Hello Mosquitoes, Goodbye Traditional Insect Repellent

 

Between the rain, wind, flash flood warnings, tornado warnings, and school closures, it’s safe to say that Hurricane Harvey is here in full force. As many students and faculty joke, the weather has to be REALLY bad for Texas A&M to cancel classes. I just did a weather check online, and what I saw came at no surprise. 100% precipitation, 99% humidity, 71 degrees. While I enjoy the cooler temperatures, I am certainly ready for the rain to subside and the sunshine to return! Though, with this rain, it’s hard not to imagine all the mosquitos that will soon inhabit our city. As the rain stops, and the temperature rises back into the high 80’s, College Station will be the perfect breeding ground for these summertime pests. With that being said, let’s all prepare ahead of time so we are armed and ready when these pesky critters show up!

 

College Station Weather, Hurricane Harvey

With the school year right around the corner (delayed, but still knocking), nights are about to become the only time that we have to spend with our kids, friends, and families. Twilight dinners and evening bike rides through the neighborhood give us the quality time and outdoor exposure that we all crave when the temperatures, still pretty warm, start to cool off. We are used to mosquitos and bugs that come out when the sun sets, but in the wake of Harvey, these pests are sure to multiply. Before you reach for traditional insect repellent, let’s talk about the dangers of pesticides and what you can use instead- before and after the bugs attack. The main active ingredient In most traditional insect repellents is DEET.  DEET makes it harder for bugs to smell us, which is why we apply it directly to our skin. According to the EPA,

Every year, an estimated one-third of the U.S. population use DEET to protect them from mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus, the Zika virus or malaria and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Though the EPA designates products containing DEET to be safe for adults and children, there are many constraints to how these products should be applied. Not following proper use instructions, puts yourself and family at risk for skin irritation. Furthermore, using sprays containing chemicals and pesticides threatens the natural environment around you. DEET is a “persistent environmental contaminant that breaks down slowly in soil. A recent U.S. Geological Survey report on water contaminants listed DEET as one of the compounds most frequently found in the nation’s streams. The U.S. EPA regards DEET as 'slightly toxic' to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates — which, given its frequent appearance in waterways, should give one pause.” Based on this, I would rather try natural alternatives to DEET before I habitually reach for the insect repellent in my medicine cabinet. We’ve talked about keeping a green medicine cabinet in the past, let’s see if we can extend that a little further and dive into natural insect repellents and remedies!

 

Insects are repelled by Many Natural Substances

Next time you are outside at sunset and feel tempted to spritz traditional insect repellent all over your arms and legs, try a blend of essential oils instead. Cedarwood, citronella, lavender, or tea tree oils all work to repel outdoor pests. You can apply a few drops of any of these oils directly onto your skin at pressure points (such as inside the wrists, behind the knees, and behind the ears) every hour to keep the bugs away. Caveat: some skin types don’t take too kindly to the direct application of essential oils. If you find this to be true about yourself, you can dilute essential oils with carrier oils like coconut or olive oil before you apply it topically. Other options are to put the oils in a diffuser, or mix with water and use as a spray. Not only will you be keeping your skin and surroundings free of DEET, you’ll also smell terrific!

 

You Can Mix Your Own Insect Repellent

MindBodyGreen.com offers a great recipe for a natural repellent. You can make a bottle ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator for several weeks!

Simply combine ¼ cup (60 mL) almond or sunflower oil with 5 drops each of eucalyptus essential oil, lavender essential oil, tea tree essential oil, citronella essential oil, and rosemary essential oil.

You can also try this recipe by Gadenista.com for Bug Repellent Balm. It requires a wider range of ingredients, such as calendula flowers, catnip, and beeswax, but this balm sounds fantastic and versatile. It is stored in little jars, so it would make a cute gift for friends and family who might be spending time outdoors with you! 

 

Bug Bite Pain Alleviation

If you forget the preventative measures and find yourself covered in mosquito bites, here are a few natural remedies that can help soothe the pain.

 

A Warm Bath + Relieving Ingredient

Nothing feels better than a warm soak in the tub after a long day. If you find yourself itching from head to toe, fill a warm bath and add one of the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 pound baking soda (half as much for children)

  • 1 gallon infused tea of peppermint, white oak bark, or cleavers

  • ½ cup sea salt

  • 1 cup cornstarch

This article that shares info on how water temperature affects your life. It talks about which temperatures are best for different purposes, and shares a little bit on how to make sure your baths aren’t too hot!

 

 Photo by  Karla Alexander

Ice

Oppositely, you can ease the pain of bug bites with ice. Treat the bites as you would a sprained ankle, by rotating ice on and off of the affected areas in 15-minute intervals. Ice minimizes the spread of antihistamine (which triggers the allergic reaction) by constricting your blood vessels.

Other home remedies include tea bags, baking soda paste, basil leaves, tea tree oil, and lavender oil.

 

Tea Bags

Steep green tea bags in warm water and then press against the skin. Tea acts as an astringent and draws toxins out of the skin which will decrease your itchy discomfort. Tea is also an anti-inflammatory so it will help shrink the bites. A good tip is to pre-soak tea bags and keep them in the fridge so they are on hand if you need them in a pinch!

 

Baking Soda Paste

The Alkaline property of baking soda makes it the perfect remedy to alleviate itching. It neutralizes the pH of your bites and controls the itchiness. Mix baking soda into a paste by adding a few drops of water and then rub it over the affected areas.

 

Basil Leaves

According to Parents.com “Basil is packed with menthol and camphor compounds, which create a cooling sensation that helps eliminate the itch. What to Do: Crush basil leaves into a paste and apply it directly to the bite. Cover with a bandage.”

 

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil acts as a disinfectant. It can be used to kill bacteria and fungus on your skin. As you read earlier, it can be used as a repellent, but it can also reduce the swelling of existing bites.

 

Lavender Oil

Lavender oil acts in a similar way as tea tree oil. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to being a natural bug repellent. Additionally, lavender oil can be sprinkled onto bed sheets to keep bugs away as you sleep.

 

 Photo by  Vero Photoart

Photo by Vero Photoart

Let’s hope that the mosquitoes stay away, but if they do show up, we can be ready for them. Ditch traditional bug sprays that contain DEET and try a few home remedies instead. You can start by repelling bugs with a natural spray, balm, or oil, and if the bugs somehow still get you, try out a few of the remedies mentioned above! Let’s all protect our skin and our environment during these last couple weeks in the humid Texas heat!

We’d love to hear how these remedies work for you. Share your experiences with us!