Bugs Be Gone: Natural Insect Repellent

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It is going to be a festive weekend. People are camping, swimming, BBQing and participating in all sorts of fun outdoor activities. However, two things to consider are the sun and the bugs and how to protect yourself and your children from them. In previous blogs, we have talked about sunscreen safety. In this post I am going to talk mosquitoes.

I come from the land where mosquitoes can carry away small cats. They are big, swarming nuisances, and for many DEET seems to be the only answer. DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-3-methylbenzamide) is a pesticide that is apparently designed to keep skeeters away, but the list of cautions, and potential serious side effects to humans makes me think that I am better off taking my chances with mosquitoes. The most serious side effects of DEET are on the central nervous system. Studies on lab rats have also shown that it causes learning and memory impairment, as well as messes with motor skills. Hmm, I don’t think I want this stuff on my 17-month-old, or myself.

So here are some natural alternatives to keep your family safe from mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the following:

  • Dark Clothing:  Many mosquitoes use vision to locate hosts from a distance. Dark clothes and foliage are initial attractants. Light-colored clothing may not attract mosquitoes, and it is also cooler because it reflects light.
  • Carbon Dioxide:  You give off more carbon dioxide when you are hot or have been exercising. A burning candle or other fire is another source of carbon dioxide.
  • Lactic Acid:  You release more lactic acid when you have been exercising or after eating certain foods (e.g., salty foods, high-potassium foods). I have always heard that you should avoid bananas – I guess it’s true!
  • Floral or Fruity Fragrances:  In addition to perfumes, hair products, and scented sunscreens, watch for the subtle floral fragrance from fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
  • Moisture:  Mosquitoes are attracted by perspiration because of the chemicals it contains and also because it increases the humidity around your body. Even small amounts of water (e.g., moist plants or mud puddles) will draw mosquitoes. Standing water also allows mosquitoes to reproduce.

Natural repellents can easily be made by combining some essential oils.  Some people are sensitive to the following volatile based oils so always try a test patch, or place it on your clothing instead. Here are some essential oils that, when combined, can be as effective as DEET, and much safer.

  • Citronella oil
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Castor oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Cedar oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Clove oil
  • Geranium oil

A combination of two or three of these essential oils is more effective than just one, because of the differences between types of mosquitoes. Here is the recipe I use for my repellent:

  • Start with 2o -25 drops total of  citronella, lemon, cinnamon and castor oils
  • Add these to 2 tbsps of either olive oil or witch hazel (for a less greasy experience).
  • Mix the essential oils with the carrier oil or alcohol. Rub or spray the natural insect repellent onto skin or clothing, using care to avoid the sensitive eye area. You’ll need to re-apply the natural product after about an hour or after swimming or exercise. Unused natural insect repellent may be stored in a dark bottle, away from heat or sunlight.

If you don’t like the combination of essential oils, you can try others until you find what’s right for you. Have a fun and pest-less weekend!

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January 2023