Avon Skirts Regulation with Bath Oil Bug Dope

by Don Jordan

See Snopes' Report Refuting Skin-So-Soft Claims

Posted 3/5/97

Editor's Note: Since this article was written at least two scientific tests of Skin-So-Soft have found that while the product does thwart mosquitoes, it only works for about 10 minutes. Avon does not agree with Consumer Reports' conclusion. As a personal observation, I must add that the only thing that really works in keeping all kinds of insects at bay is DEET.

It's that buggy time of year, and if you don't like insect repellents laced with potent chemicals, new research indicates you might want to go outside and roll around in your flower beds.

The potent chemical called "DEET" (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) dominates today's repellent market, but a university scientist has discovered that a compound produced in some flowers is as effective as DEET in the field. The compound is coumarin, and it is what makes Avon's Skin-So-Soft bath oil a bug battler.

Avon's product has long been recognized as a good insect repellent, but the company has never marketed it as an insect repellent and claims it has never investigated why the product wards off insects, says a report in Science News.

William S. Bowers of the University of Arizona has discovered four compounds in Skin-So-Soft that repel mosquitoes. The strongest one, coumarin, is said to smell "like new mown hay" and is widely used in perfumes.

Coumarin (and many other insect repelling compounds) is present in hundreds of plants, including Ageratum, a flowering plant commonly used in flower beds.

Bowers applies coumarin instead of DEET when he heads into bug country but doesn't destroy his flower garden to get the stuff. There isn't enough coumarin in the flower to ward off many insects, he says. He buys "pure" coumarin from a science supply company, because ageratum contains some other, more toxic components that he would rather avoid.

Coumarin itself can be hazardous. The Food and Drug Administration bans coumarin in food, because tests showed it causes liver damage if eaten. Not many people drink their Skin-So-Soft, and the consuming public has simply assumed Avon's bath oil\bug dope is a more bio-friendly product than DEET.

That conclusion may or may not be true, but common sense argues that a chemical like DEET that melts plastic, removes paint and causes health problems for some users is at least as dangerous as bath oil. However, DEET has been tested and approved as an insect repellent while coumarin has not.

"Manufacturers have shown little interest in any new repellents because of the high cost of getting them to market. They ignore even synthetic chemicals that rebuff mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects better than DEET," reports Donald Barnard of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Center in Gainesville, Fla.

These are the reasons Avon has never called its product a repellent, says insect repellent manufacturer Tender Corp.

"Avon's Skin-So-Soft does not market itself as an insect repellent, although it knowingly allows the product to be sold for that purpose. By marketing their product only as a bath oil, Avon avoids the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) registration process entirely and thus doesn't have to prove product effectiveness or safety to the EPA or to list the ingredients in its formula," said a Tender Corp. spokesman.

DEET dominates because it has been tested and approved by the FDA, and it works. We buy an estimated $100 million worth of DEET products every year.

Citronella is the only compound besides DEET registered for human use as an insect repellent. Citronella is a plant derivative (the citronella plant) that is widely used in patio candles. It is also found in soaps and is even used as a food flavoring. As you might suspect, however, citronella is a less potent insect repellent than DEET and coumarin, and it does not repel ticks and chiggers. It does work against mosquitoes and some flies.

Since children are particularly sensitive to DEET's harmful side, citronella is a good alternative. Or, you might want to try one of the diluted mixtures with 15 percent DEET. The strongest repellents are 100 percent DEET, like "Ben's 100."

Since the risk of contracting Lyme disease or some other debilitating malady is worse than the risk posed by DEET, it is a good idea to stick with it in areas where such diseases are present. Lyme disease is present in most eastern states.

You don't need to bathe in DEET to get the job done. Spray around the elastic bands of your underwear, behind your knees, under your arms and around your wrists and ankles. Tuck pant legs into boots and wear rubber bands around your wrists. Keep your collar buttoned to the top and spray around it too. This method thwarts both ticks and chiggers. Avoid applying DEET directly to your skin if possible.

At night, it is better to use a mosquito net than to keep spraying yourself with DEET. I melted portions of my sleeping bag with DEET doing that one buggy night.

Mosquito nets are 100 percent effective when used the right way. If you're camping in a badly infested area, you will want to spray inside the net with a flying insect spray before entering. Let the net air out first.

Besides that, there's a certain romantic charm associated with mosquito nets. They remind me of the Dragon Lady, Saigon and the bad old days when nobody cared if their insect repellent melted plastic...

posted 3/5/97, Indy.

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1997, 2010. Copyright Jordan Communication

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