Natural Insect Repellents

Natural Insect Repellents

Fact: There are over 1,700 species of mosquitoes in North America. Only the female mosquito bites.

Annoying mosquitoes can ruin your evening around the campfire, but the painful aftermath of a bite can be hazardous, as more diseases are spread by mosquitoes than any other insect or animal. Lyme disease, transmitted by ticks, has been detected in 49 states, and some parts of the Southeast are suffering from an epidemic of mosquito-borne encephalitis. Fear and warnings about West Nile virus and other insect-transmitted disease have driven sales of repellents up by 36% over the past two years. Recent studies, however, are suggesting that some of our favorite products carry dangers of their own.

There are two classes of insect repellents – natural and chemical. Chemical repellents typically use DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide), while the active ingredients in natural products often include essential plant oils.

Every year, about one-third of Americans use bug repellents containing DEET to ward off mosquitoes and other pests. DEET is found in over 140 products in concentrations from 4 to 100 percent. While most people use DEET-based products without incident, recent research and the Center for Disease Control caution against prolonged or repeated exposure. DEET enters the bloodstream through the skin and can cause side-effects ranging from rashes and headaches to impaired memory, muscle weakness and even death.

Earlier this year, the FDA posted a warning about mixing DEET with sunblock. Sunblock increases DEET absorption into the blood by a factor of three increasing the risk of stroke, headaches and hypertension.

If you use a bug repellent that contains DEET:

  • Choose products containing less than 20 percent DEET and use them sparingly. Apply just enough to cover exposed skin and/or clothing.
  • Do not apply DEET containing products over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid DEET if you are taking any medication (including antihistamines). Combined exposure of DEET with other chemicals or drugs is more dangerous than DEET alone.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
  • Never use insect repellent containing DEET on infants, and use caution with children. A developing nervous system is more susceptible to damage caused by chemicals.
Until further studies are done, it is important to be cautious when using DEET.If you have a poisoning emergency or questions, call 1-800-222-1222

American Association of Poison Control Centers

Natural bug repellents are gaining popularity as reports accumulate about the dangers of chemical repellents. Natural formulations use mainly essential plant oils to battle insects.

Citronella, a pungent grass from Southeast Asia, is a common ingredient that has been clinically proven to be as effective as DEET. Other plant oils-including eucalyptus, tea tree, cedar wood, juniper, clove oil, lavender, pine, geranium, rosemary, lemon grass and peppermint – help provide a broad spectrum of protection.

Research indicates that insect repellents using essential oils and natural ingredients protect just as well as DEET to keep pests away. They are, however, only effective for a short time and must be applied to the skin more frequently than products containing DEET. In fact, they should be reapplied every thirty minutes. Some essential oils might work better with your body chemistry than others. Experimentation with various oils will determine which combination works best.

You can make your own bug spray by mixing together a carrier oil (listed below) with any essential oils listed below in a 10:1 ratio in a 4 oz. spray bottle. Shake well before each use. Refrigerate for up to a week. Be sure to test on a small area before using. Add a few drops of your home-made solution to your shampoo or liquid soap for added protection.

Carrier Oils – Choose one of these

Essential Oils – Choose one or more of these

  • Jojoba oil
  • Soybean
  • Almond oil
  • Olive oil
  • Citronella
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Cedarwood oil
  • Tea Tree oil
  • Geranium oil
  • Juniper oil
  • Clove oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Pine oil
  • Rosemary oil

Essential oils are not to be used internally! If using for the first time, test the oil or oil blend on a small patch of skin before applying.

Just Say No to Bugs

Mosquitoes are attracted to heat, light, and two chemicals produced by humans-carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Mosquitoes breed in standing water and tend to remain close to their birthplace. To repel mosquitoes, make your yard a hard place for mosquitoes to thrive. Tie a sheet of dryer sheets through a belt loop when outdoors during mosquito season. Get rid of standing water around and outside of the house. Turn over plastic wading pools or wheelbarrows when not in use, and do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths. Clean out clogged roof gutters. Avoid the outdoors at dusk, in the early evening or at dawn when mosquitoes are heaviest. If you are outdoors during those times, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks.

Don’t let bug bites stop you from the great outdoors, but remember to use common sense when applying any type of insect repellent.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared various chemical and natural insect repellents. To read the results, download the free article Click Here.

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