The term "gnat" is a generic word that refers to very small, pesky, flying insects such as black flies, no-see-ums and midges. They like attacking and feeding on people's arms, neck, face and ears. When you're bitten by one of them, you definitely feel it. Not only is the bite painful, your body reacts to being bitten by creating a red, itchy welt at the bite site. Short of staying inside for the entire summer, you can decrease the chance that you are on the gnat's dinner menu by using products with chemical insect repellents, the essential oils of certain herbs or by donning protective gear when you go outside.
Avoid using strongly scented shampoo, conditioner, soap, hairspray, gel, mousse, body spray or lotion before leaving the house. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners may leave clothes with a perfumed scent. Some scents, especially floral or fruity, are very attractive to gnats and other biting insects.
Spray your hat with an insect repellent that contains N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET, before going outside. DEET has been on the market in the US since the 1950s and, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, it is not harmful if you follow the package directions. Do not spray DEET-containing products directly onto your face. Spray into your hands and then rub on your face and neck. DEET comes in several strengths in sprays, solids, wipes or clip-on fans that distribute the repellent around your body like a bubble.
Bathe with a natural insect-repellent soap such as the citronella and marigold soap produced by Herbaria. It contains essential oils including lemon grass, catnip, lemon eucalyptus, marigold, citronella and others. According to the American Chemical Society, catnip is ten times more effective at repelling mosquitos than DEET is.
Use an herbal insect repellent spray after your shower, if you are going outside. Most of these contain a combination of citronella, lemon grass, catnip, cedar, rosemary and other herbs.
Apply a clothing-and-gear insect repellent a few hours in advance of going outside. Once it dries, it is bonded to the fabric and you can have protection from gnats and other bugs for up to two weeks even after the clothing goes through the wash. This type of insect repellent contains 0.5% permethrin. It is extremely toxic and must not be used on the skin under any circumstances.
Wear protective clothing. Hats with very fine mesh that extends over the face and neck keep bugs away, but still let air pass through. They are not the most attractive solution, but do work well, especially if you're out in the woods where insect populations tend to be high.
Avoid areas with a large insect population. This can include standing bodies of water, thick forests, rural areas and elsewhere, especially in the early evening hours. If you want to enjoy the outdoors, but would rather not use an insect repellent or hat, you can purchase a tent with mesh siding. Put your chairs or picnic table inside and you can still enjoy the warm weather without the bugs.
Move to a cold climate. Cold climates do not typically have problems with gnats or other flying insects because the temperatures are too low to sustain them. Alternatively, move to a hot, urban area, such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Palm Springs, where flying insect activity is less of an issue.
Do not use DEET products on babies under 2 months old.
Tips and warnings
- Do not use DEET products on babies under 2 months old.