Natural Insect Repellents
Avoid Ticks and Mosquitos with Essential Oils
Having grown up in rural Minnesota, my brothers and I loved the outdoors and spent copious amounts of time in the wild as kids. One of our favorite haunts was a multi-acre field that we simply referred to as “The Weeds.” One day after spending a whole day exploring The Weeds, we had an experience that still gives me the heebiejeebies to think about!
My younger brother slept in the bunk below me. Not long after the lights went out, I could hear him scratching and squirming. Finally, he called out for Mom and Dad. They came in, turned on the light and threw back the covers. My brother’s body was crawling with ticks!
Seeing all those ticks, I vaulted off the top bunk onto the floor and begin a frenzied search for ticks on me in all the cracks and crevices! Fortunately, in spite of the tick infestation, neither of us contracted Lyme disease. But the 300,000 Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year aren’t so lucky.
Of course, Minnesota is also known as the land of 10,000 mosquito hatcheries—er, I mean, lakes. And in the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota I’ve seen swarms of mosquitoes as dense as clouds. I swear they could carry away a small child!
No doubt you too like to enjoy the out-of-doors to some extent, even if it’s sitting on your deck or patio, or enjoying a stroll through a park or wooded area. If so, how do we enjoy nature and yet avoid ticks, mosquitoes and other such vermin?
Let me provide a few strategies for avoiding ticks and mosquitoes altogether. Then we’ll look at some ways to repel them when they’re unavoidable.
3 Strategies for Avoiding Ticks and Mosquitoes
1. Know their season.
Both ticks and mosquitoes thrive in cool, wet, and humid areas and times of the year. Generally speaking, spring is their breeding and hatching time, so plan around their schedule to avoid them. On the other hand, expect to have to contend with them if you go hiking, or spend time outdoors in the spring.
2. Know their habitat.
These critters love brush, tall grass, and swampy areas. Shun places like those when you can or be prepared to do battle with these insects. By the way, ticks don’t fall or jump on you from trees. They climb up onto grass and shrubs and cling to your pant leg when you brush by.
3. Know their hosts.
If you have pets that roam the out-of-doors where there are ticks, the ticks will likely hitchhike into your home on them. Check your pets over for ticks to make sure that they’re not bringing in unwanted guests.
How to Repel Ticks and Mosquitoes
Ticks and mosquitoes are attracted to us by the CO2 and lactic acid that we give off when breathing and sweating. In order to repel these bugs, we’re attempting to cloak our scent with something they won’t recognize or don’t like. The longer that scent lingers, the longer we’ll enjoy protection from those vermin.
DEET (diethyltoluamide) is the most popular insect repellent available in the US today. Nearly a third of Americans reach for insect repellent with DEET each year. You’ll find a wide variety of insect repellents containing anywhere from 20 to 100 percent DEET.
But while DEET is considered one of the most effective repellents, it’s a known neurotoxin. Between the years 1961 and 2002, there have been eight known deaths due to DEET exposure. Other DEET side effects include:
- Skin or mucous membrane irritation
- Numb or burning lips
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle and joint pain
Thankfully, in recent years, a number of more natural insect repellents have arrived on the market. In June 2006 Consumer Reports announced that after conducting their own tests, they found Repel Lemon Eucalyptus to be the best non-DEET mosquito repellent. As the name indicates, the essential oil lemon eucalyptus is the active ingredient in this repellent.
In another study, the United States Department of Agriculture ranked Bite Blocker number two in effectiveness after Repel. Bite Blocker is touted as the “safest product on the market that works.” Its active ingredients include: coconut oil, soybean oil, purified water, geranium oil, glycerin, lecithin, and vanillin.
- Mountain mint
If you’d like to mix your own natural insect repellent, check out Amanda’s article, A Natural Path to Treating Lyme Disease, for a great recipe that you’ll love and the bugs will hate! Or try mixing your own blend of essential oils with a carrier oil. Perhaps you’ll create the magic potion that wards off those pesky ticks and mosquitoes!