Natural Insect Repellent that works better than DEET


Natural Insect Repellent that works better than DEET

Biting insects can put a damper on your summer

fun, not to mention potentially transmit diseases like Lyme disease and West

Nile Virus. The majority of US adults (75 percent) said they are actually more concerned about such diseases than

they are about potentially dangerous chemicals in insect repellent.1

Still, most

people also told Consumer

Reports that safety is important when choosing an insect repellent, and only

one-third believe products on the market are safe for adults (and only 23

percent considered them safe for kids).

Concern is well-justified, as DEET

(N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is used in hundreds of products, in concentrations

of up to an astounding 100 percent. DEET has been shown to harm brain and

nervous system function.

Children are

particularly at risk for subtle neurological changes because their skin more

readily absorbs chemicals in the environment, and chemicals exert more potent

effects on their developing nervous systems.

DEET is not your only option for insect

repellent, fortunately, and Consumer Reports tests have recently revealed

natural alternatives that may be even more effective

without the harsh side effects.

Picaridin and

Lemon Eucalyptus Beat DEET for Repelling Insects


Reports recruited volunteers to test out spray-on repellents made of DEET, oil

of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, a chemical called IR3535, and products made

with natural plant oils. After the repellents were applied and allowed to sit

for 30 minutes, the volunteers reached into a cage containing (disease-free)

mosquitoes or ticks.

Two products

emerged on top and were able to keep mosquitoes and ticks away for at least

seven hours: products that contained 20 percent picaridin or 30 percent oil of

lemon eucalyptus. Picaridin resembles the natural compound piperine, an

essential oil in black pepper.

However, picaridin is not a natural compound;

it’s produced synthetically in the lab. According to the Environmental Working

Group (EWG), picaridin does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns at DEET,

although it has not been tested much over the long term. They report:2

“Overall, EWG’s

assessment is that Picaridin is a good DEET alternative with many of the same

advantages and without the same disadvantages.”


Eucalyptus Is a ‘Biopesticide’ Repellent


of lemon eucalyptus comes from the gum eucalyptus tree, but it is

p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), its synthetic version with pesticidal properties,

that is used as an insect repellent. While the term “PMD” is often used

interchangeably with lemon eucalyptus oil, know that it is different from the

“pure” unrefined oil, which is typically used in making fragrances.

The pure oil is

not registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an insect

repellant. PMD or the refined version, on the other hand, has a long history of

use but only recently became important as a commercial repellent.

In 2000, the

EPA registered oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD as a “biopesticide repellent,”

meaning it is derived from natural materials. Both lemon eucalyptus oil and

picaridin are not actual repellents,

but insteadmost likely work by masking the environmental cues that mosquitoes

use to locate their target.

Side effects of

both picaridin and lemon eucalyptus include potential skin or eye irritation,

and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that picaridin should not

be used on children under age 3. Urvashi Rangan, PhD, executive director of

Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center, said:

“They are not

side-effect-free, but ‘those problems are much less severe than deet…’ Still,

all repellents should be used sparingly and only for the time you need

them—especially on children and older people.”


DEET-Containing Repellents Are Better Off Avoided

About 30

percent of Americans use DEET every year, but you should know that this

chemical – though generally effective in keeping away insects – can have deadly

repercussions. From 1961 to 2002, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease

Registry reports eight deaths related to DEET exposure.

Three of these resulted from deliberate

ingestion, but five of them occurred following DEET exposure to the skin in

adults and children.3 Psychological effects have

also been reported including altered mental state, auditory hallucinations, and

severe agitation.

In children, the most frequently reported

symptoms of DEET toxicity reported to poison control centers were lethargy,

headaches, tremors, involuntary movements, seizures, and convulsions. Further,

in a study of more than 140 National Park Service employees, 25 percent

reported health effects they attributed to DEET, including:4


Skin or mucous membrane


Transient numb or

burning lips







In addition, Duke University Medical Center

pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia spent 30 years researching

the effects of pesticides. He discovered that prolonged exposure to DEET can

impair cell function in parts of your brain — demonstrated in the lab by death

and behavioral changes in rats with frequent or prolonged DEET use. Other

potential side effects DEET exposure include:

Memory loss


Muscle weakness and


Shortness of breath

Muscle and joint pain



potentially harmful chemical found in many bug sprays is permethrin. This

chemical is a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family, all of which are


The EPA has even deemed this chemical

carcinogenic, capable of causing lung tumors, liver tumors, immune system

problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Permethrin is also damaging to the

environment, and it is particularly toxic to bees and aquatic life. It should

also be noted that permethrin is highly toxic to cats.5


Options to Keep Bugs Away from Your Barbecue


Reports also tested three non-chemical options for keeping pests away from a

simulated backyard barbecue: a citronella candle, a portable diffuser with

essential oils, or an oscillating pedestal fan set at its highest speed.

While neither the candle nor the diffuser showed much promise, the fan worked

well, cutting mosquito landings by 45 percent to 65 percent among those sitting

near the fan.

Similar results were found from the Consumer

Reports survey, which found 45 percent of people who used fans to keep insects

away reported them as “especially helpful” (compared to 31 percent of those who

used candles).6

Naturally, the

best way to avoid mosquito bites is to prevent coming into contact with them in

the first place. You can avoid insect bites by staying inside between dusk and

dawn, which is when they are most active.

Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and

near standing water. The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA)

recommends the “Three Ds” of protection to prevent mosquito breeding on your


  • Drain – Mosquitoes require water in which to breed, so

    carefully drain any and all sources of standing water around your house and

    yard, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires,

    bird baths, etc.

  • Dress – Wear light colored, loose fitting

    clothing—long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats, and socks

  • Defend – While the AMCA recommends

    using commercial repellents, I highly recommend avoiding most chemical

    repellents for the reasons already discussed; try some of the natural

    alternatives instead, when necessary

Bat houses are another option since bats are

voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes. For more on buying a bat

house or constructing one yourself, visit the Organization for Bat

Conservation.8 Planting marigolds around

your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance

that bugs dislike.

Enjoy the

Outdoors with These Additional Natural Repellent Options

Body temperature and skin chemicals like lactic

acid attract mosquitoes, which explains why you’re more likely to be “eaten

alive” when you’re sweaty, such as during or after exercise, so trying to stay

as cool and dry as you can may help to some degree. Some experts also recommend


with one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and

then adding 100 mg of B1 to a B100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to


you less attractive to mosquitoes. Regularly


garlic may also help protect against mosquito bites, as may thefollowing natural insect repellants:

  • Cinnamon leaf oil

    (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET9)

  • Clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil
  • Wash with citronella soap, and then put 100% pure

    citronella essential

    oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest qualitycitronella on the market

  • Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is

    10 times more effective than DEET10)

Another option is to use the safe solution I have

formulated to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting

insects. It’s a


insect spray with a combination of citronella,




oil, and vanillin, which is a dynamite blend of natural plant

extracts. In fact, an independent study showed my bug spray to be more

effective than a product containing 100 percent DEET. And it’s safe for you,

your children, and your pets.

You can also try using lemon eucalyptus oil to make a homemade insect

repellent. Here is a recipe from Backpacking Spirit to try out:11

“Make your own

mosquito repellent consisted of around 10% lemon eucalyptus oil. If you are

using the essential (‘pure’) oil, note that it does not mix with water and will

therefore require a carrier oil, such as hazel, vodka, or olive oil.


  • Obtain an

    appropriately sized bottle for travel; a 100 to 200 ml bottle will be a good

    choice. You may also go for a bottle that has a spritzer nozzle for easy


  • Choose your

    carrier oil

  • Use a measuring

    jug for more precise measurements.

  • Think 10%

    essential oil. If you are using a 100 ml bottle, mix 90 ml of your chosen

    liquid and 10 ml of lemon eucalyptus oil. If you are using a 200 ml bottle, mix

    180 ml of liquid and 20 ml of essential oil.

  • Shake the

    bottle thoroughly before use.

  • Spritz onto

    skin and rub in.”

Health and Wellness Associates


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