We’ve all been there. You forgot to apply insect repellent and quickly realize you’ve been eaten alive by mosquitoes or other insects. Once you realize you have several bug bites, it might be tempting to drench yourself in the closest bottle of whatever bug spray you can find, but is that the safest option? Let’s talk about why you should care and if natural insect repellents actually work.
Why you should care:
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick- and insect-transmitted diseases, which can have serious health impacts and may even lead to death, are on the rise. While the agency has reported no cases of Zika transmission in the U.S. in 2018, it warns that pest-borne diseases are “a large and growing public health problem in the United States.”
The CDC reports that cases of disease from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016, and the rate of emergence of new or newly recognized pathogens is increasing. Since 2004, nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced in the U.S, including the mosquito-borne viruses Zika and chikungunya.
What’s in most insect repellents?
Some people tend to stay away from insect repellents because of chemicals like DEET, which is a popular additive to store-bought bug sprays. I learned from reading the EWG’s 2018 Guide to Bug Repellent’s, it is actually OK to use repellents with DEET as long as it is less than 30% and as long as it is used on adults. For children, you can see this chart to learn what levels are acceptable.
That doesn’t necessarily make it the safest choice though just because it is “OK”. The EWG goes on to say this: “DEET’s safety profile is better than many people assume. It has a long history of use, is very effective in reducing bites and has minimal safety concerns. DEET isn’t a perfect choice, nor the only choice. But weighed against the consequences of a life-changing disease, such as West Nile virus, we believe it is a reasonable choice.” The way I interpret this is, compared to the West Nile virus, DEET isn’t that bad for you. To me, that’s like saying compared to eating McDonald’s every day, eating it once a week isn’t that bad for you. It’s still bad for you, just not as bad.
Since I am always around my toddler and always prefer to use the least amount of chemicals as possible, I’d rather use all natural options that work really well for us. I’ll start with my favorite which is very easy to make and very effective. Again, this is what works for me. I encourage you to give it a try, but perhaps testing the solutions for short periods of time would allow you to see if they work well for you.
What you need to make your own:
First, add the essential oils to the bottle, then fill the rest of the way with tap water. When you’re heading outdoors, spray it all over your clothes and exposed skin, and reapply as needed (I like to reapply every 1-2 hours if I’m outside for several hours at a time).
If you’re low on time or traveling and looking for a safe store bought alternative, these are two other products I have personally used and recommend: