Bug Off, Bugs!
I have fond memories of camping trips when I was younger. We’d pack up the pop-up trailer and hit the road to beautiful state parks in Texas. I also have wonderful memories of church camp. We’d spend almost all day outside, playing games and swimming. The other memory I have is the smell and feel of traditional, chemical bug spray. We used bug spray all the time when I was younger. I even remember my mom trying different brands that were “cleaner” because we had to use so much.
So, why use bug spray at all? What kind should I grab to protect my family? I never really thought of these questions until recently. My youngest daughter attracts all the mosquitoes, and the bites on her legs, arms and sometimes, face, swell up and itch like crazy. I’m going to take steps this summer to ward off these pests, so my sweet girl can enjoy being outside.
What’s the deal with DEET?
For some reason, I have this built in aversion to DEET products. I think it was considered more harmful in the 1990s , when I was a child. So, I set out to dig into the details on DEET to see if it’s really as harmful as I remember it being. If you just search for DEET online, it comes up listed as a neurotoxin, which is “a poison which acts on the nervous system”. Well, that doesn’t sound like something I want on my body or in my lungs, right? Maybe it’s less risky than other possibilities.
DEET may be an important step in your summer outdoor activities this year. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 Guide to Bug Repellants, they report the following: “The CDC reports that cases of disease from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016….” Wow! I’m not one to buy into too much sensationalism, but when the EWG is recommending the use of DEET, my radar perks up. Which diseases are we speaking of? West Nile, Zika and Lyme disease to name a few.
The threat of these growing illness and diseases from bug bites is more concerning than these repellant chemicals. Research has shown that the following ingredients are key to repelling those pesky insects:
Picardin: This is considered less irritating than DEET. It has a lower inhalation toxicity and is without a strong odor.
DEET (levels less than 30%): The key here is to follow the directions for application. If used properly, DEET is effective and safe to repel mosquitoes, ticks and other pests.
IR3535 (levels of 10%-30%): This ingredient is useful in mosquito and tick protection and not particularly irritating.
So, what’s the breakdown on DEET for me and my family? It’s going to depend on the situation. If we’re playing at the park or in our backyard, I’ll reach for my DEET free choices. If we’re heading out into the wilderness on a camping adventure, we may need to call in the big guns and use the stronger formulas.
Bug Spray Application Tips
One of the most important things to keep in mind is how we apply the bug spray. This is for both types of bug repellant- safer or not. Here’s a few ways to change the way you put on bug spray - i.e. no more spraying a big ‘ol cloud and walking through it face first.
Spray into your hands and rub onto your skin. Think of it like sunscreen - it needs to cover the entire exposed surface to be effective. Adults can spray directly on the skin, but avoid spraying directly into sensitive areas like the eyes, mouth and nose.
Apply bug spray AFTER sunscreen. If you’re out in the sun and exposed to bugs, put your sunscreen on first, then follow with bug spray. Steer clear of combination sunscreen/bug spray concoctions as they need to be applied at different intervals throughout the day.
Read the instructions on your product carefully and follow the directions for necessary reapplication. The amount of concentration of the active ingredient affects how long it lasts.
For kiddos under 6 months old, bug spray is not recommended topically. Keep their arms and legs covered!
Primally Pure “Nature Spray”
This little metal bottle packs a big punch of natural bug repellant. Primally Pure’s Nature Spray is full of essential oils that bugs can’t stand, such as citronella, cedarwood, lemongrass, rosemary, geranium and peppermint. The reviews on the website speak volumes and also remind us to apply properly and regularly for best performance. This clean option is great for your summer arsenal against the insects.
Organic Chix “No More Bugs”
This is a local company that we LOVE. The Organic Chix “No More Bugs” spray is a great addition to your cleaner bug spray toolbox. They combine some great essential oils like citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass and lavender to ward off those pesky insects. It’s kid-safe, gluten free and and non-GMO.
Organic Chix also seeks to reduce waste through their refill program. Buy a bottle now and save it for a refill pouch when the time comes.
DIY Essential Oil Bug Spray
One of my favorite hippie past times is creating my own essential oil concoctions in the kitchen. I love reaching into my oily toolkit to provide a solution for my family. This will be our first go-round for our own DIY bug spray, so I’m excited to have it in action and see the outcome.
A note when using essential oils: Avoid eye contact with any of the oils, particularly when applying to children. If oil does reach the eye, flush with coconut oil NOT water. I’ve made that mistake before. Also, if you’re uncomfortable applying oils directly to your child’s skin, spraying their clothes will offer some benefit, too. Some oils are not recommended topically for children under 1 year old.
Place the following ingredients in a 4 oz. metal spray bottle - these are from Amazon. I prefer the metal bottle as it is more durable for outdoor use. Screw the top on and shake before spraying. I will be spraying on my hands and rubbing onto our skin.
20 drops Lavender
15 drops Lemongrass
15 drops Citronella
15 drops Patchouli
20 drops Lemon Eucalyptus
20 drops Rosemary
Witch Hazel & Filtered Water (fill the rest of the bottle with these)
You can change any of the oil drop amounts based on preference of smell or strength overall. It’s also possible to create a simpler blend of 3-4 oils . If you want to make a less strong version for the kiddos, skip any peppermint oil and reduce the number of oil drops used.
There are many oils that are useful in deterring insects, but I did not use all of them in this blend. Several other popular choices are: geranium, cedarwood, eucalyptus, thyme and peppermint.
After Bite Help
I’ve got two suggestions to help post bug bites. My sweet girl swells up big time from mosquito bites, and I’m always looking for a way to soothe those stings. The DIY bug bite stick and the Bug Bite Thing are my newest and go-to “mom tools” that I’ll have in my bag this summer.
This DIY essential oil roller is very simple to throw together. I found the roller bottles on Amazon, and I happened to have the rest of the ingredients in my cabinets. Place the following ingredients in the bottle, top it off with a roller ball and shake it up. I use this to roll on the bug bite as soon as I see it pop up. And again, with essential oils, make sure no one touches their eyes or mouth after application.
15 drops Frankincense
20 drops Lavender
15 drops Purification
Fractionated coconut oil
This new little contraption looks like it’ll come in super handy this summer. What a magical little tool for your mom bag! This little piece of plastic can suck the irritants out of stings/bites from mosquitoes, bees, ants, wasps and even splinters. The Bug Bite Thing was right around $10, and I’m excited to see it in action. I will use this as the first line of defense, then apply my DIY after bite roller blend afterwards.
Other Natural Bug Spray Brands
There are many, many natural bug spray….well, and just bug spray brands in general. This is a small suggestion of our choices for our families. You may find some blends work better for your skin than others.