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Wanted: Natural insect repellent that works

I’ve got mosquitoes on my mind—and proof of their peskiness on my legs, arms, neck, head, hands and feet. And I live in Colorado, where, unless you’re paddling the Poudre River or backpacking the north end of Rocky Mountain National Park, mosquitoes rarely register on your radar. But Summer 2011 on the Front Range has gifted us that perpetual buzz(kill)ing din and need for screen porches I thought I’d escaped when I moved from Minnesota, the mosquito capitol of the U.S.

Oh, and did I mention these winged varmints love me? I liken myself to Pig-Pen of Peanuts lore: While most people could trudge through a cattail-clogged swamp or read a book under a deciduous tree at dusk and not be bitten, if I come within a furlong of a single mosquito, he’ll find me, sink tooth and leave me with yet another unsightly welt.    

This unfortunate reality has put me back on the market for bug spray, something else I’d all but kissed goodbye years ago. But by this juncture, I’ve learned way too much about the hazardous chemical cocktails that pose as personal care and first aid products to feel really awesome about dousing myself in Off! I’d hypothesize that conventional insect repellent, given that it disintegrates fishing line and can choke you out of a campsite, isn’t so great for human health or the planet.

I know there are natural options out there, such as citronella and eucalyptus oil, and Natrapel makes DEET-free products. But I have to admit, I haven’t had much success warding of mosquitoes with any of the natural repellents I’ve tried this summer. Camping just outside of Yellowstone (where you expect biting bugs) last month, my friends and I experimented with a few different natural repellents we’d pooled together from various gear bags and truck beds. We sprayed ourselves up and down, but as the mosquitoes kept biting (and not just me this time!), one by one, we all fell to the DEET. It worked wonders.

A little amateur sleuthing into DEET’s safety record reveals that there have been very, very few reported adverse health issues stemming from DEET. And experts seem to say that it’s the most effective repellent you can buy—and well worth using in the wake of West Nile threats.

I don’t know … I’m just not convinced this stuff is safe. It’s undeniably an environmental enemy, so that doesn’t make me feel good either. But what are my options? I’d love some help here! Have you had success with any natural repellents? Only those who get more than one mosquito bite per year need reply.



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