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Insect Repellents

There are so many little critters that we have to interact with during the summer, some we enjoy; some we find ourselves googling their evolutionary value while we briefly fantasize about them all disappearing.

Not only are some of these creepy crawlies nuisance-causing, you can get an infection from itching the bite, which could get serious. Mosquitoes are disease carrying. Scary things like Zika, West Nile, and Dengue Fever. And ticks can carry Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever.

A lot of us shop at the Co-op because we care about reducing our exposure to human-made chemical compounds in and on our food, so we usually are not prepared to use the same cocktails to make our summers more buzz-free. So what are we to do?

Luckily, there are some decent options to help.

Insect repellent
You want to keep biting insects away from your person. This stuff has to be safe to breathe, safe on the skin; yet effective at getting the bugs to go away. Here are your options. Always follow instructions on the bottles:

Most of the non-DEET insect repellents are citronella-based. It’s the smell of summer and camping! Most brands will claim that their formula repels the flying insects like mosquitoes and blackflies, and a few claim ticks. Unfortunately, these claims have not been substantiated by research, and may not be effective in mosquito-dense areas. Minimally, you may need to reapply these sprays more often.

There is some research that shows that soy-based repellent (such as that found in Buzz Away and Bite Blocker) is as effective as using DEET.

Catnip has also caused a buzz (cough, cough), and I’ve had some customers who live in the boonies swear by it. You can find it in as a spray from Four Elements.

Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil
The only EPA- and CDC-approved natural insect repellent! It is not recommended for children under three. We have it on its own as an oil (see below for a recipe), and it’s in LuSa’s spray.

candles and incense
There are also candles and incense that have these ingredients, and I’ve heard mixed feedback about their effectiveness. They smell like you’re trying, at least!
Here’s a recipe from Aura Cacia featuring lemon eucalyptus essential oil:

Outdoor Lotion
1 cup sweet almond oil or apricot kernel oil
3/4 ounce beeswax
1 cup lukewarm water-based liquid like green tea, hydrosol, rain water or aloe juice
28 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
6 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops grapefruit essential oil
2 drops geranium essential oil
Directions: Add beeswax to oil in a Pyrex cup or bowl. Place in a hot water bath. Heat until melted. Allow the mixture to cool.

Place the water-based liquid in a blender. When the temperatures of the oil and water are comparable, turn on the blender and add the oil in a thin stream. Blend until a cream develops. Blend in the essential oils and store in a jar in the refrigerator.

A pinch of sodium borate (Borax) dissolved in the water prior to blending will help emulsify the mixture and prevent separation.

If you’d like to make a spray, halve the essential oil amounts and put the essential oil blend into a 4 oz spray bottle and fill the rest with the recommended liquids above—distilled water, cooled green tea, hydrosol, or aloe juice.

Other options
There are other things you can do to protect yourself and your family that don’t involve putting something on your skin, which is great news if you have little ones or you have major skin sensitivities.

  • Wear long sleeves and pants. Mosquitoes can still poke their proboscis through a thin cotton shirt, so make sure it’s something a bit thicker. Time to pull that denim jumpsuit out of the closet.
  • Turn on a fan. Those tiny little wings are no match for the mighty electronic breeze.
  • Eliminate watering holes. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so make sure you walk through your yard regularly to fill puddles with dirt, dump out old tires, and keep the bird bath fresh.
  • Repair screens. In the spring, do a screen check and make sure to patch or replace any damaged screens.

I’ve heard some other ideas, like eating a ton of garlic, or bathing with charcoal-based soaps, but I don’t think there’s any research-based evidence that it works. But that won’t stop me! Have a safe summer, y’all.

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