Insect Bite or Insect Repellent, which is better?

Insect Bite or Insect Repellent, which is better? | Mr Vitamins
Australia is a nation that offers year round outdoor activities.  With the great outdoors comes the risk of insect bites and their associated discomforts.  And yet there is no completely safe way to prevent insect bites. Although we don’t like to put insect repellents on our skin because of the chemicals they contain, they are an effective means to reduce the risk of mosquito and tick bites and therefore minimise the risk of the diseases they cause.  Some repellents are effective and relatively low in toxicity.

Dos and Dont's for avoiding Tick and Mosquito bites

When travelling or living in high risk areas for Lyme Disease and other vector diseases (Vector-borne diseases are infections transmitted by infected mosquitoes, ticks, triatomine bugs, sandflies, and blackflies) take into consideration measures of personal protection that are easy to apply:
  • Cover up by wearing light coloured full leg pants, socks, shoes and long sleeves. Tuck top inside pants and socks on outside of pants to create a barrier.
  • Wear a hat to protect your head and neck.
  • After being in tick areas, check clothes and skin for ticks.  Remember to check the scalp and consider that ticks like to climb up under your cloths and settle in warm areas such as armpits and groin. When ticks first attach they emit an anaesthetic so they can’t be felt. The area of attachment will eventually become irritated. Remove ticks safely as soon as possible.
  • Do not apply sunscreen and insect repellents at the same time.  Apply repellent 20 minutes after sunscreen application.
  • Avoid using repellents mixed with sunscreen.  Sunscreen usually needs to be reapplied more often than repellents increasing exposure to the chemicals in the repellent.
  • Choose insect repellents where the active ingredient has been evaluated to be the lowest effective concentration of effective chemicals to animals and humans.
  • Essential Oils can both protect and prevent insect bites. Like insect repellents it is important to know how long they are effective and whether they are photo sensitive.
  • If travelling in a malaria endemic area, use a commercial formulation where the active ingredient concentration is substantial enough to ensure protection for up to 4 hours.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net and wear protective clothing.
  • To avoid vectors (carriers of disease e.g. mosquitoes), limit the time you spend engaging in your main outdoor activity, particularly at dusk and dawn.
  • When applying insect repellent onto children, put it on your own hand first and then rub onto the child, avoiding their eyes and mouth and use sparingly around their ears.  Do not apply repellent to children’s hands as they sometimes put their hands in their mouths.
  • Choose products in pump, lotion or towel form.
  • Wash clothing and repellent coated skin when you or your children return from outdoor activity.
  • Avoid using bug repellents on children under 6 months.

Precautions around your home

  • Keep grass in your yard cut and trim shrubs and small trees around the house to minimise contact with ticks.
  • Discourage wildlife such as possums, wallabies, bandicoots and other small animals from around your house.
  • Remove any mosquito breeding grounds from your yard.
  • Check your pets for ticks.
  • Take care using candles as repellents as they can often trigger respiratory problems.

What other insect repellents are available?

  • DEET is an effective repellent for mosquitoes, ticks and other insects. See Health Recommendations for the use of DEET.
  • Permethrin (which is an insecticide) helps to repel ticks from boots and clothing for several days.  However, it is more toxic than skin-applied repellents and safe handling is necessary. Stronger concentrations than 30% provide no further benefits than those repellents with 20-30%.
  • Picaridan does not have the same neurotoxicity concerns of DEET but there has been no long term testing. It is a good alternative to DEET with many of the same advantages but without the same disadvantages.
  • IR3535(3--aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester) is similar to the amino acid beta-alanine.  The US EWG (Environmental Working Group), in evaluating the four best insect repellents says it’s ‘a good DEET alternative with many of the same advantages and fewer disadvantages’.

What natural repellents are available to avoid the use of toxic chemicals?

Aromatherapist Maria Mitchell has researched and provides excellent effective suggestions in the prevention and treatment of insect bites using Essential Oils. See her article Insect Bites? Essential Oils to the Rescue.

Naturopath Janne Ramsay

Janne Ramsay is a naturopath at Mr Vitamins. She is a confessed outdoors girl who spends many hours in the bush... Janne is available at the Mr Vitamins Clinic for private consultations.