It’s bug bites season. And that means that I can sit at a table full of people and be the only one walking away with bug bites. According to the Smithsonian, it might have something to do with my blood type, which—for the record—is O.
Regardless, I’m not taking chances with bug bites this summer. Because of my work with the Environmental Working Group, I was lucky enough to read early versions of their brand new Bug Repellent Report, which represents 18 months of research.
Citronella has become my summer night perfume. But to my surprise, the chemical repellent DEET may actually be the safest choice for me and my family.
That’s because there are truly scary things borne by bug bites in this day and age: The incidence of tick-transmitted Lyme disease has more than doubled in the last 15 years, and mosquito-borne West Nile Virus infected 5,000 people last year—it can be life-threatening for kids.
Traditionally, I’ve stayed away from DEET and depended on botanical repellents like citronella—I actually like the way they smell. But according to EWG, many can cause allergies. Plus, they only work for a short time, if at all.
“Botanicals are worth trying in some situations when you’re not concerned about bug borne diseases,” said Renee Sharp, Director of Research for EWG. So, since I’m not allergic, in the back yard I might still stick with repeated sprays of citronella from something like California Baby Bug Repellant Spray—it’s become my summer night perfume.
But for travel to places where Lyme disease and West Nile Virus is prevalent, I’ll stock up on DEET. According to Dave Andrews, EWG’s Senior Scientist, the key is repeated uses of a product that contains a low percentage of the active ingredient. “The percentage doesn’t affect the efficacy, but it does affect how long the product lasts,” he said. “Generally, you’re better off with a lower percentage: No higher than 30% and lower for children, to be on the safe side.”
Disclaimer: I’m honored to be consulting for the Environmental Working Group, the non-profit that has inspired so much of my work with Mommy Greenest. But I would have written about the Bug Report even if I wasn’t working with them!