calls most of us to spend time outdoors. Alas, bugs can be a real buzz-kill at
best, and carriers of disease at worst. Additionally, most commercial insect
repellants contain a chemical known as DEET, which should be used with caution,
if at all. Many studies have found DEET to have harmful effects.
there are plenty of tricks to keeping biting bugs at bay, and they don't
involve applying toxic chemicals to your skin. There are also many natural remedies that can help take the sting out of your insect bites, should preventive methods fail. Some of the most common
biting insects include:
- Certain flies
it's fairly rare to catch diseases from most insect bites if you live in
countries far away from the equator, such as northern parts of Europe, United
States, and Canada. The closer you are to the equator, the risk of being bit by
mosquitoes and other insects carrying diseases such as malaria, sleeping
sickness, yellow fever, encephalitis, West Nile virus and dengue fever
however, can spread human babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease—one
of the most serious and controversial epidemics of our time—regardless of your
geographical location. To avoid ticks, make sure to tuck your pants into socks
and wear closed shoes and a hat—especially if venturing out into wooded areas.
Simple Preventative Measures to Avoid Mosquito Bites
are probably the most pervasive when it comes to biting bugs that can ruin an
otherwise pleasant outing. There are over 3,000 different species of mosquitoes
throughout the world, about 200 of which occur in the US. Naturally, the best
way to avoid mosquito bites
is to prevent coming into contact with them in the first place.
avoid insect bites by staying inside around dawn and dusk, which is when they
are most active. If you must be out during those times, wear light-colored,
long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks. Mosquitoes are also thicker
in shrubby areas and near standing water.
temperature and skin chemicals like lactic acid also 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. You may also want to forgo bananas during
mosquito season. According to Dr. Janet Starr
Hull, "there's something about how your body processes the
banana oil that attracts these female sugar-loving insects."
recommends supplementing 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 make you less attractive to mosquitoes. Research also
suggests that regularly consuming garlic
or garlic capsules may help protect against both mosquito and tick bites. The
American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has a helpful factsheet of things you can do to prevent
mosquito breeding on your property. The Three D's of protection from mosquitoes
• 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 and so on
• Dress—Light colored, loose fitting
clothing offer the greatest protection
• Defend—While the AMCA recommends using
commercial repellents, I highly recommend avoiding most chemical repellents,
especially those containing DEET. Instead, try some of the natural alternatives
suggested in this article
houses are becoming increasingly popular 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.Planting marigolds around your yard
also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that
bugs do not like. This is a great way to ward off mosquitoes without using
chemical insecticides. A simple house fan could also help keep mosquitoes at
bay if you're having a get-together in your backyard.
Steer Clear of Chemical Repellents, Especially DEET
DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is used in more than 230 different products
-- in concentrations of up to an astounding 100 percent. If a chemical melts
plastic or fishing line, it's not wise to apply it to your skin -- and that is
exactly what DEET does.
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. Children are particularly at risk for
subtle brain changes because their skin more readily absorbs chemicals in the
environment and chemicals more potently affect their developing nervous
side effects DEET exposure include:
- Memory loss
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle and joint pain
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
potentially harmful chemical found in many bug sprays is permethrin. This chemical is a
member of the synthetic pyrethroid family, all of which are neurotoxins. 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.
few drops can be lethal to your feline pet. It is used as an ingredient in some
topical flea products, so when you see "for dogs only" on the label,
it likely contains permethrin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently
released an extensive review of the safety (or lack thereof) of virtually all
bug repellant ingredients.
Keeping Insects at Bay the Natural Way
there are highly effective repellents on the market comprised of natural
botanical oils and extracts that are every bit as effective as DEET, but with
none of the potentially harmful effects. You can also make your own repellent
• Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing
mosquitoes than DEET).
• Clear vanilla oil
mixed with olive oil.
• Wash with citronella soap, and then
put some 100% pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is
considered the highest quality citronella on the market.
• Catnip oil (according to one study,
this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET).
option is to use the safe solution I have formulated to repel mosquitoes,
fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects. It's a natural insect spray with
a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint 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.
Treating Bites and Stings with Herbs and Other Natural Agents
you've been bitten, the objective changes from repelling to treating the itch
and inflammation caused by the bite. Fortunately, many herbs and other natural
agents are soothing to the skin, and many have anti-inflammatory properties. So
for your occasional mosquito bites, try one of the following:
vera: It contains over 130
active compounds and 34 amino acids that are beneficial to your skin.
Calendula: An herb with soothing, moisturizing and
Chamomile: The most soothing herb of all, whether used in
a tea or applied to the skin. It is rich in the bioflavonoids apigenin,
luteolin and quercetin.
Cinnamon: In addition to possibly repelling mosquitoes,
cinnamon has antibacterial and anti fungal properties.
Cucumbers are helpful for reducing swelling.
An especially powerful variety is Manuka honey from New Zealand, made from bees
that feed on flowers of the Manuka bush, also known as the "Tea
Lavender: One of the most popular essential oils for its
calming scent, lavender is as antimicrobial as it is soothing.
oil: Effective against fungal
conditions, boils, eczema, and ringworm, and it would undoubtedly help an
insect bite as well.
Tea Tree oil:
Helpful for healing cuts, burns, infections and a multitude of other skin
afflictions. It is also a good antimicrobial, including fungal infections.
Basil contains camphor and thymol, two compounds that
can relieve itching. Either crush up some fresh herb and apply directly to the
bite, or buy the essential oil.
and lime both have anti-itch,
antibacterial and antimicrobial actions. Avoid applying citrus juices to your
skin when outdoors however, as blistering can occur when exposed to sunlight.
Peppermint—the cooling sensation can block other
sensations, such as itching, providing temporary relief. Either the essential
oil or crushed fresh leaves will do.
Hot or Cold Therapies Can Take the Sting Out of a Bug Bite
either ice or heat are other options that can help ease the discomfort
associated with bug bites. For example, an article in Scientific American recommends using a simple ice pack
to treat painful insect bites in lieu of analgesics. The article also explains
why common topical steroids like hydrocortisone aren't always the answer—one
reason being that you're not supposed to put them on broken skin.
to an article published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin just last year, there is also
little direct evidence supporting the efficacy of commercial preparations for
insect bites, including antihistamines and topical corticosteroids. The authors
concluded that the best course of action for mild local reactions is to simply
clean the area and apply a cold compress.
applying heat directly to the bite also appears to relieve itchiness.
One simple way is to apply a heated spoon directly to the area, as demonstrated
by Lifehacker.com. Just
hold the spoon under hot tap water for about a minute to heat the metal, then
press it against the bite for a couple of minutes. Make sure the
spoon is not too hot.
To Enjoy the Outdoors, a Little Preparation and Planning Can Go
a Long Way
little planning and preparation, you should be able to enjoy the outdoors
without getting eaten alive. Remember the Three D's of protection from
mosquitoes: drain, dress, and defend.
Eliminating the breeding grounds
for mosquitoes is the first step to limiting their numbers. Planting marigolds
around your yard and maybe installing a bat box or two can also go a long way
toward preventing them in the first place.