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.
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.
- 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!!
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
- excess vocalization (whining and barking in dogs, screaming in rats and rabbits)
- increased salivation
- 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.
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!
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” 🙂 )
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.