I’m from Minnesota, insects have always been a part of my everyday life. Mosquitoes, ticks, black flies, oh, yes, we have it! AND some sort of deterrent to these critters have been part of my life, too. (I vividly remember the sound of the “shwoosh” coming from the bottle of “Off” cool summer nights just before the bon fire!)
I really wanted to take a look at insect repellent next in my #SwitchToSafer series, assuming I already knew what I would find. Hmmm….not so, my friend! With the threat of Lyme Disease and West Nile virus, I am not as convinced that the chemicals are the evil I thought they were. Depending on what you fear the most, you may choose to use a stronger chemical which may have a stronger deterrent. (Yes, it is a bit like choosing the lesser of two evils, I know, but then, sometimes there just isn’t a “perfect” answer!)
Let me share with you what I found in my research and then I recommend you do some of your own research to discover what you are comfortable with for you and your family. (I will give you a few links to get you started.)
When you are looking to purchase bug spray you have two options. Like sunscreen, you can choose to buy bug spray with chemical or natural ingredients.
Chemical Active Ingredients Research:
DEET is a commonly found active ingredient in bug spray and is also a registered pesticide. DEET has been found to cause many serious side effects, especially when it is swallowed. Some symptoms are coughing, hives, loss of alertness, and vomiting. In more extreme cases, DEET can also cause seizures and coma, according to Medline Plus.
- 30% DEET is maximum concentration allowed in products. No more than 10% recommended for children 12 or under. 12 and under should also refrain from using DEET more than 3 times a day and try to avoid “prolonged use” (EWG).
- Damages plastics (EWG): It has been shown to damage plastics, which could mean it will be an issue on your insides, but also can breakdown any plastics that it might hit when being sprayed such as buckles on your backpack, shoes, etc.
On the plus side, it is very effective in repelling bugs, including mosquitoes and ticks. DEET has been used for 40 years and a tremendous amount of research has been done on the hazards. The Environment Working Group rates it as a “reasonable, if imperfect, choice” (EWG). (This statement, from the website I love and respect, is what pushed me a bit over my “No way I would ever consider using DEET” stance.)
I definitely recommend you do more reading here on this subject. The EPA did quite a bit of research on the detrimental effects and found severe reactions to DEET are only 1 in 100 million.
Picaridin may be an effective alternative to DEET. It doesn’t carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but has not been tested much over the long term. It has been found to cause skin irritation.
IR3535 seems to be a safer alternative to DEET, with no reports of adverse reaction reported in Europe. It has been found to irritate eyes and damage plastics, though, (EWG).
Natural Active Ingredients Research:
I have always felt God gives us what we need in nature to keep us healthy. This area is no different. We have options that are safer for the body, but not necessarily as effective. And this is where your own research comes in. Not much research has been done around effectiveness of more natural ingredients and obviously no research around protection from bugs carrying Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus.
You need to test it out and decide for yourself what you are more nervous about: chemicals from highly-researched repellents or the diseases that come from insect bites.
Vitamin B: Frankly, this one is kinda cool! I didn’t know this before I did my research.
Consuming Vitamin B complex helps you become less attractive to bugs. A variety of vitamins fall into the “B Vitamin” category: niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin and pantothenic acid.
Luckily, B vitamins are found in a variety of foods so a balanced diet of variety of whole foods should keep you stocked up. But these vitamins are water soluble, which means they aren’t stored in the body, and they are burned up by stress so you need to replenish regularly. If you are an average American living a stressful lifestyle, you would benefit from a really good B Vitamin. Super B.
We also have extracts from plants that may help deter bugs. Keep in mind that since the EPA has classified them as “minimum risk” pesticides, they are exempt from registration and registered efficacy testing.
Also keep in mind:
- Botanicals need to be applied frequently.
- People can have sensitivities to them so test them on small patches of skin initially.
- They will be more effective for some people than others.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the most effective oil tested so far. This oil is taken from eucalyptus tree. PMD occurs in the oil, which has been found to deter insects. When the oil is refined, the PMD is more concentrated. (EWG)
Other Botanical Solutions:
- helichrysum, lavender, marigolds, peppermint
- Lemon Balm repels mosquitos: contains citronellal which makes an aroma and flavor of lemon, unpleasant to the insect (Gerson Institute)
- Citronella for the same reason above (Gerson Institute)
- Bees and Hornets: roman chamomile
I will also add, that while my research got me thinking and not judging the chemicals so harshly anymore, personally, natural is still my preference and that is what my husband and I do for our children. I would much rather have my children affected by a bite from an insect than by a chemical I knowingly chose to put on my child.
Again, you need to do your own research to see what you are comfortable using with your family and you (or have I mentioned that already?) Here are a few links to get you started.
- EWG’S Guide To Bug Repellents In the Age of Zika: Repellent Chemicals
- EWG’s Advice for Avoiding Bugs
- EWG’s Dos and Don’ts for Avoiding Bugs
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