Natural Insect Repellent—Safe for You, Safe for the Planet E-mail
Friday, 15 May 2015 00:00  |  Written by Tonya Kay | Article

Mosquito photo by wild_turkey5300I refuse to spray DEET or other insecticides or insect repellents on my precious skin. Or stand next to you while you're spraying it. People, what are you thinking? The labels have warnings, but we all should already know: DEET is a neurotoxin that "may cause" mental confusion, mood disturbances, seizures, loss of muscular control, paralysis and death by asphyxiation—which is why it's used as a pesticide. If you are trying to eat and grow organically, then why would you spray pesticides directly on your skin? Or next to someone you love? So what does a natural girl, who doesn't want to be bitten by mosquitoes in the great outdoors, do? Here's my guide to keeping insects at bay without harming yourself or the Earth.

Think Like a Mosquito
"If I were a mosquito, I'd feed… here." I'd hang out where my eggs would thrive and hatch: near standing water. Mosquitoes like water—especially still water that also provides shelter. They won't so much be at the flowing, wide river's edge, with no grasses or trees for coverage. But watch out for the stagnant puddle, pond, sink or flower pot. Or the underside of damp vegetation—mosquitoes relish anything wet and safe for hiding.

Timing Is Everything
How many mosquitoes do you fend off in the heat of day? Just a few, if any, and only when they are near the damp and shade—protected by the cool cover of grasses. Mosquitoes thrive in the cool, wet nights. So if I want to avoid being bitten by a bugger, I won't go romping through the grass naked after dark. I'll just go to bed under my net when the sun sets and wake up with a stretch when the sun rises. Mosquitoes are nocturnal—so be the opposite.

Know the Triggers
"If I were a mosquito, I'd wait for movement or odor for signs of blood-sucking potential." If you were to lie in the grass without moving as the sun set around you, the ants might find you before the mosquitoes smelled the carbon dioxide on your breath. But if you rustle up every vine and bush in the area, well, it's a dead giveaway that some big, bloody creature is nearby. Every mozzie for miles is will search for a movement's source. And a perfume's source, too. This means you, if you are scented by chemical shampoos or soaps or ridiculous foods. Eventually I, as a mosquito, will smell your breath though, no matter how still you are and scent-free your laundry detergent. Apply no scents, remain still and hold your breath.

Common Sense
Mosquitoes bite what? Your skin. They don't bite your jacket. So, wear a jacket. They don't bite long pants. So wear long pants. Cover your body with loose, light-colored clothing. The looseness keeps them even further away from your skin, so they have no hopes of biting through. And light colors are cooler in temperature and give the appearance of a non-warm-blooded creature to the seeking insect.

Other Tips
Try taking B1 vitamins several days before you arrive in mozzie country and for the entire duration of your visit, if you wish to discourage their attention.  Eat a clove of raw garlic twice a day. Consume brewer’s yeast. Both garlic and brewer's yeast are quite unattractive to the mosquito's pheromone detectors. And my favorite: If bananas grow in the area, eat the local bananas. Works like a charm!

If You Insist
Of course, some of us will be bent on donning our favorite Speedo and tramping through the low-hanging vines at the edge of the stagnant swamp to attend the pool party set for midnight. If you must venture directly into mozzie land at mozzie time with some part of your skin exposed, you can make an all-natural insect repellent out of essential oils, clean water and a small spray bottle. I prefer mine simple:

  • 2 oz. clean water
  • 10 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 10 drops lavender oil
  • 10 drops basil oil
  • 10 drops cedarwood oil
  • 20 drops lemongrass oil

A water-based spritz made of these ingredients is refreshingly indulgent—I put these same oils in my baths! But because this spray is so safe for human application, it must be applied every hour. It soaks into your body, after all. So enjoy spraying your exposed ankles, neck, hair and face every hour. It's actually quite nice.

If you want a spray that will last a little longer, and you are willing to accept that it will leave a bit of oil on your skin and possibly clothing, replace the 2 ounces of water in the recipe above with 1.5 ounces of water and ½ ounce of base oil (grapeseed, almond, jojoba, whichever is your favorite) and shake it well before spraying as needed.

Other insect-repelling essential oils that can be mixed to make your individually scented and repelling insect spray are:

  • tea tree oil
  • geranium oil
  • pennyroyal oil
  • thyme oil
  • peppermint oil

Take into consideration whether or not you will be using this spritz in the sunlight. If you are creating a repellent for the daytime, avoid photosensitizing oils like lavender, cedarwood and lemongrass as they could increase your sensitivity to sunlight, causing early skin darkening or even burns. Use an online resource to research your particular oil if you want to make sure. And with all essential oils, patch test one drop of each oil at different times on the soft part of your elbow's inner crease to make sure you and that plant's oil get along. You'll know within the hour if there is an issue if you see any spots or bumps—or experience any irritation.

When traveling, I take a 2-ounce capped-glass spritzer bottle and five or six essential oils of my choice to make up a fresh batch of insect repellent as needed. The essential oils—along with Band-Aids, anti-inflammatories and New Skin—act as my exclusive first-aid kit. I use lavender oil to hand sanitize, diluted tea tree for deep cuts, chamomile on my temples to chill out, basil for physical pain relief, rosemary for muscular recuperation and small muscular strains, and carrot seed for facial-skin nourishment at night. This is the only kind of first-aid kit you actually look forward to using. It works for me. It will for you, too.

[Sign up to be notified each time Tonya publishes a new Clean and Green Everyday blog entry on EcoHearth. See a complete list of writing by Tonya Kay on or visit her Clean and Green Everyday blog. – Ed.]

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Comments (9)add
Written by vipin , December 06, 2013
Its amazing, looking at the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you provide. I'll bookmark your blog and visit it weekly for your new posts.

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Written by laura petermann , February 02, 2013
Great ideas!!
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Written by Josh Cooper , August 14, 2012
My wife puts peppermint oil on all of us and we never get bit! These oils work wonders and not having to shower after to get the nasty chemicals off is wonderful!
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Written by Shane Ellison , March 19, 2011
Fantastic piece! These natural compounds are so beneficial and far safer than any toxic chemical sprays being sold in the store. Great work.
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Written by Tonya Kay , March 03, 2011
I wonder if eating amounts of basil would do it, too. I bet so.
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Written by The People's Chemist , March 03, 2011
Very good actionable advice. Thank you.
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Written by Tonya Kay , February 22, 2011
Thanks! I was surprised how easy it was to not get bitten just using my knowledge of mosquitos. I rarely even needed my essential oil spray. Seriously.
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Written by Beth , February 22, 2011
Wonderful information & tips.
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Written by Laura , February 22, 2011
Wonderful article, Tonya! Thank you. Rubbing fresh basil leaves on your skin works too. Break them up so the juice comes out as you rub. This also works after you've been bitten, to heal it faster. Love your blog. xo Laura
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