PRODUCT & PRICE Lemon grass oil from Taiwan HK$62

PRODUCT RATING Safe and very effective. Rub it liberally on all exposed skin (use alot) and you’ll rarely get bitten. Needs to be re-applied after a couple hours. Has a strong smell – some people like it, others don’t.

GREEN RATING Quite green. Chemical free. Made of plant-based essential oils. Packaged in a re-fillable glass spray bottle. Completely bio-degradable leaving no trace in the environment.

AVAILABLE AT Health Aims

There is nothing more annoying when you’re enjoying a hike on a nice day than being bitten by mosquitoes.  Since I spend a lot of time outdoors, I’ve tried many of the mosquito repellents on the market. Here is a review of the repellents most commonly found on store shelves.

DEET

The active ingredient in most insect repellents is DEET. It is the most effective insect repellent, but there are human health and environmental concerns associated with its use. According to the US EPA, DEET is slightly toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates. The overall impact of use on the environment is limited because it is applied only to skin and clothing. However, the production of chemicals such as DEET is inherently environmentally unfriendly.

Of greater concern may be the effect of DEET on humans and this is where it gets more complicated. While deemed safe when used in accordance with instructions, incorrect application can lead to health issues such as skin irritation, disorientation, dizziness and, in extreme cases, seizures or death. According to Cornell University study “Everglades National Park employees having extensive DEET exposure were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function than were lesser exposed co-workers”. In 2002, citing human health reason, Health Canada barred the sale of insect repellents for human use that contained more than 30% DEET. The environmental group Beyond Pesticides, lists DEET as neurotoxin. For both environmental and personal health concerns, I avoid all repellents containing chemicals.

PATCHES and WRIST BANDS

I have found that these patches and wrist bands don’t work because they only cover very small areas effectively – mosquitoes will inevitably bite you where you don’t have a patch or wristband. Putting on a wrist band will not prevent the mosquito from biting the back of your arm for instance. This comparison chart shows they have an effectiveness time of wristbands is “0 minutes”. The patches have their own additional problems in that they tend to come loose either from sweat or movement and I find myself constantly checking to see whether the patch has fallen off or not. They are both one-time use products that create a lot unnecessary of waste.

ULTRA SOUND DEVICES

According to wikipedia, there are also insect repellent products available based on sound production, particularly ultrasound (inaudibly high frequency sounds). These electronic devices have been shown to have no effect as a mosquito repellent by studies done by the EPA and many universities.

LEMON EUCALYPTUS

There are a number of reviews from the US attesting to the the effectiveness of lemon eucalyptus, but that has not been my experience here in Hong Kong. Once while hiking, we sprayed it directly at the mosquitoes and it seemed to have absolutely no effect on them – it seemed like they were laughing at us. Since I found that it didn’t work as a mosquito repellent but has a very nice smell, I have re-purposed it as a cologne instead.

GARLIC, BANANAS, VITAMIN B

According to the University of Florida, There is no scientific evidence that eating garlic, vitamins, onions, or any other food will make a person repellent to mosquitoes. The attractant level of each individual to biting arthropods is based on a complex interaction of many chemical and visual signals. Certain foods in certain individuals may effect their individual attractiveness to biting arthropods, for better or for worse. (On the other hand, beer consumption has been scientifically proven to attract mosquitoes).

LEMON GRASS OIL

After trying many of the products on the market, we have settled on this one. It is the most effective non-chemical repellent. However, large amounts of it spread over all exposed skin are required for it to work well. Made from natural lemongrass oil, I don’t have any health or environmental concerns using it. Most importantly, unlike many of the other natural repellents on the market, it actually works. It’s effective against both mosquitoes and sand flies. There are only two potential issues I’ve found with using it – smell and sting.

We’ve had very opposite reactions to the smell of the lemongrass oil. When we visited the Asia Society gallery, a elegant tai-tai commented that she liked the smell because it reminded her of the spas she visited while on vacation in Thailand. On the other hand, a minibus driver once instructed me to sit at the back of the bus because he didn’t like the smell (admittedly I had used a ton of it). I personally find it to have a clean, refreshing smell. The second issue I’ve found with it is the “sting”. If you’ve been sweating and then apply it to your face or neck, it will sting (probably because your pores are open) – so be careful!. It can be purchased in a glass spray bottle or you can simply buy the re-fill bottle and put it in your own spray bottle (which is cheaper and creates less waste). When you’re done with the glass bottles, please send them to be recycled at one of these locations or to glass recycling box in the lobby of Worldwide House (Central MTR exit A).

Enjoy the great outdoors!