According to a study, compounds derived from coconut oil are better than DEET in preventing the transmission of disease and the discomfort associated with insect bites.
DEET has been the gold standard for insect repellents for more than 60 years – the most effective and durable product commercially available, said US Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers.
However, increasing regulations and growing public health concerns regarding synthetic repellents and insecticides such as DEET have aroused interest in the development of plant-based repellents, which are more effective and longer-lasting.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, identified certain coconut oil fatty acids that have strong repellency and long-lasting efficacy against several insects – mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies and bed bugs – that can spread disease to humans and animals.
A team of scientists headed by Junwei Zhu found that the coconut oil compounds were effective against biting flies and bed bugs for two weeks and were resistant to ticks in laboratory tests for at least a week.
The compound showed strong mosquito repellency when higher concentrations of coconut oil compounds were applied topically.
Some people refuse to use DEET and turn to folk remedies or herbal repellents. Most currently available plant-based repellents only work for a short time, Zhu noted.
The coconut oil-derived free fatty acid mixture – lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, as well as their corresponding methyl esters – provides a strong repellency against blood-sucking insects.
By encapsulating coconut fatty acids in a starch-based formula, field trials have shown that this all-natural formula can protect cattle from stable flies for up to 96 hours or four days, the researchers said.
DEET was only 50 percent effective against stable flies, while the coconut oil compound was more than 95 percent effective.
Against bed bugs and ticks DEET lost its effectiveness after about three days, while the coconut oil compound lasted about two weeks. found the study
Coconut oil fatty acids were also more than 90 percent repellent to mosquitoes – including Aedes aegypti, the mosquito, which can transmit the Zika virus, according to Zhu.
These coconut oil-derived compounds provide longer-lasting protection than any other known natural defense against blood-feeding insects, Zhu said.