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Bugs are Back in Business

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I’m incredibly excited to bring you my first co-collaborated post with guest blogger, Dr. Frenchy, PhD – essential oil extraordinaire!

Warmer weather is here and that means ticks, mosquitos, and whatever bugs are already nipping at my ankles, are out!  I am one of those people that gets bit to shreds, and let me tell you, that really sucks the fun out of a beautiful day outside – pun intended!  With the continued dangers of Lyme Disease and now Zika, it’s important to keep yourself and your family protected. We live in a woodsy area and we are headed to Florida in a few weeks, so having good bug and tick protection all around is definitely on my mind.  If you’re just looking for recommendations on what to buy or make – scroll on down.  If you want to get a little bit more educated – read on.

Do you always get bit?

Source: Smithsonian.com

About 20% of the population are especially delicious to bugs for a variety of reasons.  Unfortunately, there’s no cure for it except to protect yourself with a good bug repellent.

  • Blood Type – Type O is the most delicious.
  • Carbon Dioxide – The more you exhale, the more the bugs are drawn to you.  Generally, larger people (and pregnant women) exhale more often and therefore get bit more often.  This is why you see adults get bit more often than kids.
  • Sweat – Higher levels of lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia, and other substances in your sweat make you smell oh so sweet to a bug.  This is based partly on genetics and partly on other factors like if you do a lot of strenuous exercise which can build up lactic acid in your body.
  • Bacteria – Genetics again.  Bacteria on certain people’s skin is more attractive to bugs than others.

A Word on DEET

N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) is both incredibly controversial and at the same time widely used in many commercial bug repellent products.  DEET is for sure very effective at repelling both ticks and other bugs (i.e. mosquitoes), however, EPA studies on rats have suggested that exposure to DEET may affect your nervous system and produce other side effects such as rashes, dizziness, headaches and/or difficulty breathing.  Here’s the thing, and this is in my opinion, the possible side effects of DEET are less severe than the probable issues that come with contracting something like Lyme Disease.  Products on the market today come with anywhere from a low percentage of DEET to 100% DEET.  My understanding is that something like 20% DEET would cover you for an entire day, and in that case, there is never a reason to overdose yourself on the stuff and be getting anything above 20% – certainly not 100%.  If you want to go this route, just keep the DEET percentage low.  You could go even lower than 20% but just have the understanding that you will need to re-apply.  As you can see below, I’m giving you the guidance from Canada’s government, which is more strict than what we have here in the US.  The US “Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using products with ≥20% DEET on exposed skin to reduce biting by ticks that may spread disease.”  Thanks, but no thanks.  If I’m using it, I’m sticking to the guidance below.


DEET Alternatives

  • Picaridin – Comes in a max concentration of 20% to give 8 hours of protection.  Known to be more effective on flies than DEET and comparable to DEET in general without the same side affects.
  • IR3535 – Comes in 10 – 30% concentrations for 8 hours of protection.  May be slightly less effective than DEET, but has shown few adverse events except that it can be irritating to the eyes.
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus – Chemically synthesized version of lemon eucalyptus oil.  This is not an essential oil.  Usually in a concentration of about 30% for approximately 6 hours of protection.  Many people have skin reactions to this – I recommend just staying away.
  • Essential Oils – Studies have shown that geranium oil alone or in combination with other essential oils is comparable to DEET. IMPORTANT: Essential oil blends will need to be re-applied more often.

Sunscreen and Bug Spray

In many cases, we need both sunscreen and bug spray at the same time, so what comes first?  Always apply your sunscreen first, wait a few minutes and then add bug spray on top.  Depending on your bug protection, you may not need to re-apply or at least not as often as the sunscreen.  IMPORTANT: Because bug spray usually doesn’t need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen, never use any products that combine sunscreen and bug protection.

Recommendations to Buy (Commercial Products)

  • (PICARIDIN) If you need both tick and mosquito protection, try Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent.  This is currently the highest rated product by consumer reports.   This comes in a pump spray instead of aerosol so it won’t get into your lungs and instead you can rub it in like a lotion as well as spray it on clothes.  If you’re going to an area of high concern for either ticks or zika or if you need both tick and mosquito protection at the same time, go this route.
  • (ESSENTIAL OILS) For mosquitos and flies, try Badger Anti-Bug Balm.  This is a waxy consistency that comes in a tin and you rub on the skin.  You will need to re-apply this about every 2 hours.  This product is free of corn, dairy, egg, fish, gluten, milk, peanuts, salt, shellfish, soy, sugar, tree nuts, wheat and yeast.

Recommendations to Buy (Support Small Business – Dr. Frenchy, PhD) – Use code LARISA for 10% off your entire purchase

  • (ESSENTIAL OILS) If you need mosquito and general bug protection, try Nosquitos.  This contains a blend of essential oils, including Catnip and Neem Oils.  DOG SAFE!  Never use essential oils on cats!  You will need to re-apply this about every 2 hours. For maximum essential oils safety, Nosquitos comes in baby, kids 2+, or adult versions, and in rollers or sprays. Rollers are a very convenient way to apply to clean skin, while sprays are better if you’re already sandy or sweaty.
  • (ESSENTIAL OILS) If you need tick protection, try Ticked-Off. Contains a blend of essential oils, including geranium and kunzea oil.  DOG SAFE! You will need to re-apply this about every 2 hours. Ticked-Off comes in a spray for either kids 2+ or adults.

Make it Yourself – Simplified Dr. Frenchy, PhD Tutorials

NOTE: Please be sure your essential oil is coming from a reputable company or seller.  My recommendations are linked below.

Tick Repellent

Spray is best as you’ll want to treat your limbs, shoes, socks, and other clothing the ticks can latch onto. You’ll need:

  • A spray bottle (preferably PET plastic so it’s oil-proof and shatter-proof)
  • Essential oils:
    • Geranium oil has been shown effective against ticks. It is rich in citronellol and geraniol compounds.
    • Citronella oil, which is also rich in geraniol, as well as in citronellal, a cousin of citronellol.
    • Geranium and Citronella are fairly light oils that evaporate quickly, so you’ll need a heavy essential oil to “anchor” them down, to make the scent last longer. Great ones are Cedarwood or Patchouli – Cedarwood is cheaper and both are also insect repellents.
  • A light vegetable oil such as liquid coconut, grapeseed, or apricot oil.  Essential oils must never be used pure on the skin as they can create irritation and allergies (sensitization), but must be diluted in a fatty oil.  In addition, dilution slows the rate of evaporation and makes the scent of your bug spray last much longer.
  • Water or witch hazel to make the mixture spray better and less greasy. Do not use alcohol, as it will cause your essential oils to evaporate faster and lose the scent of your spray. IMPORTANT: Do NOT dilute your essential oils solely in water, because oils and water don’t mix.  When your spray it, you will end up with pure essential oils on your skin when the water evaporates.
  • A surfactant, such as castile soap, to bind the oil and water phases together.

Directions:  For each ounce of your spray bottle,  use 2/3 light vegetable oil, 1/3 water (or witch hazel), 15-30 drops total of essential oils, and a smidgen of liquid soap (1/4 teaspoon) to help them blend. For example, try 5 drops geranium + 5 drops citronella + 5 drops cedarwood for children, or 10 drops of each for adults. Multiply by the number of ounces of your bottle.  Shake well before each use.

Mosquito Repellent

For a mosquito-repellent, you’ll need the same ingredients as above, with the following changes:

    • Replace Geranium oil with Lemon Eucalyptus oil, the richest in citronellal compound. Be careful, there are many types of Eucalyptus oils: the one you want is Eucalyptus Citriodora.
    • You’ll still want an anchoring oil, but this time, Patchouli is better (use Cedarwood if you don’t have Patchouli). If you can afford it, get a little bit of American Catnip Oil (not Indian!): Catnip is rich in nepetalactone (which makes cats go crazy), which is said to mimic a mosquito hormone that tells mosquitoes to stay away. And finally, if you have some on hand, you can add a bit of some of these oils: lavender, citronella, rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass

Directions: Use the same proportions as for the tick spray: 2/3 light vegetable oil, 1/3 water (or witch hazel), 15-30 drops total of essential oils per ounce, and a smidgen of liquid soap (1/4 teaspoon) to help them blend. For the essential oils blend, you can try: 6 drops lemon eucalyptus + 5 drops lavender + 4 drops patchouli for children; For adults, use up to 30 drops/oz TOTAL.  IMPORTANT: Avoid peppermint and rosemary for small children, as they can be neurotoxic, and go easy on catnip if you use it.

Directions for Roll-on Versus Spray: Since mosquitoes don’t (usually) bite through clothes, a skin roll-on works well for a mosquito repellent, and is much easier to make than a spray: Just add up to 15 drops TOTAL of the essential oils above to your 10-mL roller bottle, then complete with vegetable oil (almond, liquid coconut or apricot). For example, for small children, try: 3 drops lemon eucalyptus + 2 drops lavender + 1 drop patchouli. For adults, try: 4 drops lemon eucalyptus + 2 drops catnip + 2 drops peppermint + 2 drops patchouli; If you don’t have catnip, try rosemary or lavender instead.

Since essential oils evaporate, reapply every 2 hours or as soon as the bugs get too close for comfort.

Have you recently removed a tick or have a mosquito bite?

Clean and soothe existing bites by massaging the bug bites roller in after removing a tick to kill the germs, or rub on mosquitoes bites to calm the itch and help prevent welts.

Stay safe everyone!

Larisa Explains It All is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

3 Comment

  1. I live in Florida, so I constantly have to deal with mosquitos. I did not know about these homemade solutions, but I’m going to try them. I appreciate your candor regarding DEET. I’m more concerned about Lyme Disease or Zika than the possibilities of a DEET reaction.

    Also, if you’re going to be near water in Florida, I would suggest getting some Avon Skin so Soft to help repel the noseeums (midges). I learned about these nasty bugs the hard way.

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