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Non-toxic Insect Repellents 101

I love the warm arrival of spring and being outdoors as it gently rolls into summer.
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The only thing I don’t love? My favorite time to be outside, after the heat subsides, brings on the mosquitoes. In the humid Massachusetts summers, there are plenty of them to go around. Doesn’t help that they just love me for some reason and that I have become allergic to their bites a few years ago. Every bite blows up to about an inch plus in diameter and itches relentlessly.

I probably don’t need to tell you that DEET is a dangerous, toxic chemical. It should never be applied to skin (if a product is more than 35% DEET), hence this is not great to have around kids for sure, they touch everything without thinking about it. DEET has also been detected in municipal water supplies, rivers, and just about everywhere. Research from the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement in Montpellier shows that DEET acts much the same as deadly nerve gases and pesticides by attacking the nervous system of insects and mammals. Since the EPA has planned a review of the safety of DEET for 2012, you have to take matters into your own hands to find safe protection.

  • Non-Toxic Repellents: Recently there have been many new non-toxic repellents that have flooded the market to fill the demand. Everything from small mom-owned companies selling on Etsy to larger companies that have been around and came up with a new product. Our personal favorite that we keep coming back to – Badger Anti-Bug Balm (Vermont). It just works, all the time. It smells great and I actually feel good applying it to my family’s skin. Whenever we’re somewhere with other people, they ask to borrow it. I also like Welstar’s Pest Away which has a pleasant smell and is really easy to use. Among other brands are Real Purity Herbal Insect Repellent, EcoSMART, Tropical Traditions, Bubble & Bee, and California Baby. Some great Etsy finds: Simply Smitten, CloverSun, Plunk Soap, Forest Apprentices, Moonlit Herbals, and Little Batch.
  • Homemade Repellents: You can easily make your own repellent by mixing two table spoons carrier oil (olive, almond, sunflower, or alcohol) and 10 to 25 drops (total) of any of the following essential oils: basil, catnip, cedarwood, citronella, juniper, lemon, lemongrass, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary, and cinnamon. Place in small spray bottle and shake before each use.
  • Insect Repellent Clothing: Something I haven’t tried but that makes sense and is obviously safer than DEET, though it is treated with a chemical. Some brands that make it: Insect Shield, ExOfficio Bugsaway, Haelium, and Columbia.
  • Bug Zappers: You could also install a system in your backyard that will attract and trap mosquitoes. I’m not a big fan of the ones that make awful noise and zap them, there are quiet options. Check out the Dragonfly II, Mega-Catch, Mosquito Magnet, and SkeeterVac. These are an investment for sure, but may be worth it for every day backyard use. There is also ThermaCELL, which works with a different technology by emitting a small amount of a repellent to cover a large area (like a camping ground). Personally, I don’t know if I would want to be breathing that repellent (not DEET), I don’t know how safe it it. But still, safer than DEET.
  • For the After Bite: For the very few mosquito bites we do get (since they love me so much after all), I love Hyland’s Bug Bite Ointment and Burt’s Bees Bug Bite Relief. I like Hyland’s better because it is softer to apply, but both work equally well at relieving itch and best of all – they keep my allergic bites from growing to the size of Mt. Vesuvius.
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