Which do you want…..seizures or a mosquito bite?

OK…I’m being dramatic.

For most of us, the summer is upon us or is fast approaching.  That means sun, fun, and bugs.  No one likes to get bitten or pestered by those pesky pests, but before you reach for the nearest bottle of bug repellant, consider this: are chemical bug repellents your best option? Sure they’ll keep the bugs away, but what will it cost you?


Bug repellents are different from insecticides in that repellents don’t kill the bugs, they just make them stay away from you.  The one chemical you will find in most repellents is DEET.  It is found in over 240 different products used to repel mosquitos and other flying insects.

DEET was developed in the USA in 1946 by the US army to be used in the jungles of Africa and the Korea.  The army was looking for a solution to repelling disease-ridden mosquitos, and they found it.

Mosquitos find you by detecting carbon dioxide from your breath and lactic acid from your skin.  DEET works by  blocking the lactic acid receptors on the antennae of the insects, so they can’t find you.

Some things you should know about DEET:

  • DEET is labeled as a “Class III” in the EPA’s toxicity classification which means it is “slightly toxic” (it’s kinda like being “slightly pregnant”) Don’t forget, DDT was also approved by the EPA for widespread agricultural use on our food until it was shown to cause birth defects and had devastating effects on the environment.  Only then was it was banned.
  • DEET does not just stay on your skin where it is applied.  It gets absorbed into your bloodstream and travels through all your body’s systems before exiting in your urine.  All of your body’s organs get a taste of DEET, not just your skin.

National Pesticide Information Center states:

Researchers applied technical grade DEET, and DEET formulated in a 15% ethanol solution, to the forearm skin of male human volunteers for an 8-hour exposure period. DEET was absorbed within two hours after application and absorption continued at a constant rate over the 8-hour exposure period. 

Hold still while I spray this toxic chemical all over your face

  • DEET was not approved for public use initially.  It was developed by the army, and was commercially produced about 10 years after that in 1957.  Since there was no EPA until 1970,  there were no safety standards.   In 1980 the EPA developed the standards for insect repellant, and DEET was re-examined for registration in 1998 using toxicity studies previously done in 1988.  Interestingly, the approval for use by the public was given only when the EPA  considered that public DEET use was “brief… and not long-term use”.  The EPA did not clarify what “brief” use was.  Is it once a day? once a week? um…not sure.
  • as for application on children, the EPA  stated: “There is no restriction on the percentage of DEET in the product for use on children, since data do not show any difference in effects between young animals and adult animals in tests done for product.”  In other words, 5% and 100% DEET was absorbed in the same way in adult and baby animals, so it was surmised that 5% and 100% DEET was safe for children. In the USA DEET preparations can contain anything up to 100% DEET.
  • the EPA is very vocal about pointing out the benefits of using DEET  on their website citing the CDC’s statistics on Lyme Disease and mosquito transmitted encephalitis.  The CDC recommends using DEET “whenever you are out-of-doors”.  I keep getting a picture in my mind of the CDC, the EPA, and 3M (first manufacturers of DEET products, or SC Johnson  the maker of OFF) all scratching each others backs…….
  • DEET melts plastics, polyester material, leather, and other materials.  There are cases of sunglasses melting, and even a GPS screen melting with the application of DEET. (and you’re putting this on your body?)
  • DEET can cause neurotoxicity symptoms in some which include tremors, seizures, and twitching.  There have been cases of extremely low blood pressure and low heart rates as well with topical application of DEET.
  • any preparation using 30% DEET or more is banned in Canada citing health risks

A Brand New Form of Bug Repellant!!

mosquito repellantOK, so you don’t want to use DEET? Why not try something that does not even touch you?  Like the new bug repellant that you wear on your belt or hang in your tent?

OFF clip on is a device with a little fan that circulates a magic cloud that you can’t see or smell.  This magic chemical cloud contains “metofluthrin”.

Metofluthrin is a chemical in the pyrethroid family that produces severe neurotoxic symptoms in rats, rabbits, and dogs.  You might know it by the brand name “Raid”.  Yes, that little OFF clip on fan is covering you in a cloud of Raid-gas.

Here are some documented symptoms seen in mammals with Metofluthrin in the lab:

  • enlarged and abnormal livers
  • seizures
  • convolutions
  • hypersensitivity
  • excess vocalization (whining and barking in dogs, screaming in rats and rabbits)
  • increased salivation
  • death
  • The class of insecticide that Metofluthrin is in (pyrenthrins) has also been linked to autism.

Breathe deeply…..ahhhh! So, you’re having seizures…. at least you’re not being bitten by those pesky mosquitos!

The odd thing is, the directions on the label say

  • “Clip the unit to your belt, pants/shorts waistband, purse or any other convenient location next to you….place the unit next to you on a table”

but the “precautions” on the label say

  • “harmful if inhaled. Avoid breathing vapors, mist or gas”

Confused? Yeah, me too.

This is a fairly new product, but reports are coming in from pet owners that when they are using this “fan” around their pets they notice their pets are  having nerve toxicity symptoms like vomiting.  I predict we will see a lot more of these types of reports when and if this product gains popularity.

                                                                 Sensible Help                                                                                                                                          

Luckily, there are many products that are provided by Mother Nature to help get rid of what’s bugging you.  Most of them are easily accessible so you can make preparations yourself, or you can buy ready-made products from manufacturers.

The best natural substances that will repel mosquitos are:

  • citronella – derived from certain grasses, it is purely botanical.  The scent prevents mosquitos from finding you.  Available in candles, sprays, lotions, and wipes.  It does not harm the environment.   Lotions and other topical preparations are not recommended for children under 3 years due to skin sensitivity.  Candles are fine for every age.  Citronella has been used commercially since 1948.
  • lemon eucalyptus – derived from the lemon eucalyptus tree, this oil can be used on clothing, in homes, and on pets.  It repels mites, fleas, and mosquitos. There are many products that contain this oil.  I have not tried them all.  Make sure you read all the ingredients before you use it.  It can be diluted in oil or alcohol for home-made sprays.
  • geranium oil – contains the same substance, citronellol, as citronella.  It can be diluted for home sprays.  People sensitive to perfumed smells can have geranium oil sensitivity.
  • lavender oil, tea tree oil, peppermint and spearmint oil can all be used in spray form, but again must be diluted in alcohol or  base oil such as vegetable or almond oil or sunflower oil.  Witch hazel can also be used as a base for topical applications.

Commercial preparations are also available.  Check you local health stores for the brand that they carry.  One popular brand is Burt’s Bees.  They make a wonderful insect repellant that contains citronella, lemon grass, geranium, and rosemary oil among others.  Herbal Armor is another brand with similar, but a few less ingredients.  If you live in Australia, you must know about Mosi-Guard.  This seems to be a popular choice for travelers. (and it repels leeches too!)

The down side: you must apply most natural topical products every hour or 2 for effectiveness.  Some people are sensitive to certain oils it and it may cause rashes in those people.   You can check for sensitivity to topical products by applying a small amount to your wrist to see if you have a reaction.

         Make Your Own!      


Repel bugs naturally!

Making your own mosquito repellant is very simple.  Essential oils can be purchased online or from your local health food store.  Make sure if you buy online, that it is from a reputable company that you can trust not to use additives and impurities in your oils.  I have trusted Mountain Rose Herbs for years.

As stated before, some people are sensitive to certain oils, and almost all essential oils are irritating to skin without being diluted in a carrier-either a base oil or alcohol.

My suggestion is to try just one or two essential oils, and then if the desired effect is not reached, add another until you know that you are not sensitive to it and it works.  You can have a fun “make your own bug repellant day” with your kids and come up with a great personal recipe.  (or use the vodka to have an adult “make your own bug repellant night” 🙂 )

Lemon grass oil will keep the mosquitos away

Here is a basic recipe:                      

Take 2 – 4 ounces of distilled witch hazel (or witch hazel extract which has some alcohol in it.  Witch Hazel can be purchased in most drug stores),  or vodka (has to be vodka, not rum or scotch…probably don’t want to use the vodka based spray on kids or while on that Girl Scout camping trip) Safflower oil can be used as well, but it would have to be rubbed on as the oil does not work well in a spray bottle.

Pick 2 of these and add 1/4 tsp (24 drops)each:

  •              citronella essential oil (not the kind that you put in a lamp and burn)
  •               eucalyptus essential oil
  •              lemon grass essential oil

Pick 2 of these essential oils and add 1/8 tsp (12 drops)  each:

  •                rosemary oil
  •               cedar oil
  •                geranium oil
  •                peppermint oil (not peppermint extract that you find in the baking aisle)
  •                spearmint oil
  •                lavender oil

Mix in a 6 oz spray bottle, shake well and spray on exposed area of skin and to clothing. Avoid getting into eyes or mouth as it may be irritating. Wash hands after application to avoid getting it into your eyes.  You may need to apply every 2 hours or so.

The witch hazel is a really nice base as it evaporates quickly and feels great on your skin.  I thought I would “smell weird”, but you really can’t smell anything once the spray disappears.  I used peppermint, spearmint, and eucalyptus (that’s all I had at the moment).  It was cool and refreshing and the mosquitos did stay off me!

Again, just because it is a natural product, does not mean you can’t get  a reaction to it (remember…poison ivy is natural too!) So test a small amount to see if you are sensitive.

You do have many choices when it comes to avoiding mosquitos this summer.  It’s just as easy to buy a natural repellant as it is a chemical one.

Small steps to a healthier life……for you and your family.


Skin Care Recipes and Remedies

EPA Fact Sheet on DEET

Extension Toxicology Network on DEET

Insecticide Information Page

OFF Clip on MSDS

Categories: child safety, health, health and safety

Tags: , , , , , , ,

31 replies

  1. Citronella is also linked to lung damage when inhaled (http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-627-citronella%20oil.aspx?activeingredientid=627&activeingredientname=citronella%20oil.)

    Understand that any product can be harmful if misused or applied in concentrations higher than recommended. Its not as simple as seizure -vs- a mosquito bite, its weighing the risk of mosquito borne diseases and side effects -vs- any side effects associated with using a repellent as directed.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond & taking the time to find the WebMD info on citronella oil (my least trusted source on essential oils, but OK) There are many oils that are not meant to inhaled or applied to skin or in eyes, ears, mouth and genitals. That’s why you read and take courses and learn how to use the products you have properly so that no one gets hurt. Essential oils are complex chemical structures that mostly do good with very little side effects when used properly. We can’t say that with pharmaceuticals or DEET.
      Yes, I get it. If I take a sharpened pencil and use that to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that’s a good use of a pencil. If I take that same pencil and jam it in my eyeball causing jelly to leak out, that’s a bad use.
      My beef with DEET is this: it is not always necessary, and we are conditioned to kill mosquitoes with elephant guns in this country when it’s just not needed. The CDC recommends lemon eucalyptus essential oil in concentrations of 7% for an effective replacement for DEET. This is the point I am trying to make. There are alternatives. I would much rather use a 100% natural product on my body…knowing that it only takes 26 seconds to go from the surface of your skin to your bloodstream to every organ in your body. Do you want DEET to be coursing through your blood and penetrating every cell of your brain liver and kidneys? Or would you rather have lemon eucalyptus oil…something that nature provides for us that in its natural form I could chow down on…?

  2. Great advice. Personally though I would rather be bitten by a thousand mosquitos every day than even smell citronella for a few seconds. It has to be the WORST smelling thing in the universe…. So I like that you gave other natural options. Most people turn straight to citronella. I might be allergic – don’t know… But I do know that I find it profoundly offensive smelling and feel ill everytime I have caught a whiff of it. I would prefer to take my chances with deet to be honest, though I think I would choose bites first. The other oils sound ok though, so this is super helpful if those work and it is so refreshing to hear alternatives to cintronella, which I wish would disappear from the world

    • Thanks for your comment and your very strong opinion of citronella. The CDC has actually deemed lemon eucalyptus as a very effective alternative to DEET with used in 4% concentration. (I hope you don’t want lemon eucalyptus to disappear from the face of the earth…)

  3. We went to Mexico a couple of years ago and I really attract the Mosquitos so used lots of deer. The room was also sprayed daily by staff. I became shaky and felt unwell whils there and a couple of days after my return I had a seizure whilst at work! I have never had one before or since and all tests came back negative.

    • Not surprised! I’m so glad you’re ok now. In my experience lemon eucalyptus essential oil is the best repellant. Using that with another oil, like citronella oil (the essential oil), you can really make a very effective alternative to the chemicals. Thanks for your comment!

  4. So excited to try some of these all natural bug sprays! Mosquitoes love me and I get big welts from them, but I can’t use 95% of the bugsprays sold because they cause me to go into anaphylaxis (coughing, wheezing, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, vomiting; not fun). I can’t even be within 15 yards of it being sprayed without having some kind of reaction. Nice to see that other people out there think this stuff is dangerous!

    • More and more people are finding that they are sensitive to common chemicals that are present in our every day life. The lemon eucalyptus I have found, is the most powerful essential oil out there for deterring bugs. Play around with the scents because I believe they act differently on different people because we have different scents that are unique to us.Thanks so mcuh for taking the time to comment! Let me know how it works!

  5. As my wife just started using Off Clip-on, I found your write-up while researching the product. After reading your words I was worried. After reading the actual data sheet (thanks for the link), I am far less worried, far less than for the diseases mosquitoes carry. I have assessed every bug spray we have used for insect control in our home over the past 35 years and the format & terminology of these standard datasheets are familiar. The toxic levels of the Off chemical for a user would need to be ridiculously high to come even within shouting distance of the dose that kills half the lab rats in their tests (“LD50”). Licking a case of inserts each day for roughly 4 months would do it, I think. Short of that, I don’t see any logic behind your statements about the Off product. It sounds like you are simply a believer that anything from a chemical factory is suspect and anything from a garden (other than poison ivy, etc, as you point out) is safe. That is far too simplistic and illogical for me. Not to mention your conspiracy theories (“the CDC, the EPA, and 3M … all scratching each others backs…”), which to me speaks of someone wont to jump to conclusions instead of laying out the facts in a manner more understandable to your audience than an EPA datasheet (greek to most folks, understandably). I hope you move more toward facts and less toward innuendo in the future, your stated goal here is an admirable one. For me, I’ll enjoy the NC summer evenings, snuggled next to my wife (and within that – for us – effective cloud from the Off gadget). Best regards.

    • I am all about making your own choices based on doing your own research. I would never advocate believing any ONE source (me included). I believe this product to be harmful and I would advise anyone not to use it. (Is a little bit of poison ok? Not to me) Thanks for your comment! You are truly a reader I like because you went out and sought your own facts and then made up your own mind! Yay you!

  6. Like your comments, and I agree with you. Problem with Burt’s Bees though. Since they were bought by Clorox a few years ago they have added all kinds of nasty ingredients.

  7. I bought the Off Clip-on to rid myself of the pesky mosquitos while spending hours in the garden. When I got home and read the warnings the one that stuck out was that it is “toxic to bees.” Really???? So we’re killing one of the main crop pollinators just so we don’t get mosquito bites? I’m taking mine back for a refund. This is absolutely outrageous!

  8. We have tried all these natural solutions, and unfortunately, none work like deet. Our yard is full of Mosquitos, so I’ve tried everything. My friend’s friend had a 7 y.o. that died from rocky mtn spotted fever (brought on by a mosquito bite). Another friend’s mother suffers greatly from Lyme disease. I agree these toxic chemicals are harmful, otoh, disease from infected insects is no joke. I hope in the future there will be effective bug repellents that are non-toxic. Right now there aren’t a lot of options that really keep bugs off.

    • I am so sorry about your friend’s child! I had no idea that you could acquire Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from mosquitoes (I always thought ticks carried that disease) I live on a swamp and the natural sprays that I make are very effective for me, however you have the do what you feel is best for you and your family.
      New things are always coming out, so don’t give up.

  9. Thanks so much for all this natural and helpful information. Thanks also for the chemical info, as I discovered that I can’t even go in a hardware store or anywhere pesticides and insecticides are sitting out
    on shelves. I have rheumatoid arthritis and even getting the slightest
    whiff of these chemicals causes me to not to be able to walk for awhile. I heard a pediatric toxicologist who teaches at the Uni. of S.
    Carolina in Charleston talk about these chemicals on C-Span one
    night and he referred to them as endocrine modifiers. I had come in
    to contact with some chemicals and after going to the doctor to try to
    figure out what was wrong with me because my TSH (1 of the thyroid
    tests they do) was way out of range. The doctor’s speech on C-Span
    answered my questions, as I am hypothyroid and this explained why
    I was so sick from the exposure. We need to be very careful when the city is spraying for mosquitoes. I have the city to not spray in
    front of my house and to call me to let me know when they will be spraying in my neighborhood. People don’t realize just how danger-
    ous all of these chemicals really are; and some of them, like chlordane they used to use for termites continues to work after 50
    years or more. Thanks again for everything! We all need to be dili-
    gent when it comes to our environment, animals and ourselves. We
    are killing Mother Earth and need to stop using all of these chemicals.

    • Thanks so mcuh for taking the time to comment. You are living proof that these chemicals are unhealthy. Unfortunately, there are those that are being affected but don’t have the outward symptoms that you do.
      As long as I can use a keyboard, I will be trying to get the word out about harmful environmental hazards.

  10. Thanks so much for the info. I am convinced I have a severe allergy to DEET. It took me awhile to figure this out. I can’t even be near someone who is spraying it on themselves. It sends a very weird feeling through my body as if I am going to have a seizure. I get very lathargic and almost tingly. I have Lupus and always thought it may be a symptom of that. However, I never have these symptoms unless bug spray is on or around me. So, beware, this stuff can not be good for anyone.

  11. Thanks for the info! I’m especially grateful for the home-made mosquito repellent recipe… nothing better than organics, and I plan to use it and maybe plant some lemongrass in my garden 🙂 Thanks again.

  12. I need to read this again. Thanks for the very helpful information! I’m glad I don’t use the mosquito repellant with deet on my girls. Applying mosquito repellant is a daily routine for us living in Jakarta. I found the mosquito repellant that does not contain deet, but I would like something natural better. I don’t like worrying about Dengue fever, but that’s part of life living in Jakarta…

  13. Thanks for the natural tips — it seems that mosquitoes are pretty hard to block or kill according to http://www.mosquitoworld.net/mosquitomyths.php
    I shudder when I recall running through clouds of ‘fog’ that was sprayed to kill mosquitoes in our neighbourhood by the ‘fogmen’ — (wonder how many of them are still around? and the jury is still out on the full consequences to me, I’m afraid).

    • The “fog men” are still alive and well in many parts of the country. (Chicago for one) Again, I think common sense says that if you know fogging will occur, make sure you close the windows, don’t go out etc.
      I still love my home made repellant–lemon grass oil and peppermint in witch hazel!
      Thanks for the comment


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