. A study from Canada's University of Manitoba warns against using DEET based mosquito repellents with sunblock. The study, by professor of pharmacy Xiaochen Gu, found that when a 2.5-per-cent solution of insect-repelling DEET... was mixed with oxybenzone, a very common sun-blocking ingredient, the amount of DEET absorbed into the skin went from 9.6 per cent to 30.2 per cent.
Q. [Penni B.] Bruce, Does that mean that there is no problem with combining Buzz Away with sunscreen as there is no DEET?
A. [Bruce Schennum] As far as we know there is no problem combining Buzz Away with sunblock.
Q. [Karen R.] How does buzz work?
A. [Bruce Schennum] Nobody knows for certain. Botanists suggest that the essential plant oils may have developed characteristics that repel insects in order to protect the plants from bugs that feed on them.
Q. [Kelly MF.] Is Buzz Away safe for all skin types? My son has allergic reactions a lot to this kind of stuff. I am nervous to use anything on him.
A. [Bruce Schennum] People can be allergic to anything -- even substances that are normally safe and natural. I would recommend doing a small "patch test" if your son is allergic.
Q. [Vic M.] Are Mosquitos evolving to become immune to repellant? This soccer season has been fraught with rain and followed by mass swarms of the bugs . I saw all the players getting doused with OFF, yet they all came home covered in bites!
A. [Bruce Schennum] Mosquitoes in laboratories can become resistant to DEET. The study, conducted at Rothamsted Research in Great Britain, bred strains of mosquitoes which DEET, the top-selling insect repellent world wide, did not repel.
By selective breeding, James Logan and colleagues at Rothamsted Research in the UK, created mosquitoes in which half of the females do not respond to DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) -- a powerful insect repellent. This rapidly evolved insensitivity may be due to a single dominant gene -- one that confers resistance even if the trait is inherited from only one parent.
The researchers have not identified the gene that is responsible for DEET resistance. They did, however, find a type of odour-sensing cell that responds to DEET in most mosquitoes but is less sensitive to the repellent in the resistant ones. Their findings are reported today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Q. [Lee-Ann PC.] At what age can you start using repellant on children and should I be concerned if my daughter (older) has some on and goes near her brothers (7 months)?
Q. [Dawn-Marie D.] I had the same thoughts in regards to my toddler...
A. [Bruce Schennum] Buzz Away is safe for children two and older. DEET is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. In the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged the use of DEET in children under 6, until they changed their recommendation due to the West Nile Virus scare. Obviously, the risks must be weighed against the benefits. However, Buzz Away is as effective as low-DEET formulas, and much safer.
Q. [Pamela R.] Why should I avoid Deet? Is OFF insect repellent okay for adults to use?
A. [Bruce Schennum] DEET-based insect repellents may be toxic to humans and other mammals, according to a study published in last August's issue of BMC Biology, a peer-reviewed journal (Corbel et al. (2009). "Evidence for inhibition of cholinesterases in insect and mammalian nervous systems by the insect repellent deet"
Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia has spent 30 years researching the effects of pesticides. He has found that prolonged exposure to DEET can impair functioning in parts of the brain. "Damage to these areas could result in problems with muscle coordination, muscle weakness, walking or even memory and cognition."
Abou-Donia says rats given even small doses of DEET for 60 days had a harder time accomplishing even the easiest tasks. Abou-Donia says short-term exposure to DEET does not appear to be harmful, but warns against using any product with more than a 30 percent concentration. Use as little of the product as you can, and don't use a product containing DEET if you're taking any medication. "We found that the combined exposure to DEET and other chemicals is more dangerous than just DEET alone."
On the other hand, millions of North Americans have used DEET for decades, and have suffered not observable side effects. If you use DEET, use common sense -- wash it off as soon as you go inside, for example.
Q. [Rhonda TP.] What is a good insect repellant for a two year old? Thank you!
A. [Bruce Schennum] Buzz Away works well, and is safe for two year olds. Be careful not to get it in his or her eyes, or it might sting.
Our thanks to Bruce for participating in this forum. Buzz Away natural insect repellent - in both a spray and easy-to-apply wipes - is available at online eco boutique Lavish & Lime. If you have any thoughts or ideas - even questions - regarding the Q&A above, please leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!