It's that dreaded time of year ... no-see-um season. If you spend almost any significant time outside over the summer months, you've undoubtedly later discovered an itchy, scratchy bump somewhere on your body.
As a natural way to combat those "invisible" biters, a local woman created an all-natural repellent in 2010 and she's now expanding her product line.
The owner and inventor of No No-See-Um insect repellent, Caroline Semerjian, created her product here on Sanibel as a way to combat no-see-ums and other pests without the chemicals found in typical insect repellants many that don't even seem to work.
"I would get so many welts. I love to be active outside. My therapy is working in my yard, and right about 6 p.m. (the bugs) start to get bad. Now I can work to last light if I want to," she said. "The products with chemicals don't work.
"I wanted to come up with something that smelled nice, worked and also didn't stain your skin or clothing," she said.
No No-See-Um's formula contains only a few ingredients: essential oils (like lemongrass, geranium and citronella) and water.
The product is DEET, PABA and paraben-free, so it's safe to use on children and even pets. In fact, Semerjian's company, Velmaxxx Enterprises, is currently launching a new formulation specifically made for horses.
"One of my friends is really big into horses and she had used my original product. She told me it also worked on her horses. We started talking - and it took awhile - but we figured out a formula," Semerjian said.
"The new horse formula is specifically for people who work with horses," she said. "We've added peppermint oil to the mix, but just a little bit. Horses have stronger skin, but peppermint oil is also very strong.
Semerjian plans to sell her new equine-oriented product wholesale, but also to targeted individuals. She hopes that once people start using it they will tell other people about it. She also plans to take it to trade shows.
Semerjian believes there is a big market for her new product.
"I'm guessing it will probably be a bigger seller because horse people will use it every single day," she said.
The new equine formula will be sold in 32-ounce bottles. Semerjian expects the initial run to be 1600 bottles.
Semerjian's line expansion comes as her original product continues to see growth beyond Southwest Florida. "Our first batch in 2010 was 100 bottles. Fifty went to Island Pharmacy, 48 went to Bailey's and I kept two. They were sold out in a week," she said. "We then made 1,000 bottles, then 2,500, then 5,000, then 10,000 and then 25,000. It's just been growing and growing.
"We're really branching out and we're picking up some good accounts through word of mouth. People are using the product here (on Sanibel), taking it home and ordering more. That's how we ended up in a store in Texas. A woman who lives in Texas tried it, loved it and now she's selling it in Texas. We now have people calling us wanting to sell the product."
The product's catchy name is fairly self-explanatory. No-see-ums are tiny flying insect, measuring only about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch. They are almost impossible to see, but you can surely feel them at least eventually. Under a microscope, they look like a smaller version of a mosquito.
According to No No-See-Um's website, when a no-see-um bites someone, it cuts lacerations into the person's skin, then uses its saliva as an anticoagulant so it can suck blood. An individual's reaction, in their skin to the saliva, can be intense. Countless people will get bit and not realize it until hours to days later.
Although No No-See-Um was specially formulated to repel no-see-ums, it also effectively repels mosquitoes, black flies, biting gnats and most other biting insects.
No No-See-Um products are sold as a spray, making them easy to apply.
So how does an all-natural insect repellent work? According to No No-See-Um, biting insects follow the scent of carbon dioxide gas, and skin and breath naturally give off this gas. No No-See-Um has a distinctive odor that makes it difficult for insects to locate the carbon dioxide released from bodies.
Although No No-See-Ums formula is all natural and created with essential oils, even Semerjian admits the product's scent is not for everyone.
"It's not going to work for everybody because the scent is what deters the no-see-ums," she said. "It's like perfume. A certain scent might not smell good on certain skin it can smell completely different on a different person. The body chemistry can change the smell depending on the person. That's why our product doesn't work for everyone."
Semerjian has a few other products coming down the pipeline in the future, including a cedar oil-based repellent and an after-bite product.
"We're working on some special things," she said. "We're looking at one new product a year. That's probably enough to launch."
Semerjian also owns and operates a website development and marketing firm, Effective Marketing and Creative Concepts, and has created websites for several Sanibel companies and organizations.