'I'll Take Eastern Equine Encephalitis for 500, Alex'

By Josh Bloom — Jun 08, 2016
In what is just one more example of fear-based marketing, a company is selling "natural chemical" bracelets that supposedly protect kids from mosquitoes. Not only is this not going to work, but the natural chemical is just as toxic as DEET — the insect repellant that the company takes great pains to note, is absent. If this was on "Jeopardy" we'd call out this firm accordingly.

Alex Trebek: "An insulting term you call a company that sells 'natural chemical' bracelets which supposedly protect kids from mosquitoes."

Contestant: "What is ... A bunch of dirtbags?"

Alex Trebek: "Correct!"

Just another day. Chemophobia and its frequent partner, sleazy marketing rise again. This time it's a real beauty. And, the timing is just right — the beginning of a mosquito season, which could end up being quite unique, depending on how Zika behaves (1).

bracelt One Step Ahead's "Glow in The Dark Bug Band Insect Repellent Bracelet"

So, it is not at all surprising that a company called One Step Ahead ("Parenting Solutions for Life's Little Hurdles") sells a variety of products that are supposed to protect your kids from mosquitoes. The company website says: BuhBye



I am especially intrigued and amused by the "Glow in The Dark Bug Band Insect Repellent Bracelet." Can this possibly work? I can only speculate as to how well this will really repel mosquitoes, especially given the internal "GPS system" that they use to find victims:


Or, perhaps you'll get lucky and the mosquito will be using Apple Maps:


As if it's not bad enough that the company is selling "protection: that is covering 1/1000th of the kid's body, there is another interesting claim: "No bug spray, and it's DEET free! This natural insect repellent bracelet draws its power from geraniol (derived from geraniums)." And even if it works at all, DEET is still the best repellent.

Not that your kid is going to get any significant exposure from the bracelet, but you may find the following toxicity data interesting:

Virtually every chemical that you will ever encounter (and many that you won't) are found in the NFPA database. Each chemical is assigned a number that places it into one of the following hazard categories:NFPA

Below are the health hazards (2) for three chemicals that are used to control or kill mosquitoes:

Geraniol: (the chemical in the bracelet): Category 2

DEET: Category 2

Anvil: (the most common spray that kills mosquitos, Raid, others): Category 1

So, not only is One Step Ahead selling you a useless bracelet, but the "natural" chemical that is in the thing has roughly the same toxicity as DEET, and more than Anvil— the spray that people run away from as if it were Jason from Friday the 13th when mosquito control spraying is being done, something I wrote about in 2014 on Science 2.0.

Sleazy marketing. Terrible science. This really bugs me.


(1) Eastern Equine Encephalitis is quite rare in the US, but is also among the most dangerous of mosquito-borne infections. More common infections in this country include West Nile, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Chikungunya, Dengue, St. Louis Encephalitis, and even a few cases of malaria, and possibly Zika.

(2) When used properly, all of these chemicals are quite safe. The "hazardous" designation is only relevant at very high doses, but I wanted to give yet another example of the fallacy that "natural" chemicals are inherently safer or more dangerous than "synthetic" chemicals — something that One Step Ahead clearly does not want you to know.

Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Recent articles by this author:
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