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Choosing mesh outerwear is worn over your clothing and is an alternative, along with nontoxic bug sprays, to using a chemical repellent like DEET. These nontoxic methods help protect you and wildlife from the harmful effects of chemical repellents.

Find it! Mesh outerwear

Before you buy

Choose only chemical-free mesh outerwear that isn't impregnated with toxic insect-repellents. Some brands use a thick enough weave that they also serve as UVA/UVB protection. Mesh outerwear is available in many styles and designs, and includes covering for the head/face.

Choosing mesh outerwear helps you go green because…

  • They are a chemical-free alternative to standard bug repellents, which rely on toxic ingredients such as DEET and permethrin to keep bugs at bay. Even nontoxic bug sprays contain ingredients that wouldn't normally be found in a natural environment and so introduce foreign chemicals and oils into the wild.

One of the most widely used ingredients in bug sprays for personal use is DEET, which is designed to repel rather than kill insects. DEET is used by an estimated one-third of the US population each year in a wide variety of products.[1] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers DEET to be only "slightly toxic" to humans,[1] and it is also considered slightly toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. Because of this, DEET-containing products should be disposed of properly and should not be dumped in soil or water where it can affect wildlife. Also, do not wear DEET if you are going to be swimming or otherwise entering water systems.

Another widely used ingredient in personal bug sprays is the pyrethroid pesticide permethrin, a synthetic version of the naturally occurring pesticide pyrethrin found in chrysanthemums. Bug clothing is often impregnated with permethrin, as well. In addition, permethrin is widely used in agriculture and in residential and other uses. Over 2 million pounds of permethrin are used in the US annually in more than 100 million separate applications.[2] Most personal use of permethrin is by wearing treated clothing, as it is not to be applied directly to the skin. Permethrin should be disposed of carefully, since it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and honeybees—concentrations of less than one part per billion can be lethal to some species.[2] Products containing permethrin should not be dumped in soil or water to avoid ecological damage. As with DEET, you should help protect wildlife by not wearing treated clothing if you are going to be swimming or otherwise entering water systems. Permethrin is so toxic to some aquatic organisms that any detectable level of the chemical in estuarine waters (even less than one part per billion) will likely be associated with negative effects on wildlife, and it can kill some organisms at levels that are not even detectable in water.[3]

Background information

Bug spray discourages insects from landing or otherwise touching the surface to which it has been applied, such as skin or clothing, or kills them upon contact with the treated surface. Bug sprays can be made from natural or synthetic substances, and vary greatly in their effectiveness, method and duration of action, and toxicity. Some bug sprays are meant to be applied directly to the skin, while others should only be applied to clothing.[4]

Bug spray helps to prevent the spread of diseases that are carried by insects, such as Malaria, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease.[5]

DEET was developed by the US Army following the jungle warfare experiences of World War II. DEET acts by masking the chemical signature produced by humans that attracts insects like mosquitoes. Natural alternatives include products made from plant oils like citronella and eucalyptus, although their effectiveness is questionable.[6]

Permethrin acts differently than DEET, as it kills insects that make contact with treated surfaces instead of repelling them.

Related health issues

Insect-borne diseases infect and kill millions of people around the world every year. Mosquitoes, for example, can transmit malaria, Yellow fever, Dengue fever, and West Nile virus. Malaria alone killed nearly 1.3 million people in 2002.[7]

The two most widely used chemicals in personal bug sprays, DEET and permethrin, can have serious possible health implications for humans and other animals. Serious adverse reactions to DEET are relatively rare. However, health problems have been reported in conjunction with use of DEET ranging from skin and eye irritation to psychological problems and even death.[8]

Although DEET is considered safe for use on children by the EPA, they recommend that application should be performed by an adult and that DEET should not be applied to a child's hands to reduce the risk of accidental ingestion.[4] Pregnant women should exercise extra caution in using DEET, as research indicates that after being absorbed through the skin, it can then cross the placenta. However, there is little evidence that this causes harm to the developing fetus.[9]

Permethrin is a contact insecticide that is not intended to be sprayed directly on skin. However, as a pyrethroid pesticide, it may cause nervous system complications ranging from headaches to convulsions and loss of consciousness even when sprayed on clothing. Some animal studies have indicated reduced fertility and possible immune system damage to fetuses exposed to permethrin, however, this has not been observed in humans.[10] has also classified permethrin as a likely carcinogen.[11]

Controversies

Although DEET has been used by millions of people around the world for over a half-century, there is still considerable controversy over its toxicity to humans. Since DEET can easily be absorbed by the skin, there are questions about safe usage over long periods of time, especially at higher concentrations, by pregnant women, and by children.[12]

Similar controversies exist over use of permethrin. However, permethrin is also widely used in agricultural, residential, and public health-related insect control (such as mosquito spraying programs). The impact on wildlife can be significant, since permethrin is highly toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, and many beneficial insects like honeybees. Although permethrin has a relatively short half-life in the environment, it has routinely been found in ground and surface water at levels that are toxic to wildlife. Because of its wide use in agriculture, permethrin is the thirteenth most detected pesticide on food, and the seventh most detected pesticide on baby food.[11]

Glossary

  • contact insecticide: A substance that is toxic to insects when they come into contact with it.
  • insecticide: A substance used to kill insects and other arthropods.[13]
  • pyrethroid pesticide: A synthetic version of the naturally occurring pesticide pyrethrin found in chrysanthemums. Some synthetic pyrethroids are toxic to the nervous system.[13]
  • repellent: A substance used to repel but not necessarily kill an insect or other pest.[13]

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