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Repel Mosquitoes Naturally

08.15.11 Repel Mosquitoes Naturally

deet free natural bug spray

Try enjoying a summertime nature walk with the family or an outdoor dinner with friends while being attacked by mosquitoes. It can be nearly impossible, so many of us turn to bug repellent spray. The importance of bug repellent is two-fold; of course, it minimizes and even prevents those itchy bites, but it also is important in preventing the spread of Lyme disease and West Nile – a virus that can cause serious illness and even death. The downside? Many bug sprays contain the chemical pesticide DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) which is the most widely recommended active ingredient in conventional insect repellents.

Is DEET safe? Depends on who you ask. After doing toxicity testing in 1998, the EPA concluded that DEET does not present a health concern so long as it’s used as directed. Their recommendations for safely using insect repellents containing DEET include:

  • Use just enough to cover exposed skin
  • Do not apply to hands or near the mouth and eyes
  • Do not apply over cuts, wounds or irritated skin
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas
  • Upon returning indoors, immediately wash treated skin with soap and water
  • Wash treated clothing

(Yikes - I don't think I followed ANY of those guidelines when I was growing up!) However, on the other side of the table... Summarizing a Duke University study, the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides said, "With heavy exposure to DEET . . . humans may experience memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors and shortness of breath." "It's not an ideal, perfectly safe drug," said Dr. Marcel Casavant, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center headquartered at Children's Hospital. Neurological damage, including rare seizures, have been reported, but those are mostly "because the material hasn't been applied properly, hasn't been washed off or there was re-dosing too soon," Casavant said.

The most serious concerns about DEET are its effects on the central nervous system. Dr. Mohammed Abou-Donia of Duke University studied lab animals' performance of neuro-behavioral tasks requiring muscle co-ordination. He found that lab animals exposed to the equivalent of average human doses of DEET performed far worse than untreated animals. Abou-Donia also found that combined exposure to DEET and permethrin, a mosquito spray ingredient, can lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction. Regardless of how safe the EPA deems DEET, it’s still a potent chemical pesticide which can be absorbed by the skin. On children this is particularly concerning since their immune and endocrine systems are still immature. There’s good news, though. According to the CDC, “Oil of lemon eucalyptus [active ingredient: p-menthane 3, 8-diol (PMD)], a plant- based repellent, is also registered with the EPA. In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the US it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.” Our take is, if there's a safer alternative - choose that. We now carry LuSa Organics Natural Bug Repellent Spray - a DEET free insect spray with Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil as the active ingredient. So, now you can have all of the benefits associated with using a bug repellant, but none of the concerns or harsh smells associated with DEET. You can also follow these other precautions to help avoid bites when possible:

  • avoid being outside at the "buggiest" times of day (dawn and dusk)
  • wear long sleeves or pants wear light colored clothing, mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors
  • remove standing water from around your home to help prevent breeding
  • avoid using floral smelling body products - these can attract mosquitoes
  • use natural insect repellant candles
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