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I have heard that eating the tips off a few match heads can help keep the bugs off of you. Supposedly you sweat out the sulfur and it repels the bugs. Has anyone else heard this or is there any truth to it? Is it harmful? Would garlic work better?

Note: I have this on and off for years from random people and always assumed it was hogwash.

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2  
If you have any example articles stating this claim, you could ask it over on skeptics stack exchange. –  Rory Alsop May 25 '12 at 8:26
    
It's highly common to put dried garlic flakes in horse feed daily to keep the flies off, and for the most part I always found it did help with my boys but never tried it myself despite being an apparent tasty meal for bugs... –  Aravona Jun 26 at 7:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Sulfur is often suggested for natural mosquito repellents. I've seen recommendations for taking sulfur pills, making sulfur creams, or applying sulfur powders. According to the Colorado State University Extension, the sulfur content of cloves is the science behind garlic-based repellents or recommendations to consume garlic.

That said, I would not think eating a match head to be any way to get sulfur into your body. A safety match head is mostly potassium chlorate fixed to ground glass. A strike-anywhere match head will have phosphorous in it as well.

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Yeah, I'd rather just bathe in garlic before I started eating chemicals. –  Russell Steen May 25 '12 at 3:01

Whether it's hogwash or not is besides the point in my opinion - the fact of the matter is match heads aren't designed to be ingested and therefore while consuming them may increase your sulfur levels which may help keep the bugs off, there's also a good chance you'll be consuming random poisonous chemicals. Weighing it up, I think I'd take my chances with the bugs if that was all I had available!

In general I'd only suggest things like this in an emergency, but since "keeping the bugs off" is never a real requirement of an emergency situation, I'd never recommend it.

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If you ask civilians, you'll typically get responses along the lines of...

  • "No way, there are dangerous chemicals!"
  • "No way, it just doesn't work!"
  • "No way, you'll smell like ass for weeks!"

However, I (and many other military vets) can tell you that it does, in fact, work extremely well. Military men (and recently maybe women) have been using this trick for decades, with no side-effects besides potentially smelling really awful depending on how much you consume. Every MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) comes with a book of matches handy, which is why the trick is so convenient.

One match-head per month will typically be sufficient to keep insects off of you, with no noticeable stink either. If you need more potency, consume more regularly, maybe weekly or even daily - just keep in mind that more match heads = more stink.

Yes, potassium chlorate is a toxic chemical. However, it is not contained in nearly high-enough quantities to be harmful unless you're slamming an entire pack of matches (and maybe not even then).

Phosphorus, the final chemical ingredient in match heads, is an element essential to your bodily functions, and represents 1% of your body mass.

Final disclaimer: as far as I know, only strike-on-the-box safety matches will always have the antimony (III) sulfide in them that makes the trick work. Strike-anywhere matches may not contain this element, and so might just do nothing at all.

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