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War against no-see-ums may be won by island entrepreneurs

By Staff | Dec 22, 2010

Ready to go global, Caroline Semerjian holds a bottle of the no-see-um bug repellent spray she helped develop here on Sanibel.

In the same manner that ants can ruin a picnic, one of worst flying offenders in the insect world — the Ceratopogonidae, commonly known as no-see-ums — can turn a lovely day at the beach into a nightmare.

These biting midges, seemingly invisible to the naked eye unless found in swarms, are mostly found along bodies of water. Their persistent biting and subsequent itchy welts on the skin can cause quite a bit of discomfort.

But now, two women from Sanibel have created a product to fight back against these pesky blood-suckers.

According to Caroline Semerjian, co-founder of Velmaxx Enterprises Inc. (along with Rebecca Bolinger), their bug repellent — No No-See-Um — is an all natural, Deet, PABA and paraben-free spray which wards off attacks of no-see-ums, black flies and mosquitos alike.

“Like most people, I was tired of getting bit by them,” said Semerjian, who explained that the product took 11 months to develop. “My parents visit Sanibel about three times every year, and my dad gets horrible welts.”

Working with a friend from Naples, Dr. Michael Tick, a biochemist with 35 years of experience in the skin care industry, Velmaxx initially created four formulas and conducted “blind” effectiveness tests here on the island.

“Almost 90 percent of the people came back and said that one of the formulas worked the best,” the entrepreneur recalled. “That’s the one that became No No-See-Um.”

The first product, a gel, was released in July. However, their clients suggested that a spray product would be more convenient to use. Finally, the spray-pump version has been released.

“When the truck pulled up with our first shipment of 2,500 units, it was like, ‘Wow!'” she added.

Unlike other bug repellents on the market, which Semerjian claims are ineffective against no-see-ums, have an oily or greasy feel and unpleasant odor, No No-See-Um has a soothing scent. It contains lemongrass, citronella and geranium.

“People don’t want something that’s going to stain their clothes, and they don’t want something that smells funny,” she said. “This spray is as green a product as possible. It doesn’t have any toxic chemicals in it.”

Currently, Velmaxx is working on an organic bite and itch cream for after care, although they don’t yet have a release date for their new product.

On the islands, No No-See-Um spray is available at Bailey’s General Store, Island Pharmacy, San-Cap Medical Clinic, Jerry’s Market, Tarpon Bay Explorers, Santiva, Island Chiropractic, Captiva Island Store and Kingfisher Vacations. They are also branching out with several off-island distributors.

But for now, Sanibel’s no-see-um population will seem a little less bothersome.