Oh, summer. We have a love-hate relationship, you and I.
Some things I love about you: BBQs, gorgeous greenery, the beach.
Some things I hate about you: stifling humidity, bugs, bugs, bugs. Did I say bugs? Bugs.
Unfortunately, an active ingredient used in most store-bought bug repellants may pose a serious threat to your health.
I’m sure you can assume that I’m talking about DEET. This synthetic chemical was developed by the United States Army and was originally tested as a pesticide. However, it became used as a personal inset repellant by military personnel in 1946 and entered civilian use a decade later.
You may know that DEET has caused seizures in some individuals, though the number is very few (about one per 100 million users). But there are some other troubling health concerns. The Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University found that “Everglades National Park employees having extensive DEET exposure were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function than were lesser exposed co-workers.” While this is anecdotal evidence, it is not surprising given what studies have demonstrated about DEET on the molecular-level.
DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of a central nervous system enzyme in both insects and mammals (remember: we’re mammals!). This enzyme plays a role in the function of the neurons which control muscles. More troubling, it is believed that DEET’s toxicity is strengthened when used in combination with other insecticides, which is very often the case. While this is the reason it is such a wonderful bug repellant and insecticide, it begs the question “what about us?”
While I acknowledge that DEET may be the best option when on an African safari or Amazonian jungle excursion where the chances of catching malaria or another insect-borne disease is high, it is not something I’d want to apply every evening just to sit out on the back patio and enjoy the firefly show. Even the EPA recommends only using it for a short period of time.
Fortunately, essential oils can effectively repel bugs.
- Mosquitoes: cedar, citronella, geranium, lavender, lemon, lemon eucalyptus*, lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme
- Flies: cedar, citronella, lavender, lemon, lemon eucalyptus*, eucalyptus, peppermint
- Ticks: rose geranium, juniper, rosewood, thyme, grapefruit, oregano
*Lemon eucalyptus essential oil is actually reported by the CDC to be a good natural substitution for DEET, but it is not recommended for use on children under 3 years.
Even the EPA acknowledges some of these “biopesticides”!
Plus, DIY all-natural bug repellant is a breeze to whip up!
I chose to use citronella, lemon eucalyptus, thyme, geranium, and lavender essential oils, and used them in even amounts.
DIY all-natural spray bug repellant:
For every 1 oz of witch hazel, add 30 drops of essential oils (total, not each). This is a 5% dilution, which is considered safest for application to the skin.
DIY all-natural salve bug repellant:
- Organic shea butter
- Organic Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil (Glass Jar) Nutiva 23 oz Oil Coconut oil
- Essential oils of choice
- A small glass jar
Make a lotion with equal parts shea butter and coconut oil, and add 30 drops of essential oils (total, not each) per 1 oz of the mixture. This is a 5% dilution, which is considered safest for application to the skin.