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Sailors Use Skin So Soft Bath Oil as Easy, Pleasant Mosquito Repellent

DEET outperforms Skin So Soft bath oil in scientific studies. Nonetheless, many readers prefer the bath oil and find it reduces bites.

Mosquitoes, sand flies and midges all live in the area between land and sea, and all bite ferociously. Trying to avoid bites is a serious consideration for sailors, Marines and other people who want or need to spend time at the shore. We have heard from a number of people in this situation that a popular bath oil, Avon Skin So Soft, can help deter biting bugs.

Do Marines Use Skin So Soft Against Mosquitoes?

Q. I once spent a summer unloading ships across Onslow Beach, part of Camp Lejeune. The Marines’ advice to use Avon Skin So Soft served me well. Also, I swallowed a garlic gel tab every day. Neither mosquitoes, sand fleas nor flies bothered me. Amazing!

A. We first started hearing about military personnel using Avon Skin So Soft bath oil as an insect repellent over 35 years ago. Not surprisingly, when scientists have tested it, the bath oil was less effective than high-potency DEET (Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, March 1991).  It did, however, offer over 70 percent protection against midges (tiny biting flies also called no-see-ums). Garlic pills have not been well studied for repellency.

Another reader shared this modification of the formula:

“Skin So Soft oil spray was the only thing that repelled sand fleas in the low country of South Carolina. Spending weeks in swampy environments as an active-duty Marine, DEET products coupled with sun exposure damaged my skin. Skin So Soft was mild on my skin and repelled all kinds of bugs.

“The troops and I would mix one cap full of rubbing alcohol in our bath oil spray bottle. The effect only lasted a few hours, but it worked. I have tried every kind of bug repellent, but Skin So Soft is the only product that my troops, my family, and I trusted for protection against insects in the woods and swampy environments.”

Avon has subsequently created two products specifically designed to repel insects: Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion. Both IR3535 and picaridin are approved insect repellents.

Sailors in Texas Swear by Bath Oil:

Q. Some years ago, when I was a volunteer on the tall ship Elissa berthed in Galveston, Texas, I heard about a mosquito repellent used by the crews on barges plying the Intracoastal Waterway when they had to go out on the deck of the barge to check that the navigation lights were properly lit. They sprayed themselves with a mixture of Avon Skin So Soft and water to keep the hungry mosquitoes away.

Ever since then, I’ve kept a spray bottle of the stuff on my workbench to spray on my skin and shirt when I work in my yard. It works, it smells nice, and it’s good for my skin.

Bath Oil Popularity Goes Back Decades:

A. We first heard about people using Avon Skin So Soft as a bug repellent almost 40 years ago. Fishermen, campers, park rangers and Marines claimed that this bath oil kept away chiggers, sand flies, black flies and mosquitoes. A study in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association (June, 1989) demonstrated that Avon Skin So Soft bath oil exhibited repellent properties, though the effectiveness wore off fairly quickly.

Avon subsequently began making a number of Skin-So-Soft products that contain approved repellents such as IR3535 and picaridin. Both of these compounds represent good alternatives to DEET, although they do not last as long. The CDC lists both as effective mosquito repellents.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Magnon GJ et al, "Repellency of two deet formulations and Avon Skin-So-Soft against biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in Honduras." Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, March 1991.
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