To Scratch, or Not To Scratch? Four Ways to Pick The Latter

by albus du

The outdoors are a magnificent place, but something that can ruin them very quickly (or very slowly and painfully) is bugs. The mosquito which sucks the life force from you, leaves behind itchy lumps, and sometimes gets you nasty diseases like yellow fever, malaria, and zika, the tick, which in and of itself is not very harmful, but is essentially a coin flip deciding whether or not you get lyme disease, and various painful stinging insects which many people are allergic to. So, naturally, since we humans have had thousands of years of experience in the outdoors, we have come up with some ingenious ways to keep ourselves safe from our small and annoying not-so-friends. Four of which I will share today.

  1. DEET. DEET is a chemical that was developed by the US Army shortly after their first real experience with jungle warfare in WWII. It has since been commercialized and become the most popular active ingredient in insect repellent. It can be purchased in concentrations up to 99% DEET. Higher concentrations of deet have been correlated with longer lasting protection. DEET is not very toxic to people and animals and breaks down relatively easily, so it is not too bad for the environment (it’s ok to use a bit, but don’t pour the stuff into rivers).

  2. Permethrin. Permethrin is another chemical that people have developed to repel insects. While DEET basically blinds insects by obscuring their olfactory organs, Permethrin kills them when they land on treated clothing. Permethrin lasts for far longer than DEET and is not intended for use on the skin. In fact, it is highly toxic to humans and animals, so it is almost never sold in concentrations higher than a few percent, and it always should be used in moderation, for example, when you are canoeing in the Minnesota boundary waters, and there are ungodly amounts of mosquitos. That would be an appropriate time to treat your clothing and gear with permethrin.

  3. Citronella. If you are one of those types who wants a more natural option, try citronella oil. Citronella oil is an oil derived from the lemongrass family of plants and smells vaguely of citrus. It is an effective means of repelling insects, but must be reapplied quite frequently, often within an hour of application. However, citronella candles and lamps are not any more effective than regular candles or lamps. It is completely non-toxic to the environment and humans when used as directed on the label.

  4. Long-sleeved shirts. Yep. Mosquitos can’t bite you through a layer of tough fabric. Before we had these fancy chemical things, we had cloth, and it served us moderately well for thousands of years.

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