What the DEET? Natural Alternatives That Work : Safely Repelling Mosquitoes (Part II)

Effective Alternatives to DEET

citronella plant - by jenniferworthen on FlickrSo, if DEET can cause neurological damage, especially in children and the developing unborn, are we to go unprotected as mosquito fodder, exposed to mosquito-born illnesses such as malaria and West Nile and made to suffer the torment of the itching bites and bumps?

With whole living and natural pest control on the rise, more and more people are turning to natural mosquito and tick repellents. And guess what? They’re effective!

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

There are four chemicals registered with the EPA and determined by the CDC to effectively repel biting bugs. Of these, the EPA considers two conventional repellents, DEET and picaridin, and two biopesticide repellents, that is, made from natural materials:  IR3535 (Chemical Name: 3-[N-Butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester) Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (or the synthetic version PMD, Chemical Name: para-Menthane-3,8-diol).

Lemon eucalyptus oil, which contains the compound Citriodiol (p-Menthane-3,8-diol) is as or more effective than DEET (in fact, Consumer Reports said it was more effective than DEET formulas) without the worries of nervous system and birth defects. In fact, in laboratory studies the animal subjects showed no sign of any adverse affects except for eye irritation, although, I presume for this same reason, lemon eucalyptus oil is not recommended for children under age three.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect RepellentConsumers online near unanimously said Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, one lemon eucalyptus-based repellant that claims to repel mosquitoes and deer ticks for six hours, worked as or more effectively than DEET, although some disliked its strong lemony smell (which dissipates within 10 minutes or so).

Other Effective Natural-Ingredient Formulas

Several other products contain a mix of natural oils, often including soybean, citronella, lemongrass, and geranium oils. Consumers find them very effective, as well, though it must be re-applied as often as every two hours—a small inconvenience for safety, however.

Badger Anti-Bug BalmThe one I use, certified USDA organic Badger brand Anti-Bug Balm, contains Castor Oil and the essential oils of citronella, cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, and geranium (inactive ingredients: olive oil and beeswax). I tested it first sitting in the middle of a grassy field during an outdoor evening production of Taming of the Shrew and second sitting on a grassy hill while my husband ran an 8 a.m. 5k. Anti-Bug Balm came in the form of a very convenient deodorant-like stick, works better when rubbed around for complete coverage. (It also comes in a tin.)

Though mosquitoes still got quite close to me they did not bite except in areas I didn’t apply the balm. In fact, the second time I used it (after I read to rub it around) I didn’t get a single bite even though I watched mosquitoes flying around there, too. Plus, it made my skin nice and soft, which I’m attributing to the olive oil.

Verdict: I loved it! (though my husband did not; he did not like that mosquitoes still swarmed nearby, unlike with strong concentrations of DEET).

Other Natural Bug-Repelling Products:

Bumble & Bee Organic brand 100% Organic Bug Spray contains soybean oil and eucalyptus and lemongrass essential oils—that’s it. It gets great reviews, and though I haven’t tried it myself I do know that soybean oil is used as active ingredients in products such as Ortho Eco Sense brand Indoor Insect Killer.

California Baby brand Bug Repellant Spray rely on citronella, lemongrass, and cedar oils to keep away insects, and the company is known for its baby-safe products.

What This Tells Me:

If I’m in the woods or in the yard and I won’t be holding a baby I’ll probably use a lemon eucalyptus oil based product such as Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent which I purchased from REI. However, anywhere else—and always on and around children under three—I’ll use my very convenient Badger Anti-Bug Balm or another gentle, natural formula.

Next article: What the DEET? Safely Repelling Mosquitos (Part III) – Part III will focus on disposal of unused DEET repellents

Works Cited

Environmental Protection Agency. (2000, April). d-Menthane-3,8-diol (011550) Fact Sheet. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from Pesticides: Regulating Pesticides: http://www.epa.gov/oppbppd1/biopesticides/ingredients/factsheets/factsheet_011550.htm

Fassa, L. (2008). Green Babies, Sage Moms: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby. New York: New American Library.

Serafini, M. (2002, May 16). Letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from Cornell University Pesticide Management Education Program: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/insect-mite/cadusafos-cyromazine/citriodiol/citriodiol502.pdf

Stephens, S. H. (2011, June 3). How To Find Effective, Safe Bug Spray. Practically Green Newsletter .

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Eve on April 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I have used the Badger bug balm on my baby since she was 3 months old and have has no problems. We camp often and in the warmer months i put it on her exposed skin and she has had no reactions thus far.

    Reply

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