With Summer in full-swing and the Fourth of July at our heels, we all know what that means – prolonged periods of time outdoors where we are all susceptible as meals to all kinds of creatures ranging from mosquitoes to ticks. More importantly, being bitten by insects like mosquitoes and ticks runs the risk of contracting the West Nile Virus (which has sprung up all over the country in recent years, making the most susceptible at risk individuals the elderly, children, and those with compromised immune systems) and Lymes Disease. While dousing ourselves with traditional bug repellent made with DEET may seem like the most sensible option, there are more natural and less-chemically dependent options…many of which you can make at home. Why should we be concerned with prolonged use of DEET? DEET is a pesticide that is dangerous enough that the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you should wash it off of your skin when you return indoors, avoid breathing it in, and not spray it directly on your face. Another thing to consider is if this chemical is strong enough to kill insects, it can likely do some harm to other life forms, too. According to a report on GreenYour:
One of the most widely used ingredients in store-bought conventional bug sprays for personal use is N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, as it’s commonly known. DEET, which is designed to repel, rather than kill, insects. DEET is used by an estimated one-third of the US population each year. Although DEET is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin. Additionally, DEET has been linked to neurological problems; according to the EPA, at least 18 different cases of children suffering adverse nuerological effects, as well as the deaths of two adults, have been associated with DEET. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that DEET causes diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats.
DEET has been shown to have a negative impact on wildlife and water sources in production and during use. DEET is toxic to birds and aquatic life. DEET has been found in approximately 75 percent of U.S. water sources, including the Mississippi River.
Don’t worry…I’m not going to leave you hanging with no alternative. The good news is that there are many natural alternatives out there that are better for you, the environment, and are cheap and easy to make (this could even be a fun summer project with the kids). We just used California Baby brand natural insect repellent on our recent trip to Long Island, where the mosquitoes and ticks are more populous than humans….and I can honestly, say, it worked great. I wasn’t worried about it being used on my 16-month old, either. I have also used a neem oil-based repellent that is made from an organic blend of neem leaf extract, aloe vera, neem oil, citronella, and geraniol. You can also check out a bunch of other brands here:
Natural food stores also carry an array of natural sprays, but be sure to read all labels to make sure they are truly chemical-free.
There may be times where a DEET-based bug spray is all that’s available, which is totally understandable. In fact, it is even recommended in certain areas and situations if you are going to be in a tick-infested area, to use DEET…but in instances like this, spray on clothing instead so the chemical has as little skin contact as possible. Spraying on socks, cuffs of pants and sleeves is best….but NEVER under clothing.
Without further ado, thanks to WellnessMama, here is a list of several natural bug repellent recipes to try (if you are wondering where some of these ingredients can be found, do a search online and in many cases, they can be purchased easily):
Bug Spray Ingredients:
- Essential oils: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint
- Natural Witch Hazel
- Distilled or boiled Water
- Vegetable glycerin (optional)
How to Make Homemade Bug Spray:
- Fill spray bottle (I used 8 ounce) 1/2 full with distilled or boiled water
- Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top
- Add 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin if using
- Add 30-50 drops of essential oils to desired scent. The more oils you use, the stronger the spray will be. My personal favorite mix is: Rosemary, Clove, Cajeput, Lavender, Cinnamon and Eucalyptus… it works great and smells good too!
Make Bug Spray From Dried or Fresh Herbs
Fresh or Dried Herbs Bug Spray Ingredients:
- Distilled water
- witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
- dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, etc. I recommend using at least one herb from the mint family.
How to Make Bug Spray From Fresh or Dried Herbs:
- Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP of dried herbs total in any combination from the above. I use 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, and also throw in a couple of dried cloves.
- Mix well, cover and let cool (covering is important to keep the volatile oils in!)
- Strain herbs out and mix water with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool place (fridge is great because then its nice and cool!)
- Use as needed. Added bonus: it smells great and is very refreshing to the skin!
Super Strong Insect Repellent Recipe
Fair warning: this stuff stinks when it is wet, though the smell disappears as it dries. It works incredibly well though, and this is the one I use when I’m going to be in the woods or in tick-infested areas. It is based on a recipe that was supposedly used by thieves during the Black Plague to keep from getting sick. They used it internally and externally to avoid catching the disease and to keep the flies and other pests away. According to legend, it worked and they survived… but it definitely makes a great insect repellent these days! It’s also very inexpensive to make and you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen!
Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent Ingredients:
- 1 32 ounce bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 TBSP each of dried Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme and Mint
- At least quart size glass jar with airtight lid
How to Make the Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent:
- Put the vinegar and dried herbs into large glass jar.
- Seal tightly and store on counter or place you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.
- After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out and store in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in fridge.
- To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed.
- Use whenever you need serious bug control!
[Note: This mixture is very strong and has antiviral and antibacterial properties.]
Other Simple Insect Repelling Ideas:
- Add vanilla extract to either of the above recipes, or just rub on the skin. You can also mix vanilla with witch hazel and water for a spray version.
- Rub lavender flowers or lavender oil on your skin, especially on hot parts of body (neck, underarms, behind ears, etc.) to repel insects.
- Rub fresh or dried leaves of anything in the mint family all over skin to repel insects (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, pennyroyal, etc. or citronella, lemongrass, etc.) Basil is also said to repel mosquitoes and I’ve used fresh basil leaves in the garden with great success before!
- Staying indoors from dusk to dawn, the peak mosquito biting hours.
- Wearing long sleeves, pants and socks when possible.
- Have an electric “bug zapper” around to deter pests.
- Have citronella oil outside – pests hate the smell.
- Flowers like marigolds help cut back on pests, as they hate the smell.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us