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How Natural Is Your Insect Repellent?

Summer is here! You’ve been looking forward to sun-filled days and planning backyard barbeques, beach days, camping trips, and afternoons relaxing in your yard.

But, less exciting are all the pesky bugs that accompany outdoor adventures this time of year.

Bugs are more than just a nuisance. Biting insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, can also carry and transmit viruses, some of which can make you seriously ill.

As you prepare to move life outdoors for the season, it’s time to think about protecting you and your family from itchy, uncomfortable bug bites and the potential of insect-borne illness.

Should you really be reaching for the bug spray, or is there another option?

Most people reach for a can of bug spray to keep biting insects, particularly mosquitoes, at bay. In commercial sprays, the “gold standard” active ingredient is a synthetic chemical called DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).

There’s no question these sprays are effective when used properly, but there are some valid concerns regarding the safety of DEET for both humans and to the environment.

Although government agencies have approved DEET safe for human use, it can cause skin irritation, such as numbness and redness, is toxic if ingested, and is irritating to mucous membranes (like nostrils and eyes).

A 2015 study found applying sunscreen over skin that has been treated with DEET-containing insect repellent, a common warm-weather practice, increased the skin’s absorption of DEET. However, using the products in reverse order did not produce the same effect.  

4 Tips to help you naturally repel insects

Whether you’re already avoiding synthetic chemicals in personal bath & beauty care products, have sensitive skin, or just don’t like the smell of bug spray, there are several more natural (and often equally as effective) alternatives to create some space between you and those pesky biters!

Here are 4 easy – and completely natural ways you can enjoy the outdoors and natural spaces this summer: 

1. Eat foods that make you less tasty (to mosquitoes)

Ever wonder why some people in the same outdoor environment end up with several mosquito bites while others don’t get a single bite? It has to do with your body’s chemical composition and the particular odours mosquitoes are attracted to.

What you eat may have also an impact on the scent your body gives off – and therefore, whether you’re particularly tasty to a mosquito.

Certain foods, like bananas, salty foods, dairy, sweets, and alcohol are thought to make you more appealing to mosquitoes by increasing the amount of mosquito-attracting lactic acid your body produces.

More pungent foods, like garlic and onions, are believed to repel mosquitoes.

Some people also swear by taking extra B1 Vitamins to prevent bites!

More studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of using food to repel mosquitoes. However, old wives’ tale or not, it can’t hurt to steer clear of potential mosquito-attracting foods if you’ll be spending time in naturally buggy environments! 

2. Plant an insect-repelling garden

Plenty of plants offer natural insect repellent qualities thanks to the oils they produce.

Try planting a fragrant herb garden with oregano, basil, catnip, citronella (aka, scented geranium or mosquito plant), lavender, peppermint, rosemary, and/or thyme in your garden.

To repel pests, brush your skin against the plants or crush a couple leaves in your hands and rub the oils on exposed skin whenever you spend time in your yard. 

3. Cover up! (with clothing)

It may be the last thing you want to do when temperatures climb sky high, but wearing long pants and sleeved shirts is an effective way to create a physical barrier between your skin and biting insects.

Cover up if the weather – and your environment allows. No chemicals required! 

4. Make your own natural insect repellent spray

Bug spray may be one of the last personal care products you think about finding a natural alternative for since it’s not an everyday staple, like toothpaste, shampoo, body lotion or deodorant.

Lemon eucalyptus oil has been documented as the most effective alternative to DEET.

The following essential oils also have insect-repelling properties:

  • cedar
  • citronella
  • clove
  • geranium
  • lavender
  • lemongrass
  • mint
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • and of course, tea tree oil!

It’s easy to mix up your own natural insect repellent using any combination of the above essential oils and a few other basic drugstore ingredients.

Applying essential oils directly to the skin is never recommended since they can be irritating if not diluted.

The big bonus is that essential oils can leave you smelling a lot more pleasant than commercial chemical-filled bug sprays!

Here’s an easy DIY recipe:
  • ½ cup witch hazel
  • ½ cup water or white vinegar
  • 50 drops any combination of cedar, citronella, clove, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano or tea tree essential oils (use your favourite scents, but lemon eucalyptus is one to include)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp rubbing alcohol, optional (to act as a preservative)

Combine the above ingredients in a spray bottle, and always shake before using. Spray and lightly rub into exposed skin before heading outdoors. Reapply often, especially if you’re sweating or swimming.

Alternatively, you can make your own topical insect repellent lotion by adding a few drops of the same essential oils to your preferred unscented body lotion or coconut oil. And if you do get bit, always have a natural antiseptic cream to soothe irritating  itches! Check out Bites + Stings – a must have for any outdoor summer adventure. 

Now go and enjoy the great outdoors – without having to worry about those pesky little creatures!


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