It’s summertime again, which means many of us will be spending a lot more time outdoors walking, biking, hiking, swimming, camping, kayaking — anything to soak up as much sun as possible! But generally along with the great outdoors come bugs, including the much-dreaded, unbelievably annoying, and potentially fatal mosquitoes.
These insects carry some of the most deadly diseases in the world, including West Nile, dengue fever, and malaria. To avoid these potentially life threatening illnesses, many health officials warn the public to be sure they are using mosquito repellant containing DEET, a powerful chemical.
The Dangers Of DEET
DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), first used by the U.S. Army, has been sold to consumers since the 1950s. It can cause allergic skin reactions, particularly at concentrations of 50 percent and above, and eye irritation. A 2013 analysis of about 4,000 DEET-related calls to poison control centers found that 450 people needed medical treatment after applying DEET; two died. Most cases of seizures, slurred speech, coma and other serious side effects have occurred in people who ingested DEET or applied it for three or more days in a row, or used products with 95 percent DEET or more.
DEET is the active ingredient in almost every commercial bug spray product available on the market today, but unfortunately it’s a toxic chemical. While it may effectively keep the bugs away, it is not a good thing to be inhaling or spraying on our skin.
“We think that DEET and other chemical-based repellents should be used only if other, safer methods don’t work for you,” says Urvashi Rangan, director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center.
Luckily, research suggests that all-natural repellants can be an even more powerful alternative to the commonly used DEET. Two separate studies found that lemon eucalyptus essential oil can be equally as or even more effective at warding off mosquitoes.
In one of the studies, published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, researchers tested the effectiveness of three different types of eucalyptus-based repellants against the Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles funestus species of mosquitos. These are two breeds that carry the deadly malaria parasite in Sub-Saharan Africa. Participants of the study put the substance on their legs and feet and found that it protected them completely from mosquito bites for anywhere between 6 to 7.75 hours.
In another study, conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a mix of 30 percent lemon eucalyptus essential oil was tested against two other naturals repellants and DEET. The various concoctions were put up against the Anophelus darlingi. The two natural repellants, including one made from the Neem tree and the other a mix of several different essential oils, were both found to be ineffective at preventing mosquito bites. A 15 percent DEET compound performed much better, providing an 85 percent protection from bites. Best of all, however, was the lemon eucalyptus oil, which offered a 97 percent protection for over 4 hours.
Why Lemon Eucalyptus Oil?
This oil comes from the Lemon Eucalyptus tree and is native to North Eastern Australia. It is believed to work so well against mosquitoes because its main active ingredient, p-menthane-3,8-diol, or PMD, blocks mosquitoes from sensing human presence and masks signals such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Many products on the market today may be labeled ‘PMD,’ which could mean either that it contains the natural essential oil itself or a synthetic chemical replicate. You an easily buy the pure oil itself however, and make your own bug spray — just be sure not to get this in your eyes, as it can irritate. ChemicalWatch rates PMD in the least-toxic category.
Recipe: Homemade All-Natural Insect Repellant
While you can find this in the store, it is often synthetic or contains some other, not-so-natural ingredients. It is easy to make and just as effective, provided you use the proper ingredients. Just be sure to purchase Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and not a combination of lemon and eucalyptus oils!
- 25 Drops Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- 4 Ounces of Rubbing Alcohol or Witch Hazel
- 1 Tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
- 2 Ounces of Coconut Oil (optional)
- Mix all ingredients together and store in a small, leak-proof spray bottle.
- Shake well before use
- Spray all over clothes and exposed skin (oil can stain)
- Be careful not to get in eyes
- Reapply every 4-6 hours, as needed.
Considering the alternative DEET is highly toxic, and this is just as effective, if not more so, what would you rather spray on yourselves and your children? Share this information with your friends and family!