Buzzzzzzzz: Deet-uring Mosquito Bites Naturally
I am often astonished when I observe people who give no thought to applying synthetic mosquito repellant on their bodies. DEET, or N, N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, is probably the most common (and effectively marketed) insect repellant on the planet. It has been shown to repel mosquitoes for over three hours and has been sold on the premise that the use of DEET far out-weighs the debacle of living with a transmittable disease such as malaria or some other wretched third world vector borne condition. While I am a strong advocate for preventing such diseases, I also believe that applying such synthetic chemicals to the skin is imprudent. A study conducted in the late 1980s on Everglades National Park employees found that a full one-quarter of the subjects who used DEET experienced negative health effects that they blamed on exposure to the chemical. Effects included rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. In another study, Duke University pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Doni found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure (to rats) led to diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes, and concluded that humans should stay away from products containing it. Such studies suggest to me that the manufacturers of DEET have deliberately obfuscated the possibility that their product may in fact be quite dangerous, even when used in small quantities for a brief time.
We should also remember that many topical synthetic chemicals create free radical species. The sun will bake these chemicals, turning them into byproducts not listed on the label that are even more toxic than the parent compound. And of course, the skin, being the largest organ on the body, absorbs this soup and transfers everything into the bloodstream. It is well established that DEET is able to cross the placenta. The question is: if a pregnant woman refrains from using DEET out of fear of transferring byproducts to her developing child, why are people not more concerned about applying it to their own skin?
There are many natural repellant sprays on the market that contain less harmful ingredients, including citronella, cedar oil, geranium oil, essential oils, and lemon eucalyptus. But are they effective? One must consider that when an agent such as DEET is rated as being “effective” one of the variables used is the amount of time during which a single application efficiently wards off mosquitoes. If DEET is effective for say 200 minutes and Germanium Oil is only effective for 100 minutes, it can be stated that DEET is twice as effective as Geranium Oil. Given the synthetic nature of DEET, I am an advocate for applying a natural agent four times rather than a toxic agent twice. Further, be cautious of agents that claim to be “natural”. Picaridin, for example, is often framed as being natural because it resembles the compound piperine, an essential oil in black pepper. However, picaridin is not a natural compound; it’s produced synthetically in the lab. Is picaridin safe to use? It is impossible to say as very few robust studies have been performed on the short and long term safety of DEET and other synthetic agents. Manufacturers’ claims that these products are “safe” harkens back to the 1940s through 1990s when cigarette manufacturers made identical specious claims. Until irrefutable evidence is provided to the contrary, my position will remain to avoid application of synthetic compound such as DEET.
What if you’ve already been bitten and itchy? There are many anti-itching remedies, toxic and nontoxic. You can also find some things in the kitchen to help. A friend of mine urged me to try her solution and I’ve found that it works. After being bitten by a mosquito, scrub the spot with soap and a nail brush, hard. Dry off the site and go on with your evening. If the site itches again, scrub with soap again – but harder this time. I’ve found that the bite never itches again. You can also apply a saturated compress to the bite with several kitchen ingredients including vinegar, baking soda, and Epsom salts. And certainly, there are many natural anti-itch remedies on the market.
Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at firstname.lastname@example.org If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.