Bite Back

Bite Back

If mosquitoes love you, but you don’t love them, India Knight has a Deet-free bug spray.

    Unstung Hero

    I know bug spray isn’t a sexy product exactly, but now the weather is warming up, you’ll thank me soon enough. I am catnip to bugs, to the point where my lower calves are a tragic, blotchy sea of decades’ worth of ancient scars and bite marks, including two stonking horsefly bites from Wyoming in 1988, which, incredibly, are still a bit raised (horseflies are the absolute worst — they can bite through denim). I suspect I have some kind of allergy to bites and stings; certainly I need injections if I’m stung by a wasp (against my skin swelling to the point of bursting rather than against anaphylaxis, but still, no fun). I’m telling you all this to show that I am no mimsy pushover when it comes to insect repellent.

    I’ve tried everything, obviously, and found that the only products that really work involve Deet. Deet was invented in 1944 by the US Department of Agriculture and was initially used as an agricultural pesticide. The US army started using it in 1946 (it was used by soldiers in Vietnam and Southeast Asia), and eventually civilians in the late 1950s . Deet can cause wheezing, burning eyes and headaches, and in 1998 the US Environmental Protection Agency reported 14-46 cases of potential Deet-associated seizures, including four deaths (the risk of seizure is 1 in 100m, to be fair).

    Deet: it doesn’t muck about. The commercial potions that contain it — pretty much every effective insect repellent — pride themselves on using safe levels. I don’t find this especially reassuring, plus they smell disgusting. I am permanently on the lookout for a more pleasant alternative, and last year I found it. It’s called Mrs White’s Unstung Hero (£20 for 250ml) and it’s basically a lemony cologne (which smells OK rather than actively delicious). According to the manufacturers, it contains “a naturally occurring amino acid that renders you ‘invisible’ to mosquitoes, ticks, black fly, wasps and bees ” (I don’t know why nice bees are in that list , as they don’t sting you unless it is a total accident). You can spray it on yourself or your clothing, as well as your pillowcase — it’s not oily, so won’t stain anything. NB: you need to reapply it every two hours.

    I have found it brilliantly effective against mozzies: my bites usually turn into child’s fist-sized lumps, but with this I have either no bites or normal person’s bites — bites that itch a little, then quickly quieten down without ever swelling insanely. Unstung Hero is also available in 100ml aeroplane-friendly sprays. The same company also makes a fly repellent called Swatnot (£15), which, it says, “will eradicate your stable fly problem and not compromise your horse’s health”. No horsefly bites seems miraculous to me. I haven’t tested it, but if you have stables/horses, you might want to try it.

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