Mosquitoes and ticks can be a real nuisance. When it gets warm, they can discourage you from spending time outdoors, and they can sometimes even transmit pathogens that cause dangerous diseases. LANXESS subsidiary Saltigo provides effective protection against these little blood-feeders in the form of Saltidin. This is the agent used in many repellent products that keep insects at a safe distance when it is applied to the skin or clothing.
Nature is a paradise for many people, whether they are vacationing at the seaside, enjoying a party in the park, walking in the woods, or just spending time in their own garden — as long as the place isn’t swarming with insects that have it in for them. Often enough, however, hungry mosquitoes, ticks, biting houseflies, and horseflies lurk in these places. They mercilessly throw themselves at any uncovered part of the body, crawl into sleeves and past necklines, and even bite through thin clothing. They sink their probosces deep into the skin and feast on the blood of their victims. Afterward, the bite can itch and burn for days or even weeks, and the red marks left behind don’t look very sexy either. But even worse than the pimply-looking skin and constant itching is the danger of catching an illness such as malaria, dengue fever, borreliosis or meningitis. That’s because it’s not uncommon for the insects and ticks to be carrying the pathogens responsible for these diseases, which can be life-threatening for human beings.
There are many tips and tricks for protecting against mosquitoes and other voracious blood-feeding insects: switch off the light, burn incense, eat garlic, etc. But unfortunately, most of them don’t work. That’s because the pests are attracted by carbon dioxide and the odor of a whole assortment of bacteria that naturally protect the skin. Long showers don’t help either. Perfumes and deodorants contain ingredients that could actually provoke the little vampires even more. This is in contrast to the active agent Saltidin, which is found in many common insect repellents and is manufactured in Dormagen by the LANXESS subsidiary Saltigo. “Saltidin lies on the skin like a film,” says Detlef Petersen, who oversees the global Saltidin business of Saltigo. “The mosquito doesn’t smell anything any more.” The insect repellent must therefore be applied everywhere, because only in the places covered by Saltidin is the skin truly protected from attacks by bloodthirsty insects and ticks. Petersen knows that from his own experience. “I always have to test out the new things myself,” says the manager with a grin. “I get extra formulations prepared by our applications engineer for that.”
Approximately 170 different products with various Saltidin concentrations are sold in German drugstores and pharmacies alone. There are even products on the market for horses and dogs. Sprays, gels, lotions, wet wipes, sticks, and creams are available. In stores, the products are sold as “repellent” (from the Latin word “repellere,” which means “to drive away” or “to push back”). In contrast to insecticides, they do not kill the attackers but instead merely prevent them from biting. That means even animal-lovers can protect themselves from stings and bites with a clear conscience. When repellents are used, resistances also develop less quickly. Furthermore, Saltidin is considered very easy on the skin and environmentally friendly. Products containing this agent can be used without misgivings even on small children and expectant mothers.
“We’ve conducted extensive toxicological studies and dermatological tests in order to satisfy the most stringent requirements of government agencies,” says Petersen. The development of the active agent has cost approximately ten million euros. And the effort has been worthwhile: Saltidin has won the approval of government institutions and consumer protection organizations worldwide — including, for example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the Australian health agency Queensland Health. Saltidin has also been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as by agencies in countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, which are considered to be extremely critical when it comes to issues of environmental and consumer protection. The well-known German consumer protection agency Stiftung Warentest has also given excellent marks to insect repellents containing this active agent. The World Health Organization (WHO) even recommends Saltidin as the preferred prophylactic measure against mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, and West Nile fever.
There are more than 3,000 types of mosquitoes around the world — from the northern tip of Finland to the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point in Africa. In the swamps of Alaska, Finland, and the former Soviet Union, swarms of mosquitoes literally darken the sky and make life unbearable for people and animals. In the tropics and the subtropics, mosquitoes spread epidemics, most commonly malaria. The culprits are the females of many species in the genus Anopheles. In Europe and the U.S., mosquitoes seldom transmit diseases, but as a result of tourism and business travel, primarily to Asia, Africa, and South America, cases of malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever can occur in these areas too. One type of insect that is especially resistant to many conventional repellents is the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti, which haunts the tropics, the subtropics, and now even southern Europe. This mosquito is diurnal, hunts outdoors, and is far more aggressive than the common mosquito, which usually attacks its victims while they sleep.
Furthermore, infections caused by tick bites are on the rise in Europe and North America. The Robert Koch Institute estimates that in Germany alone, tick bites infect at least 100,000 persons per year with the pathogens responsible for Lyme disease. If the infection is not recognized and treated with antibiotics, the victim could experience chronic health problems, such as arthritis or serious damage to the nervous system. Ticks can also transmit tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which can often manifest itself as meningitis or the even more dangerous encephalitis. Up to two percent of the TBE patients in Central Europe die because the infection is not diagnosed and they do not receive the necessary medication.
Of course a repellent agent can only reliably protect against these dangerous diseases if it really gives the carriers no opportunity to spread. After a product containing Saltidin is sprayed or rubbed onto the skin, mosquitoes will stay away for eight to twelve hours, depending on the type of mosquito and the formulation. That’s enough for a restful night. Ticks are successfully repelled for six to fourteen hours, and biting flies for up to ten hours. Ants and cockroaches don’t like the smell of the agent either and give anyone wearing it a wide berth for days. The important thing is to ensure that you are using a product with a formulation that is as concentrated as possible. “Other benefits of our agent are its simple application and good cosmetic properties,” says Petersen. “After they’re rubbed on, formulations with Saltidin don’t form a sticky film on the skin, don’t smell bad, and don’t damage synthetic materials and textiles as much as many other products.”
What Really Works
Chemically, Saltidin belongs to the group of carbonates — esters of carbonic acid — and has the tongue-twister name 1-(1-Methylpropoxycarbonyl)-2-(2-hydroxyethyl)piperidine. A much simpler designation is the international non-proprietary name assigned to it by the WHO, Icaridin, or the trade name that Saltigo has given it, Saltidin. This oily agent, for which Saltigo currently still holds a patent, was first sold on the market in 1998. It replaced the agent diethyltoluamide (DEET for short), which had more undesirable side effects. Saltigo supplies the agent and the know-how for processing it. Its customers from the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industry then mix it with solvents according to their own formulas and usually add an aromatic substance too. After the product is applied, the solvents evaporate, leaving the active agent behind as a fine, invisible film on the skin. The protection against blood-feeding insects lasts as long as it takes for the agent to slowly evaporate, during which time it forms an odorous layer on the skin. In the event of heavy perspiration, or after swimming or taking a shower, the product should be applied more often, because most repellents have only limited resistance to water. Creams or sprays should also be applied underneath or on top of thin or loosely woven clothing fabrics.
And here are some other things you can do to keep the little pests away:
- Wear light-colored clothing. Mosquitoes that are active in the twilight and at night like to land on dark clothing. Crawling ticks are also easier to spot on light-colored clothing.
- Fine-mesh insect screens over windows keep mosquitoes outside. On vacations, you can also bring window mesh with Velcro fasteners.
- Mosquito nets (also available with insecticides) protect against not only mosquitoes but also bugs and other pests. The mesh size should be at most 1.2 millimeters in the tropics. In northern climes, 2-millimeter mesh is sufficient.
- Turn on the air conditioner and cool down the room two hours before going to bed, because insects prefer warm rooms. (Before going to bed, you can turn off the air conditioner to avoid catching a head cold.)
- Eliminate insect breeding grounds. Cover rain barrels and wash out bird baths every ten days — female mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant waters.
- During travel, use repellents with Saltidin, because many natural repellents, such as lemon oil, are not effective. (Repellents often need no approval in destination countries.)
It’s also interesting to point out that the precautions taken against mosquitoes are always directed against the females. Only they bite — they need blood for their eggs to grow. The male mosquitoes are peaceful vegetarians that live on plant sap.