By: Vishal Mehta, BPharm, RPh,

With summer upon us, you might be wondering if your favourite bug repellent is safe or if natural options are a better choice for preventing the itching and irritation of a bite and protecting from the likes of Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Currently, the most effective insect repellent is DEET (N,N-Diethyl-mtoluamide). Studies have shown DEET to be safe, even for children, when used as directed. Developed by and for the U.S. army in 1946, it is more of a camouflage than repellent, rendering your skin undetectable to bothersome bugs. Most other synthetic or organic repellents mimic extracts of certain plants and flowers. They are also proven safe and effective for adults and older children. Purely natural repellents consist of essential or plant-based oils diluted in a carrier oil. They include lemon eucalyptus, lavender, cinnamon, thyme, soybean, citronella, tea tree, and others. Natural repellents have not been extensively studied, and their effectiveness is uncertain. Most studies report moderate success but for shorter durations as oils absorb or evaporate faster than the chemical alternative. Another option to try outdoors is a simple fan. Mosquitoes are naturally weak fliers, so the speed of a fan can deter them. Additionally, carbon dioxide and other cues will be dispersed, making it difficult to locate hosts for feeding. Natural products that are not effective include ultrasonic devices, repellant wrist or neck bands, citrosa plants, and moisturizer or sunscreen repellent two-in-one products. Natural or chemical, Health Canada recommends using only approved products that display a Pest Control Product (PCP) registration number on the label, indicating they are proven and backed by Canadian health regulations. The effectiveness of all others remains the subject of continued debate. But in the end, the choice is yours to be, or not to be (bitten).