Ah summer, the time of year associated with sunny, warm days; flowers and fresh cut grass; epic family vacations; and time spent in the great outdoors. Nothing but pure bliss – or is it? As delightful as the summer season is, it does not come without its disadvantages. A minute creature well known as the “mosquito” quickly comes to mind.
Interestingly enough, Canada has 75 different species of mosquito, not considering some of the other creepy crawlers and flying wonders that exist: sand flies, ticks, flees, and flies. It’s no wonder people go to the lengths they do to protect themselves from being “bugged”.
The protection of choice is most often commercial products that contain Deet (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), a broad-spectrum repellent that not only protects against mosquitoes, flies, flees, ticks, and chiggers, but is capable of peeling paint, damaging rayon, and spandex, and melting plastic when applied directly. So, although Deet is found in over 400 repellents, and is found to be extremely effective, it is a toxic chemical that has known side effects and is potentially fatal if swallowed. Deet is absorbed through the skin and up to 56% of it enters the bloodstream and circulates around the body. It exerts its protective effects by blocking the receptors for two substances excreted by the human body that act as chemical attractors to insects: carbon Dioxide (CO2) and lactic acid. Some of the effects associated with this toxic chemical include skin irritation, allergic reactions, neurological damage, lethargy, muscle spasms, nausea, irritability, and skin rashes. All products with Deet should be handled with care and should not be applied to areas with open wounds, sores, or around the eyes as permanent damage can occur. Deet is also shown to have an environmental impact on some cold water fish and zooplankton.
Fortunately, there are effective, natural alternatives to repellents containing Deet that are composed of the essential oils of plants. The most well known alternative is Citronella (Cymbopogon sp.) oil, however, essential oils such as Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Bergamot (Citrus aurantium), and Rue (Ruta sp.) are used individually or in combination as effective protective agents. A few drops of these essential oils can be easily added to olive, neem, and/or almond oil, or Aloe Vera and filtered water, to create beautifully scented, gentle insect repellents (note: it is important to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil, as described above, as some can be irritating to the skin when applied directly). Other ways to insect-proof the space around you would be to add a few drops of these essential oils to burning candles, shampoos, and soaps. There are also natural commercial products available that have shown to be effective, such as: “Repel Lemon”, “Fite Bite”, “Natrapel”, “Bite Blocker”, and “Sting Free Insect Bite Protector”. It is important to note that although these options are effective, they need to be reapplied every 30-60 minutes (on average), and they may irritate the skin of sensitive individuals (i.e. Citronella).
The following are other ways to reduce exposure to mosquitoes and other insects during the summer season:
Avoid time outdoors from dusk to dawn as mosquitoes are more prominent during this time
Wear light, loose-fitting, long-sleeve clothing from dusk to dawn
Wear socks and shoes instead of sandals
Seal pant legs and socks using tape as an effective barrier
Spray clothing and bedding w/ an essential oil, alcohol based repellent
Avoid artificially scented soaps, shampoos, perfumes, etc. as it attracts some insects
Plant Marigolds (Calendula officinalis) around your yard as mosquitoes and other bugs do not like their scent
Avoid strenuous exercise and eating high sodium or potassium foods as they increase carbon dioxide release (which attracts insects)