Spring Blessings Everyone! Our high today here in coastal Maine was nearly 80 degrees! Quite toasty for mid-May! I'm not the only one who loves to frolic in the warmth, though . . . so do the mosquitoes and biting flies. If it hadn't been for the most welcome sea breeze today, I would have had to make twice hourly applications of one of my go-to favorite, homemade, herbal bug sprays to keep them at bay. Did you know that an ever-so-gentle breeze of 5 - 10 mph will deter all but the strongest of flying insects? It's true! I always take full advantage of breezy weather when I want to do outdoor chores, have a picnic, or enjoy a cocktail on the back deck. The bugs rarely even light on my skin!
Today, in Part 2 of my DIY Herbal Mosquito & Tick Repellents blog series, we'll begin by discussing DEET - the main bug-repelling ingredient in most chemical-based, commercial insect repellent sprays. You can find this and more bug-repelling information in my handy little book, "Naturally Bug-Free: 75 Nontoxic Recipes for Repelling Mosquitoes, Ticks, Fleas, Ants, Moths & Other Pesky Insects" (Storey Publishing c2016).
DEET: THE BEST DEFENSE??
Developed in the 1940s by the U.S. Army for protection of military personnel in insect-infested areas and registered in the U.S. for use by the general public in the mid-1950s, N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is one of the most widely used ingredients in store-bought, conventional bug sprays for personal use. It is a colorless, oily liquid with a mild odor and is designed to repel, rather than kill, insects, including mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas, ticks, and other small insects.
DEET is used by an estimated one-third of the U.S. population each year. Its use has increased dramatically since the 1970s as an aid to protect against Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tick-borne illnesses, as well as West Nile virus. Although it clearly works as intended, it is not safe - even the EPA, as well as the product package label, says that you should wash it off your skin when you return indoors (who does that??), avoid breathing it in, and not spray it directly on your face. A known eye irritant, it can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering.
A mosquito repellent containing 25 percent DEET cannot be applied on or near plastic, leather, synthetic fabrics, watch crystals, or painted or varnished surfaces, including automobiles. If this chemical, which in addition to being toxic to insects is also toxic to birds and aquatic life, can damage plastic, leather, and glass, then what is it doing to you? Think about it!! I mean, seriously! Remember that your skin is your largest organ, and it can absorb up to 60 percent of what you put on it!
Prior to the discovery of DEET, did you know that a blend of citronella and cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) essential oils was a go-to mosquito repellent? Essential oils have been used for hundreds of years to help repel bugs of all kinds. In my next blog, I'll share a chemical-free, essential oil-based insect repellent recipe that's simple to make, smells great, and works wonderfully well! Check out the first blog in this series for my "Lemony Eucalyptus-Geranium Tick-Repellent Spray" recipe. Smells amazing to you, but the bugs hate it!
DON'T BE A MOSQUITO MAGNET: 3 Ways to Guarantee Fewer Bites
Why do some people seem to attract clouds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes while others can sit around on the back deck all evening with nary a bite? These lucky people apparently don't have the right combination of visual and aromatic "bait". Mosquitoes use their senses to choose tasty targets, so here are some suggestions to make yourself less appetizing.
The stronger you smell, the easier it is for a hungry mosquito to find you, so shower often and try to stay cool and dry. Ever wonder why mosquitoes seem to target your ankles? They're attracted to the aroma of stinky feet, so change your socks daily. Mosquitoes are also attracted to movement. If you're running around, they'll deem you worthy of an investigation even if they can't smell you yet.
Check your breath, too. Mosquitoes detect the carbon dioxide we exhale and they are drawn to ethanol fumes, so having a couple of drinks at the neighborhood BBQ might lure them to you. Using peppermint mouthwash or essential oil drops to freshen your breath might steer them away.
Biting insects seem to be attracted to the same scents that we like, so avoid fragranced personal care products such as soaps, shaving cream, deodorant, hair products, and even laundry detergent. Choose unscented versions and skip the perfume or aftershave if you're planning to be outside during bug season.
Lactic acid is a big draw for mosquitoes, so consider cutting down on yogurt, milk, and cheese. Your body naturally produces lactic acid, but when you eat dairy products, you excrete more of it, making you more desirable. Avoiding skincare products with alpha hydroxy acids might help as well, as many of them contain lactic acid, which is touted to improve the texture and tone of your skin.
Dress For The Occasion
Mosquitoes respond most to dark colors, especially blue and brown, so wear light-colored clothing with loose, long sleeves. Linen provides protection against munching marauders while allowing you to maintain a stylishly cool demeanor.
NOTE: This blog was adapted from the book, "Naturally Bug-Free" (Storey Publishing c2016) by Stephanie Tourles - Licensed Esthetician, Herbalist, and Certified Aromatherapist. The information is true and complete to the best of the author's knowledge. The author disclaims any liability in connection with the use of this information. It is for educational purposes only.