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Do organic bug repellants really work?

July 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The summer months mean lots of outdoor fun, but that also means bugs. There are some new choices when it comes to repellents, including organic options that are flying off shelves. But how effective are they?Wendi Neulight is the proud mom of little Addison, and a bit protective, too. Especially when it comes to annoying outdoor pests.

"I'm concerned about bug bites. I hate getting bug bites myself," said Neulight.

And even though her pediatrician gave her the all clear for insect repellent use now that Addison is a year old, Wendi still wants to make sure she uses the right stuff.

"I don't want her to have any adverse reactions," said Neulight.

Rosemarie Kelly is an entomologist. She says the best protection is something with deet, which is proven effective and safe, as long as you follow the instructions on the label.

"The problems come in with people using it off label, over-using it, spraying children without regards to the fact that kids put their hands in their mouths, or getting it in their eyes," said Kelly.

That's why organic options are appealing to some. The assumption is they're safer, but that's not always the case, according to Kelly. She recommends only picking natural options approved by the EPA. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is one.

"You can't run out to your natural food store and buy oil of lemon eucalyptus. That's not the product that works and you're asking for skin irritation. It's actually a chemical that is derived from oil of lemon eucalyptus called PMD that can be used," said Kelly.

So keep an eye out for PMD on the label, or IR3535, another natural repellent on the EPA's list. The newest product on the market is not plant-based.

"Picaridin, also very effective, is labeled for use in children 3 years and older," said Kelly.

Kelly prefers families skip combination sunscreen/repellant products because the two should be applied at different rates. And always talk to your doctor first when it comes to newborns and toddlers. Another option is to buy bug repellent clothing like Insect Shield. Manufacturers say the chemicals last through 70 washes and it's one way you won't have to put repellents on very young skin.

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