Natural Mosquito Repellants: 4 Natural Alternatives to DEET
Trees are budding, the flowers blooming, birds are singing, and frogs are chirping once more. People all over are giddy with spring-fever and grateful to be outdoors after the cold, dark days of winter. The scene is an idyllic one, but with the emergence of this anxiously anticipated new life comes one small life form that will not be welcomed back joyfully. Highly irritating and a vehicle for disease as well, of course, it's the mosquito. People drench themselves in chemical sprays and lotions to avoid the irritable buzz, itchy bumps, and potential disease of mosquitoes, but what many don't realize is the fact that the chemicals in commercial repellants may be doing harm all their own.
What's Wrong With DEET?
DEET, the active mosquito repelling chemical in most commercial products, is a chemical that has many people rightly worried. Though the EPA has issued statements backing its commercial use, recent studies show it may not be as safe as they claim. Known effects of DEET include:
Central Nervous Problems from Extensive Usage. In a study of Everglades National Park employees, those who used DEET most extensively were most likely to report problems with insomnia, mood disturbances, and impaired cognitive functioning. In one case of extensive DEET absorption, a man applied a DEET containing mosquito repellant several times throughout the day before relaxing in a sauna. As a result, he developed manic psychosis, aggressive behavior, delusions, and hyperactivity - directly tied to acute DEET toxicity.
Skin Reactions in Humans. Localized skin irritation, large blisters, and permanent scarring by the elbow were symptoms being reported by soldiers who applied mosquito repellant with high concentrations of DEET. These reports prompted a more thorough test of the solution and in this study, 48% of those who applied the high concentration DEET repellant had these same reactions.
Danger for those with Enzyme Deficiency. There have been multiple cases of toxic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological disorder characterized by agitation, ataxia, disorientation, weakness, seizure, coma, and in some cases, even death, tied directly to DEET. The danger is especially pertinent to children. Although a doctor would warn parents of enzyme deficient children not to use DEET, enzyme deficiency is not an easily identified health problem. Nearly 50 reported cases have been reported of seizures directly caused by DEET exposure, many of them children, and some of whom died as a result.
Reproductive Consequences. DEET was found to be absorbed quickly through the skin and distributed to the entire body, including the fetus growing in pregnant mothers. It has also been found that the body will rid itself of this compound mainly through urine, though lactating mothers will excrete DEET in their breast milk as well. In animal studies of DEET, the chemical was shown to significantly reduce successful implantation, increase prenatal mortality by about 15%, and increase mortality between birth and weaning by 30% in rats being tested.
Though the above cases are severe and uncommon, the potential harm DEET can do coupled with how little is known about the consequences of its long term use, particularly on the brain, skin, and reproductive systems for which it is known to effect, are good reasons for people to be wary. The good news is that there are several natural alternatives available for those who wish to repel mosquitoes.
#1. Avoid Mosquito Attractants
If you want to repel mosquitoes, it makes sense to start by avoiding what attracts them in the first place:
Perspiration: Consider a shower before you head outdoors. Mosquitoes love moisture and this includes perspiration. If you plan on being active outdoors, bring a towel to wipe perspiration from your skin.
Dark Clothing: Though most people assume mosquitoes are driven almost entirely by smell, this isn't actually the case. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark places and dark colored animals. Wear light clothes to avoid drawing attention.
Lactic Acid: Lactic acid is released in our sweat and after we eat salty and high-potassium foods. Avoid excess sodium and potassium in your diet and mosquitoes won't find you quite so appealing.
Exercise:Mosquitoes are attracted to the heat of our body and the carbon dioxide in our breath so physical exertion tends to attract more to us.
Alcohol: According to a 2011 study, people who have drank the equivalent of 3 beers worth of alcohol receive 30% more bug bites. Scientists believe this is due to alcohol's effect on our body temperature and breathing.
Floral Scents: Though people love floral scented perfumes, hair products, and sunscreens, they are unfortunately share their affection with mosquitoes. Skip the perfume, hair products, and scented lotions to keep mosquitoes at bay.
#2. Use Garden Plants to Your Advantage
Adding certain varieties of plants to your garden will reduce the amount of mosquitoes in your yard. The following plants are known for their ability to repel mosquitoes:
- Lemon Grass
- Citronella (aka mosquito plant)
#3. "Squito Scare" Natural Mosquito Repellant
This all-natural mosquito repellant draws its power from eucalyptus and castor oil. Studies have shown that eucalyptus oil is actually more effective DEET, especially lemon eucalyptus. Additionally, it smells better and is much gentler on the skin than DEET formulations. Castor oil too is known for its ability to repel mosquitoes and has been used over a hundred years for that purpose. This particular formulation is designed to be used as a spray, but if you prefer, you may add it to aloe vera gel for a spreadable consistency. Be sure to store in a cool, dark place when not in use.
- 30 Drops Lemon Eucalyptus(best) or Regular Eucalyptus Oil
- 20 Drops Castor Oil
- 4 Tbsp Olive Oil (good for dry skin) OR 4 Tbsp Witch Hazel (good for oily skin)
- 2.5 oz. Spray Bottle
- Funnel (optional)
Pour lemon or regular eucalyptus oil and castor oil directly into spray bottle using a funnel as a guide if needed. Add witch hazel or olive oil based on your skin type. Screw on the top and give it a good shake. Voila! Easy, all-natural mosquito repellant!
#4. Natural Itch Relievers
Despite our best efforts to repel mosquitoes, if you're outdoors in the late spring or summer, you're probably going to be bitten. Here are a couple of the natural ways people relieve the itch:
- Vinegar: Add directly to bite OR for multiple bites, add 2 cups to a hot bath
- Hot Tea Bag
- Baking Soda and Water Paste
- Salt Water Paste
- Witch Hazel
- Fresh Basil Leaves
Cornell: Deet Pesticide Information Profile
About.com Chemistry: Natural Insect Repellent Recipe