When you’re in the jungle and surrounded by disease-carrying biting insects, DEET-based insect repellents are still considered by most health agencies to provide the most effective protection, especially since traditional natural repellents tend to lose efficacy after two hours. However, there is no doubt that plenty of people avoid the use of DEET repellents due to the perception that its use carries potential health risks – even if that avoidance means frequent reapplication or the fact you’ll smell like a fruit, flowers or herbal packets all day. Enter Coleman’s SkinSmart.
Coleman’s SkinSmart Insect Repellent contains no DEET and protects against mosquitoes and ticks. The company states the repellent is designed to last 8 hours, while most non-DEET repellents must be applied more frequently. Also, SkinSmart is pitched as being odorless, whereas many non-DEET repellents have a strong odor.
The SNEWS® team—including one tester who refuses to use DEET-based repellents—tested aerosol and Go Ready Spray Pen (small pump) versions of Coleman’s SkinSmart repellent over the course of two months this summer. During hikes through mosquito-filled woods and paddling trips on Southern rivers, the repellent did a good job of preventing bites, but we did have a couple of issues.
The Coleman SkinSmart repellent is actually produced by Wisconsin Pharmacal, one of the leading repellent companies in the outdoor market. SkinSmart’s active ingredient is 3 (N-Butyl-N-acetyl), also known as IR3535, which is a substance similar to the amino acid alanine. Europeans have used it as a repellent for 20 years and it has been sold in the United States since 1999. Most tests have shown that it’s generally less effective than DEET, but still effective over much shorter periods of time than DEET-based repellents. It’s important to note that people have different body chemistries, and a person’s chemistry helps determine whether a repellent works, or how long it is effective.
Our testers found that SkinSmart protected them as well as other non-DEET products, even in environments ripe with mosquitoes, for a couple of hours. After wearing the repellent while hiking or paddling for two hours, one tester who tends to attract mosquitoes only suffered a bite or two at the most. One tester who does not tend to get bitten reported that after two hours he had no bites at all.
However, the repellent’s effectiveness seemed to drop off after this time period. Granted, we tested the product in hot and humid conditions when just about any type of repellent or sun protection has to be re-applied often due to sweating. To stay protected, our testers usually sprayed themselves three times over the course of a day. The repellent bottle indicates that SkinSmart provides “up to 8 hours of protection,” and any consumer would assume that means one application. That might be the case if a person were not moving about and sweating heavily, but it just didn’t hold up in our field tests. The directions say you shouldn’t apply it more than three times per day, and we found that was typically enough to do the trick.
If there is one thing about repellents that we really do not like is that many feel extremely oily and greasy. But the SkinSmart repellent feels pretty dry when applied to the skin and does not feel like an oil slick that will easily run off. Another thing we liked about this repellent is that it doesn’t have an overwhelming odor. One of our testers typically uses an organic repellent, but she admits that it makes her smell like one big citronella candle. The smell is strong enough that she’d turn heads when she’d go for a post-hike meal at a restaurant. Fortunately, the Coleman repellent only gives off a slight, sweet odor that does not seem to drift far from the person using the stuff.
We tested two types of SkinSmart applicators, and we preferred the small pump bottle to the aerosol can for most outdoor adventures. The little pump was about the size of a marker pen and even had a little clip that allowed us to attach it to backpack straps, belts and PFDs. It contains enough repellent to last several trips, and it’s small and takes up little space.
The aerosol version is slightly slimmer than the typical aerosol can, which still seemed too bulky to carry into the backcountry. It did have the advantage that it provided a wider spray than the pump, so we could cover ourselves more quickly. Also, you can twist the top nozzle of the aerosol can to lock it and prevent it from spraying accidentally. But the big drawback to the aerosol was that it created a cloud of material that caused one tester to choke every time she tried to use the stuff. When she used the aerosol while the wind was blowing, the cloud dissipated a bit to reduce the effect, but on a still, summer day the cloud overwhelmed her. It was especially bad when she tried to use it while kayaking and could not maneuver easily to get away from the fumes. Her final verdict was that she would use SkinSmart in the small pump again, but would rather use another repellent than endure the aerosol cloud.
Despite this issue with the aerosol, SkinSmart made an overall favorable impression. First, we thought the formula fought off biting bugs about as well as any DEET alternative. Sure, we had to apply if frequently, but that’s the case with most non-DEET repellents. Plus, SkinSmart feels dry on the skin and puts off only a slight odor, which makes for a winning combination.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.0 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: Pump $2.99; Aerosol $6.49