Mosquitoes are one of Summer's biggest buzzkills! We all love to spend time outside, but escaping biting bugs during your picnic, outdoor concert, or trip to the park is impossible. When the bugs are biting our instinct is to grab the closest bottle of bug repellent and douse ourselves in a layer of protection. And for good reason: not only are bug bites itchy and unsightly, mosquitoes can also carry diseases like the West Nile and Zika viruses. Blindly choosing your repellent, however, can be just as hazardous to your health as the bug bites. That’s because over 500(!) bug repellent products registered with the EPA contain DEET as the active ingredient.
But what is DEET?
N,N-Diethyl meta-toluamide, better known as DEET, is a chemical pesticide that was developed by the US Army in 1946 to protect soldiers from disease-carrying insects in jungle combat situations. It was introduced for civilian use in 1957 and it is still used today as a common ingredient to repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting pests. Every year 1/3 of Americans use insecticides containing DEET, despite the label warnings that exposure can cause headaches, shortness of breath, rashes, eye irritation, memory loss, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and tremors. The EPA recommends avoiding prolonged exposure of DEET and washing it off skin and washing clothes as soon as returning indoors, but at Sally B’s we believe in avoiding it all together. Research shows that up to 56% of DEET applied topically penetrates intact human skin and 17% is absorbed into the bloodstream.
But DEET isn't the only ingredient to avoid when picking a bug repellent. Bug repellents have the same ingredient concerns as other personal care products, including toxic alcohols, artificial fragrance, parabens, and more. It is important that you look beyond marketing labels on the front of your spray and read ingredient labels on the back.
How can I protect myself without chemicals?
There are ways to protect your skin from mosquitoes without applying harmful chemicals:
- Minimize exposed skin by covering up with clothing
- Wear lightweight clothing to reduce mosquito-attracting perspiration (they love lactic acid, which is excreted through sweat).
- Wear light colored clothing. Mosquitoes use sight to find their “victims” and dark clothing is a great target.
- Avoid spending time outdoors between dusk and dawn when the mosquitoes are at their most active.
- Remove all standing water in your yard, as it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Eat garlic. It seeps through your pores and the mosquitoes don’t like it.
- Install a bat box in your yard. Bats are rarely a threat to humans, and bats eat their weight in mosquitoes each night!
- Plant an organic, mosquito-repelling garden with plants like citronella, catnip, marigolds, lavender, and peppermint.
- Use a non-toxic repellent, like our B Unbitten.
Many essential oils - like the oils from cedar, rosemary, cinnamon, thyme, lemon, eucalyptus, and geranium - have proven to be successful pest deterrents. We don't recommend applying essential oils directly onto skin, but they can be quite effective after diluting them in water or oil. Sally B developed B Unbitten with an effective blend of organic essential oils and other good-for-you ingredients, like Organic Fractionated Coconut Oil (coconut oil without the solids), which helps the product last longer on skin and leave it feeling silky smooth.
I still got bitten. Now what?
The itch from a mosquito bite can be maddening. There are natural, non-toxic remedies to soothe the sting. We have had customers tell us that applying a bit of B Unbitten directly on top of the bite has been helpful in reducing symptoms, but here are other home remedies:
- Wipe a damp, cool tea bag over the bites. The tannins will reduce the swelling associated with the bite.
- Dab essential oil of peppermint (diluted a bit with water) to the affected area to add a cooling sensation, which will temporarily mask the itching sensation.
- Rub crushed basil leaves on the bite to relieve itching, thanks to its camphor and thymol compounds.
- Rub apple cider vinegar on the bite, as the acidity can be effective in controlling excessive itching.
This summer, be one step ahead of the mosquitoes. Stash non-toxic repellent in your car or purse so you're not tempted to use a DEET-filled product. Also, stock your garden with mosquito-repelling plants as a first line of defense and a natural apothecary for when bites do occur.