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.
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
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.
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.
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
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...